Tipping Business Owners
April 14, 2017 6:03 PM   Subscribe

Great meal at a Mom and Pop Italian restaurant tonight. When I say "Mom and Pop," I mean she cooks and he serves. That is it for staff. Typically we are tipping for excellent service which the server directly benefits. Mrs. Ashtray Elvis points out the person who sets the price and profit margin has more to gain. Is tipping necessary and if you said yes how do you calculate the amount?
posted by ashtray elvis to Food & Drink (24 answers total)
Yes, standard 20%.
posted by lalex at 6:04 PM on April 14, 2017 [8 favorites]

You should probably assume that they are calculating tips into those margins, and tip as if you were completely innocent of the actual business structure.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 6:08 PM on April 14, 2017 [5 favorites]

You're tipping because that's the salary that the server receives for their service and that's how restaurants work. If that's not how their restaurant worked and they had their own system they would have let you know.
posted by bleep at 6:16 PM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is a thing about which reasonable people disagree. A lot depends on whether you 100% know they are the business owner and not, for example, someone who is self-employed and leasing the space or something (examples often given are for barbers). I usually tip if the service is good. We have a family-run-and-owned Chinese food restaurant in my neighborhood in which I am literally waited on by a ten year old and I don't tip there (and I usually just go for takeout now anyhow).
posted by jessamyn at 6:17 PM on April 14, 2017

Historically one did not tip the owner of a business. Miss Manners says:
Those of us who actually know etiquette can tell you authoritatively that is it improper to tip the owner of a business. Tipping is done to supplement the inadequate wages of service employees, and should be considered insulting by entrepreneurs.

However, Miss Manners is given to understand there are entrepreneurs who do not mind being insulted when it comes to money. She finds that regrettable.
That said, I always do. I find it awkward to try to figure out whether someone is the owner or not, I'm worried about getting it wrong. Furthermore, the family-staffed restaurants I know usually seem cheaper than equivalent food elsewhere. Partially that might be because the family staff are undercompensated, so I don't mind tipping.
posted by grouse at 6:17 PM on April 14, 2017 [8 favorites]

For restaurants, I tip exactly the same (somewhere between 20% and 25% normally) regardless of size or ownership structure.
posted by primethyme at 6:23 PM on April 14, 2017 [7 favorites]

Yeah, I don't see the difference--the server still directly benefits. And if you were thinking of tipping $5 that's still the amount they benefit from the tip. It's not like they benefit more than that.

It's interesting to me that it's even an open question (per Miss Manners, e.g.) I tip my gardener even though he sets his own wages and my barber even though (I assume) they are co-owners in the tiny shop.
posted by mark k at 6:25 PM on April 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

If you don't tip and a tip was expected, you will be seen as rude and stingy. If you do tip and a tip wasn't expected, you might be seen as odd but not rude- no one dislikes money. Assuming this place is relatively cheap, the standard 20% tip should only cost you a few dollars. I personally would err on the side of tipping. Bonus: the nice feeling you get from supporting an independent business.
posted by perplexion at 6:26 PM on April 14, 2017 [11 favorites]

I tip more on private businesses. I want them to stick around.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:44 PM on April 14, 2017 [5 favorites]

While it's true that a business owner benefits from the profit of whatever they sell you, presumably their costs are not that different from any other business. A business owner would have the power to raise their prices to reflect the business' costs including a living wage for the server, but that would probably make them uncompetitive because potential diners would be comparing their prices with other business that rely on tips. Unless this business publicises that they don't accept tips, it seems reasonable to tip as you usually would.

(Disclaimer: I'm Australian and hate the tipping system, but I think the logic here is sound).
posted by Cheese Monster at 7:57 PM on April 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Most tiny restaurants or service businesses (ex. hairstylist/barber) where the owners are performing roles normally tipped are running on a shoestring. So I tip at least the same as if I was being served by an employee. I don't think it's generally considered odd in the US.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:34 PM on April 14, 2017 [7 favorites]

Look, I hate the tipping system but there is no way to opt out of it in America without screwing over workers while conveying your own punitive stinginess. If mom and pop were doing well enough to not need your tips, they'd have probably hired a server--who you'd then be obligated to tip. There's no real way around this besides not eating out.
posted by tapir-whorf at 8:37 PM on April 14, 2017 [8 favorites]

I tip owners of small service businesses the same as I would tip employees of those businesses, which is usually in the 18-20% range.

I struggled with this when I first started seeing an esthetician who was a solo practitioner in her own salon and a hair stylist who owned a multi-stylist salon. I read a number of accounts online saying that many such salon owners ended up making less than when they had been employees, in part due to the drop-off in tipping. I decided I would much rather err on the side of generosity.
posted by lazuli at 9:13 PM on April 14, 2017

A bit further information:
Restaurant was recommended by a friend who met the owner who introduced himself and the lady who was the Mom.

Prices are near, almost to the penny, of staff run eateries in the area. That goes for wine as well.

You can also opt. to have his food in a bar next door. This is an arrangement three or four restaurants have with this bar. When we tip there we tip the club staff who serve the food.

That may have only muddied the waters. It is an interesting conversation!
posted by ashtray elvis at 2:55 AM on April 15, 2017

If their prices are in line with other restaurants in the area, why should they be penalized 15-20% because the owner is waiting tables?
posted by BrashTech at 7:11 AM on April 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

If their prices are in line with other restaurants in the area, why should they be penalized 15-20% because the owner is waiting tables?

They are not penalized. In the other restaurants, the owners aren't making more money when you tip wait staff. In fact, if you tip them, those owners are now making 20 percent MORE than their competitors who utilize wait staff.

I'm of the opinion that you should not be tipping a business owner (and I've been a business owner).

It makes zero sense to tip the owner and the four restaurant owners I know will refuse tips. One told me specifically never to do it.
posted by dobbs at 9:13 AM on April 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Seems strange to decide for someone else that they make enough money that you don't need to tip them. Mom and Pop restaurant owners need every penny they can get.

Tipping shouldn't be a reaction to real or perceived financial status of the people who make/serve your food, it should be a reaction to receiving good food or good service.

Furthermore, if you regularly tip them and they're the owners you'll probably reap some comped food or beverage.

I guess it depends on whether you see tipping as a scam forced on you by convention that you will take any excuse to get out of or if you see tipping as simply part of the cost of eating out.
posted by TheRedArmy at 12:19 PM on April 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't see how any of that information changes anything. The only thing that should compel you not to tip should be some kind of stated policy that tips aren't necessary or accepted.
posted by bleep at 7:31 PM on April 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Many small "ethnic" restaurants are completely family run. The system in the US is to tip (only exception is places that now have achieved $15 minimum wage and menu explicitly says they have raised salaries and prices so you don't have to tip).

Family ownership is irrelevant. Restaurant profit margins are tiny. They need the money. Tip.
posted by latkes at 9:13 PM on April 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

If I was in a large restaurant with non-owner waiters, and for some reason the owner served me, although generally the waiters would serve, then I can imagine not tipping in that odd circumstance.
posted by latkes at 9:17 PM on April 15, 2017

I see both sides of the argument. I own a restaurant and often find myself working in the kitchen, behind the bar, or serving if someone calls in sick and I'm unable to find anyone else to cover. I welcome these opportunities, especially when it's a chance to make tips. I'll share some of them with the rest of the staff for a little extra bonus but will also take something for myself.

While I am technically "making extra money" as the owner of the restaurant, that money feels so intangible to me. It stays in the business bank account which goes to pay a myriad of bills and expenses. My salary stays the same and I don't really see that money in my life that I saved from not paying a staff member that day, besides having a marginally larger cushion that my business is not going to catastrophically fail. The extra cash in my pocket is much appreciated for gift buying, going out to dinner with friends, and most often putting it in someone else's pocket that night at a restaurant down the street. I think tip according to the level of service, regardless of the ownership status.
posted by masters2010 at 8:36 AM on April 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I own a restaurant and often find myself working in the kitchen, behind the bar, or serving if someone calls in sick and I'm unable to find anyone else to cover. I welcome these opportunities, especially when it's a chance to make tips. I'll share some of them with the rest of the staff for a little extra bonus but will also take something for myself.

FYI, you should consult your lawyer and accountant because you're probably breaking the law by doing that. From Nolo Press:
More importantly, however, is the fundamental rule of tip pools: No employers are allowed in the pool. Tips belong to employees, not to the company. And, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the federal law that governs wages and hours, "employer" includes not just the owner or officers of a company, but anyone who acts in the employer's interests regarding an employee. In other words, managers count as employers who can't share in a tip pool.
posted by Lexica at 11:16 AM on April 16, 2017

@Lexica, thanks for the heads up, I will consult my accountant, though I see this as a distinctly different circumstance as we do not tip pool. If I bartend I am being tipped for my service as the bartender and that money and would not otherwise be pooled for distribution. My choice to tip out other employees when working is simply an offer of generosity to say thanks for their hard work during the shift. I am in no way taking money out of an employee's pocket through participation in a tip pool. If I ever co-bartend or co-serve for an especially busy shift I do not take any tips. Does that still sound of questionable integrity? I don't want to be the owner that is stealing tips, even if by just perception. Certainly far more often I put a lot of extra money in their pockets by assisting by taking tables and tending bar, often they will make double what they otherwise would have had the shift been filled.
posted by masters2010 at 3:39 PM on April 16, 2017

Someone might occasionally be surprised, but no one will ever be sad if you leave extra money for them.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:16 AM on April 20, 2017

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