Tip out owner the same amount as a bartender?
January 10, 2010 4:58 PM   Subscribe

WaiterFilter: Is it proper to have to tip out your bartender when he/she is also the owner of the restaurant?

I work at a small, successful, independently-owned restaurant in New York City. We only got our liquor license a couple of months ago, and now we have a full bar. On certain busy nights the bar is staffed by an actual bartender; some shifts, the bartending is performed by the manager on duty. And in a couple cases, these managers are also co-owners of the restaurant.

On a busy night shift where hundreds of drinks are poured and I make over $200 in tips, I totally understand that the bartender should get a cut for all the drinks he/she made for my tables. On those nights, it should be noted, there is no busser/runner to tip out -- just me and the bartender/manager/owner, and we both work very hard to help each other.

But more often, I work weekend brunches. There are drinks poured, but far fewer of them, including some that I'm expected to make myself. And on those days we also have a busser/runner that we tip out about 20%. Usually I walk away from a brunch shift with about $100 or so, after tipping the busser -- significantly less than those evening shifts, mostly because of the major difference in liquor sales.

Today our manager/bartender -- who is also a co-owner -- cornered me about making sure he got tipped out, explaining that 10% (minimum) is customary. I told him that I'd assumed that the tip-out was meant to supplement a bartender's wage, and that I wasn't sure it was proper for me to pay out the same amount to an owner, because of the disparity in income. The idea of tipping out a combined 30% of my day's haul and walking with under $100, regardless of how few drinks were poured, seemed unfair to me.

My manager was a bit taken aback by this logic. It was awkward, but we talked it out and both admitted that it was a gray area we'd have to work on. The owners discussed and decided (for now) that we are only to tip bartenders for the big-money evening shifts.

My question is, am I in the wrong here? Is it customary (or legal) to have to tip a flat percentage for bartender services, even if the person doing it owns the whole place? Most of the policies have just been set as we go, as the place has grown, and it gets confusing because people wear different hats at different times.

I haven't worked in many restaurants in NYC, so I don't know what the rules are. When/if this comes up again, I want to be armed with as much perspective as possible.

(Throwaway email: 99problemsandtippingoutis1@gmail.com)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think you and the owner nailed it - its a gray area.

I think the most appropriate thing to do would be for an owner of a successful restaurant to expressly turn down getting tipped out.

That being said there's many restaurants out there with super thin margins where an owner taking tips may be acceptable.

Sounds like it got worked out as it should.
posted by bitdamaged at 5:09 PM on January 10, 2010

Bravo for standing up on your point, especially in an area so very grey. I think you nailed it too. It's definitely a rough go though.
posted by disillusioned at 5:16 PM on January 10, 2010

and, this.............Starbucks managers lose out in the tipping question, bigtime.
posted by SLC Mom at 6:05 PM on January 10, 2010

Normally, I think that you're tipping out the bartender in his role as your bartender, regardless of the other hats he wears. Just because the bartender is an owner doesn't mean they're not performing the service. On the other hand, from his perspective, it's probably a bit gauche to ask for a tip out when he's probably making much more money than you and less than $100 is not a ton of money to be walking away from a shift with. In other words, it behooves him to waive the tip out and end up with a happier employee.

That said, I think that if this co-owner is also paying himself bartender wages when acting as a bartender, then it's fine to ask for a tip out regardless. Otherwise, he's saving himself the need to hire (and payroll) a bartender by performing the duties himself, during a slow time. It seems a bit much to ask you to supplement his already (presumably) higher-than-typical pay rate. Obviously, tips from bar customers are a different matter (as they are for his good service, not yours).
posted by axiom at 6:19 PM on January 10, 2010

I think the starbucks situation might be unrelated here since the owner isn't a franchisee, and is possibly not pulling a salary. not too uncommon.
posted by patricking at 7:09 PM on January 10, 2010

From an etiquette perspective, customers aren't expected to tip business owners, even if those business owners are assuming a role that would normally be tipped. So from that standpoint, having part of a customer's tip going to the owner is incorrect.

That's arguably changing as tipping is expanding in general -- especially since it's difficult for customers to even know when they're dealing with an owner or not -- but traditionally that's been the case.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:26 PM on January 10, 2010

No, no, no. The owner is NEVER tipped out by his/her staff. You're not working in a strip joint. The owner doesn't get to charge you for the privilege of working there.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:49 PM on January 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

I agree with Cool Papa Bell.

I'm surprised an owner would even expect a tip. That's what disturbed me, especially that he cornered you. Strange thing to do. Salary differences aside, I think it's mostly because it's just not respectful. It's very greedy behavior and I know if an owner insisted on doing it, I wouldn't work there.

I like the story in Baltimore. What a sleazoid to be an owner and live off of tips that should rightfully be his employees. It seems like theft.

Glad you got him to see your POV.
posted by VC Drake at 9:54 PM on January 10, 2010

It's very greedy behavior

You don't know it's greedy behaviour without knowing the finances of the place - it's possibly, for example, it's running on razor thin margins.
posted by rodgerd at 11:58 PM on January 10, 2010

"it's possibly, for example, it's running on razor thin margins."

Then the owner should fix that instead of effectively docking the staff's pay. I suspect this owner is a former bartender who bought into an enterprise and has no idea that his status has changed completely.
posted by fydfyd at 3:38 AM on January 11, 2010

I can certainly see how an owner could talk himself into a situation like that. A lot of restaurant owners came up as bartenders/waiters, and probably still think of themselves as glorified restaurant workers. On top of that, if it's a new business, it may not be cashflow positive right away so they think they'll just survive on tips until things get off the ground. The problem is, they're being enriched by the profits the business is/will eventually make, increased property values, acquired inventory, and a bunch of intangibles.
posted by electroboy at 7:21 AM on January 11, 2010

Bartender here. This is wrong. At the very least he should decline getting tipped out by his servers and demonstrate being a decent human being.

But charging you for the privilege of working there? That's what the Hells Angels and 1%er clubs do to shake down strip joints, charging a go-on-stage-fee to the dancers.

If he's working on razor-thin margins... the restaurant biz is a bear and most food/drink joints don't survive long-term go out of business. Not trying to be a dick, but that's the reality. But trying to make ends meet on the backs of your employees is a douchebag move.

Miss Manners agrees: Owners aren't supposed to be tipped, although they are only too eager nowadays to encourage their clients to do so.

No, the more my tea settles into my system and I think about this, the scummier this is. Owners who dip into their employees' tips are all kinds of scummy, and I don't care if you're doing the bartending. You're the fucking owner. It's your freaking business.

Stay strong, industry. *THUMPS CHEST WITH TOP OF FIST*
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:47 AM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

> I agree with Cool Papa Bell.

I do too. From the inside information provided in this thread (especially fydfyd and electroboy's helpful comments), it seems clear that the owner should explicitly decline taking a cut and suck it up. If the business is successful, it's them who will get the profits, not the waitstaff.
posted by languagehat at 7:52 AM on January 11, 2010

Bartender and owner here. The guy is way out of line. The owner gets no tips no matter what he does. He's the OWNER and the tips are for the EMPLOYEES. I just sold my share of my bar after working there two years, bartending and DJing and I would never even consider taking a share of the tips.
posted by conifer at 8:03 AM on January 11, 2010

I don't think there's a problem if the owner is working the bar and is tipped directly, the problem arises when tips are pooled and the owner is taking a cut, or when the owner requests to be tipped out like any other employee.

One of those "top ten small business mistakes" is the owner not budgeting for his/her own salary when writing the business plan. They think they'll go without until the business becomes profitable, but that inevitably leads to sketchy situations like the one described above, or a hostile environment where the owner starts nitpicking every detail of their employees behavior to try to wring a little extra cash flow out of the business so they can finally get paid.
posted by electroboy at 9:03 AM on January 11, 2010

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