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I sometimes visit a small restaurant owned by a couple. The husband is the chef and the wife the waitress. They do not have any employees. As I understand, most tipping occurs socially in lower-paying jobs that require little skill or education. Tips are to supplement the low income of the waiters/waitresses. In this particular case, I know the couple who own the restaurant makes far more money than I do. So am I still expected to tip for the service?

Edit I also noticed that on their receipt, the minimum suggested tip is 10% while many other restaurants have 15% or 18%.

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    Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Travel Meta, or in Travel Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – JonathanReez
    May 4, 2023 at 10:59

4 Answers 4

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Yes, you are expected to tip in all American restaurants with table service, except in the rare instances where you are explicitly told otherwise.

This is the system by which restaurants, including small restaurants and restaurants with skilled and educated staff, operate in the United States. (The idea that working in a restaurant is unskilled or easy work is generally only held by people who have never tried to do it, anyway.) You are free to believe it is not a good system, if you want, but that does not change the fact that tipping is essentially non-optional here. If you refuse to leave a tip, your actions will not be seen by the staff as making some clever principled point; you will simply be read as unbelievably cheap.

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Travel Meta, or in Travel Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – JonathanReez
    May 4, 2023 at 10:58
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As I understand, most tipping occurs socially in lower-paying jobs that require little skill or education.

This assumption might be leading you astray. It's not that waiting tables is a “lower paying” job, certainly not one that requires little skill. And it's not that all people working in the hospitality industry are dirt poor. Rather, the problem is that the law allows restaurants to pay what is effectively a token wage (often not simply relatively low or at the minimal wage but ridiculously low and way below even the regular federal minimal wage) and count on the tips to make up the difference. The comments detail some interesting nuances that depend on the jurisdiction but beyond the details, the thing is that the tips effectively are the pay and there is little you can do individually to change that.

This also means that to be competitive, a restaurant must post prices that are way below what is actually required to run the business and compensate all those involved, because the service is not included. In fact, in some situations you won't even have a choice (e.g. for large groups) and the restaurants will impose a fixed “service charge” on the final bill… on top of the prices printed on the menu. It feels deceptive but that's the reality. So even if the owner-operators of a restaurant without employees have less overhead and get to keep the profit that's left after paying all expenses, you cannot assume that a fair compensation for their work is included in the price.

So am I still expected to tip for the service?

Edit I also noticed that on their receipt, the minimum suggested tip is 10% while many other restaurants have 15% or 18%.

It seems the question has answered itself. Pick the middle suggestion on the receipt (15%?) It doesn't really matter how strongly we may convince ourselves that we know better, looking for a reason to ignore this hint and what everybody else is doing is bound to be obnoxious.

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    In all jurisdictions, the server must be paid at least the prevailing minimum wage. If the tipped employee rate, plus tips, exceeds that, fine. If not, the employer must add in the difference. If you don't tip, the employer has to bring the employee up to the minimum wage.
    – EvilSnack
    May 3, 2023 at 17:25
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    @EvilSnack So in reality when you tip you are just reducing the amount the restaurant has to give the waiter out of their pocket, not increasing the amount of money the waiter actually gets. May 3, 2023 at 17:43
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    @DJClayworth That is incorrect. During a busy evening, a waiter can make considerably more than minimum wage. As a delivery driver, I would generally average between $25-$33 per hour, with some hours hitting $40 and a very rare few spiking higher than that. May 3, 2023 at 18:39
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    It depends on the difference between the minimum required (the employer must pay a minimum of $2.13 per hour as of this writing) and the minimum wage (currently $7.25). If business is slow, then the first $5.12 per hour of tips has zero effect on the server's take-home pay. Some jurisdictions do not allow the offset; the employer must pay the published minimum wage rate without regard to tips, and all tips are extra money for the server (and the IRS).
    – EvilSnack
    May 3, 2023 at 19:21
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    Nearly everything mentioned above (in the answer and comments) about minimum wage laws varies from state to state (other than that the IRS expects tips to be reported as income). In some states, employers are required to pay minimum wage, without regards to tips, and that all tips must go to the server or to some sharing agreement among the employees (i.e. the employer can't keep tips). In other states, the total, including tips, must meet the minimum wage requirements. There are multiple variations, many very poor for the servers. What exactly it is will depend on the jurisdiction.
    – Makyen
    May 3, 2023 at 22:08
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Talking out of personal experience, during my first trip in the US, I went to family run restaurant like the one you describe. Dad cooked, mom took orders and daughter served at the table.

I didn't leave any tip on paying the bill, and the next time I went there both mom and daughter told me that I was supposed to leave a tip on the bill. And paying attention to the other customers, they all were leaving tips when paying.

Lesson learned and now shared.

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    I don't disagree with the point of your answer but I'd note that restaurants have every incentive to say you need to leave a tip. If they could get away with getting people to leave a 100% tip, they'd be happy to say so as well :-)
    – JonathanReez
    May 4, 2023 at 14:32
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    "both mom and daughter told me that I was supposed to leave a tip on the bill." Did you ask them that, or did they just happen to mention it?
    – RonJohn
    May 5, 2023 at 5:35
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    Anyway, you're not supposed to leave a tip (like you're supposed to wash your hands after going to the restroom). You leave a voluntary gratuity for service: 15% for average service, more for better service. (Of course, it's as voluntary as any other strict social custom. You're just considered a tightwad or jerk.)
    – RonJohn
    May 5, 2023 at 5:39
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    @RonJohn ah yes, one of those "mandatory voluntary" things...
    – jwenting
    May 5, 2023 at 6:26
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    @jwenting those "mandatory voluntary" things keep society functioning smoothly. (There are a lot less now than there were 50 years ago in the US, and society doesn't function as smoothly.)
    – RonJohn
    May 5, 2023 at 7:55
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The idea that a tip is given for the whole dining experience, not just for how quickly and politely the food was served, is the foundation of tip sharing. This means that front-of-house hosts, busboys, bartenders, and kitchen staff all share in the rewards. How the split is taken care of can shift from one eatery to another

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