UnderCover Waitress: Tip Pools: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tip Pools: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Been toying with how to spell out the pros and cons of tip pooling for awhile. Assuming that the restaurant is within the bounds of state labor laws, tip pools can be good or bad. Tip outs and tip pooling sometimes benefit the waitress, other times they put undue pressure upon her.

Teamwork! If we are pooling tips, we will help each other more. Your table needs another glass of wine? I'm not busy, I'll get it!

Lack of fighting among staff. As the slow season approaches and the waitresses get hungry, you have to keep your back to the wall and wear thick glasses to avoid getting your eyes scratched out over who gets a table. If waitresses pool tips on a slow night, there is no competition.

Management. Seriously, management can feel that they are being "fair." If somebody makes 25% and somebody else makes 15%, sometimes it is because one customer is generous and another is stingy. Tip pooling eases these tensions.

Tip pooling can create tensions, as well. A lazy person will work less in a tip pooling situation, since she will benefit from the work of others. I know a waitress who will draw blood over getting a table, unless tip pooling is happening that night. If we pool tips, she'll take as few tables as possible.

Back to fairness. Some waitresses want to keep the money they earned and tip out their helpers. Very strong waitresses who can handle busy sections are more likely to feel this way, of course.

Tip outs can lead to manipulative practices among staff. For example, a bartender is supposed to make drinks as they are ordered. But if waitress A tips out extra, and waitress B only tips the required amount, the bartender may make waitress A's drinks first, and let waitress B's drink orders sit. So waitresses are under pressure to be somebody's bank.

Bussers may also focus on the section of the waitress who will tip out the most. This also goes for who likes who the best.

In the end, work ethics in a restaurant will depend upon management and the staff. Some people are professional, others cut corners and do sloppy work.


  1. You might have left out one other possible objection to pooled tips, . . . or maybe we're not supposed to talk about it. When the tip is left in cash, will any server quietly slip a little in their own pocket, rather than share it all?

  2. Excellent point, MikeQ! Thank you for bringing that up.

    PS: I think the reason so many people are clueless about tips is that we are not supposed to talk about them. Ya' know?

  3. I'm sorry, but I don't see ONE SINGLE REASON tip pooling should be instituted, and I don't care if it's your mother and your brother and your sister with whom you're doing the pooling! It's never never never never never fair to the better employees, and it's always, without fail, beneficial to the shitty employees. I got tired of working my ass off, of providing excellent service to customers, of running others' food, of making 20-25% tip percentage, only to have to share this with the drunks and the druggies who did crappy jobs and made 10-15% tips.

    Sorry, I read you all the time, and I've applauded most everything you've ever written, but you're way off the mark when you say there are any "pros" to tip-pooling. I don't care with whom you're pooling, someone is going to sock away part of their cash tips, and others are going to be lazyasses because they know the good ones are going to do all the crappy tasks they don't want to do.

    If you want to discuss this further, I'll be happy to do so via email.

    The Bohemian

    1. Scratch the PM idea; can't join Blogstream. Send me a shout if you don't mind my asking you about the book... :-)

    2. I am going to respectfully disagree with you Bohemian, where I work, admittedly primarily as a bartender, the bar staff splits tips evenly, the key is we are a small group, typically 2, sometimes 3. We work closely enough that none of use is going to stiff the others, but at the same time we don't have to worry about who takes care of what customer, we just do it. And some nights one of us primary takes care of waitresses and bar back, but it works because we know that frees up the other to take care of our customers.

      On a related topic, with our waitstaff we tend to have a less financial arrangement and more a sweet equality arrangement. Seldom do we get tipped out (or vise versa) by out waitstaff, but we still do whatever we can to help them (great customers, bus tables, deliver drinks, etc...) with the understanding that when we are swamped they will help us by getting glasses bused, and other bar back duties. It works for us, is this a unique system? Or is our mid-western work ethic what makes it work?

    3. I disagree with tip pooling I am a strong waitress and all my tables come back to see me because they like me and the more they come back the more they tip me each time. People who agree with tip pooling are crappy servers who cant handle their own tables, Im sorry but thats the truth, any good server wouldnt want to share their hard earned money I make alot more money in tips than everybody I work with so why should I just give them my money

  4. I'm glad you weighed in, The Bohemian! Thank you for the passionate response. I think you gave a dose of waitress reality to my academic analysis.

    Am PMing you on a related subject.

  5. @Ulrich, I think your situation works because you have few people who are all emotionally mature and able to cooperate with each other. A different set of personalities would not work. I also think a larger group of people would cause your system to not work, but maybe that is just because of the chances of getting somebody competitive or a martyr in the mix.

    I also think it is wonderful that your situation works -- you and your team should be proud.


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