Tipping practices can be confusing
Dear Ms Doyle, I recently went to my local pub, and was served by the owner. Although I always thought it was inappropriate to tip the owner of an establishment, I tipped the usual 20% — in part because the bill left a space for the tip. He is not depending on tips for his wage. Presumably he is making money on the meals and drinks. Should I tip him next time if he serves me? Larry
Dear Larry: Your apparently simple question is very complicated! Or maybe I’m just making it so. Nevertheless, I’m pleased that in the midst of your confusion, you chose the generous option. Generosity begets generosity. Maybe the owner was serving that night because he was short-staffed. Let's hope he shared it with his employees.
The rule of thumb a generation ago was to tip the help only — the percentage being determined by the diner’s level of satisfaction — because the owner was presumably making a living with the business. Nowadays, as we are constantly reminded, fewer than 1% are making a living while the rest of us are looking for change under the sofa cushions.
A diner can’t easily discern an individual establishment’s protocol for tips. Sometimes tips are the waitress's entire salary. Sometimes they are pooled and divided among all staff. Sometimes they are pooled and pocketed by the owner.
There are cultural differences too. In some European
countries, traditionally, tips have been considered crass, but that may be
changing, I don’t know. In Italy and France, one might leave a few centimes
left over from the change, assuming one pays with cash. And the culture differs
in the US region to region, country to city, formal to informal. Occasionally I
see a declaration on the menu that a ____% "service charge" will be automatically included
on the bill, a practice that I, personally, find jarring, though
How about politely asking the person who seats you or, if you seat yourself, before ordering? Best to frame the question in the third person, a genteel protection for both of you. Something like, “How do people think about tipping here at Lonely Gulch Saloon? Do they leave a standard percentage for whomever serves them, even if it is the owner, or do they just tip the wait staff?” Come to think of it, any time you'd like clarification, you could ask that question of the maitre d’ anywhere you go. (You might also gain insight into how the place is run and how the staff is treated there).
In the end, I recommend tipping as a way to show your satisfaction with the service and with regard for — some empathetic guesswork might be necessary — the person who serves you.
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