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Feb 26, 2010 06:47 AM

Small restaurant tipping etiquette

What is your opinion about tipping in a small store-front restaurant staffed, owned and run by one and the same person? Cooking is done on the side with a make-shift stove and there's a tiny fridge and microwave.

This, it seems to me, is even more of a counter than a counter, the waitstaff isn't getting paid minimally in favor of tips, so it feels to me as if the whole bill should be what she charges, which is somewhat random in and of itself.

Still, it feels funny. Do y'all agree that in such a tightly-run place (that is no salaries; what you pay is going to the chef and owner), tipping is not really part of the deal? What do you think please?


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  1. to me it would depend on who's doing what. if i order at the counter and then pick up and take to the table. no tip. if i order and they bring it to the table and check back, a dollar or two. buffet but drinks are refilled. ditto. a restaurant with takeout where they don't keep you lingering and get the order right, same again.

    the old-style rule was not to tip the owner of a business, but it doesn't hurt and i don't always know who the owner is.

    1. I always go by what feels 'right'. Do you think they'd refuse it?
      I'd tip a couple of dollars just for the service they're providing me.

      1. The notion of not tipping owners is outdated when it comes to the situation you have describe. In cases as such, yes the owner owns the business, but in reality, he just bought a job.

        I choose to tip

        9 Replies
        1. re: fourunder

          Could you expand on "he just bought a job"? Do you mean his profit margin is so scant he's really making minimum wage? I dunno--really. And if you have some knowledge of this, I'd like to hear it.

          1. re: Masonville

            Not the poster you refer to, but it's likely that this small business owner you describe is not even making minimum wage. It's possible that after the cost of products, rents, insurance, etc, that they are operating at close to a loss, which is why they don't have staff.

            And yes, I have experience with this. People have this idea that small business owners are rich, but this is rarely the case, they are scraping by, trying to give you something nice that they have built their lives around (aka bought a job).

            So, if you value the service, leave a couple of bucks.

            1. re: cheesemonger

              Thanks for the response. My default inclination is always to tip, but sometimes get hung up on the possibility of being considered a fool for tipping the owner.

              1. re: cheesemonger

                Call me nuts, but the owner could always just raise their prices

                1. re: jgg13

                  True and then scare off the normal people who tip. This is not a fast food joint ala Taco Hell, with plenty of corporate backing. This is a mom and pop, and if you like them then you should vote with your dollars, including tip or they may not be willing or able to be there for you.

                  1. re: jgg13

                    You're nuts! ;p

                    When small owner-operated places are competing with chain stores/restaurants with high volume and serious cost-of-goods negotiating power, raising prices may lose you customers.

                    Like others have said, I consider tipping to be part of the deal, no matter who serves me.

                    1. re: cheesemonger

                      I frequent various M&P type joints where it is pure counter service. They always have the now-ubiquitous tip jar (aside: I was at a non-M&P today that had a tip jar both at the cashier and where you picked up your food!). I don't normally put money in tip jars, but will often do it at these spots simply because I like them as people. I feel no obligation to do so, and don't think anyone else should either.

                    2. re: jgg13


                      The math is such with your suggestion that everyone who has been doing the right thing now pays more to bring the person who has been doing he wrong thing in line. One should not prepare a business model for the outlier.

                2. re: fourunder

                  I'd totally second fourunder's take on this. I owned a small retail business for several years that had some element of food service involved. The entire time I owned it I never took a salary and never made a dime in profit; actually lost quite a bit of money and finally sold it at a fraction of what I had put into it. Great idea............... horrendous market timing.

                  Anyway..................... anyone assuming I was rich or making even a decent amount of money from the business would have been totally wrong. I felt funny having a tip line on my service checks, but sometimes the tips really helped keep us afloat while looking for a buyer. If the business has been around for years, perhaps you could conclude that the owner is turning a profit (or the business would have closed). In the case of a newer business, and especially in today's economy, I don't think you can conclude anything necessarily.

                  In the area of small businesses, people very often ARE literally 'buying themselves a job'. In an economy like that of the last couple of years, they are often lucky to be making a minimal living from it. You cannot conclude that, if they're not they'd be doing something else. Many people today just don't have those options.

                3. If the brain power some people use looking for excuses to stiff servers could be harnessed as energy, our electric bills would be down to zip.

                  It's a couple of bucks, tops. Feel like a big spender and/or impress your date.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Muskrat

                    Have you got a name for this sort of alternative energy? Cheapskateoleum?

                    1. re: Muskrat

                      I SO totally agree with you!!! I cannot imagine anyone calling themselves a chowhound who wants the BEST of food, the BEST place, the BEST service and wants the BEST reason not to tip!

                      I really hope that cheap tippers (with the inner sphere going to the non-tippers) their hell is serving themselves as waiters/owners over and over again, trying to save some money to buy themselves outa hell.

                    2. It depends - if it's counter service and there'a tip jar I tip the change, if there's no tip jar I usually don't tip. If it's table service, I tip my normal amount regardless of whether it's staff or the owner serving me (i.e. how do I know, and why should I care).