UnderCover Waitress: October 2012

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Paycheck Deductions

Ask the Waitress!
Hi!  I am considering taking a server position in Oregon.  I understand that I should get min wage. My question is: how much can be taken out of my paycheck?  

Oregon is a state that does not allow tip credits. That means that servers make a base wage of full minimum wage. As of January 1, 2012, in Oregon that wage is $8.80 per hour. In 2013, that wage is set to rise to $8.95. Waitresses in Oregon currently make a base wage of $8.80 per hour.

Waitresses in Oregon receive tips. Therefore, they usually make more than $8.80 per hour by the end of the shift. Tipped employees are required to claim their income for tax purposes.

The short answer to "how much can be taken out of my paycheck" depends upon a number of factors, including how much tip money you claim. I don't know the exact set-up of the restaurant the asker is considering working for, but will walk you through a common scenario.

Base wages are paid via paycheck every two weeks.

At the end of every shift, each waitress much claim her tips. Sometimes that is done via a computerized POS ("point of sale") system, some restaurants instruct servers to fill out a quick form with their name, date, and tip monies earned.

Okay, let's say you work six shifts in a two-week period. Each shift is six hours long.

6 shifts x 6 hours = 36 hours.
$8.80 x 36 hours = $316.80 before taxes.

To make the numbers easy, let's say you make $50 in tips each shift.
$50 x 6 shifts = $300.

Your before-tax income for the two-week period is $616.80. You already took $300 home with you. Your paycheck, before taxes, will be $316.80. However, and this is the important part: Taxes based upon an income of $616.80 will be taken from your paycheck. Remember, you already took $300 home as pre-tax income.

This is why waitresses see different amounts of tax removed from their paychecks each pay period. Tipped employees' income varies, therefore, so do taxes paid each pay period. Sometimes, a waitress will do so well in tips that she actually owes the restaurant money for taxes. That, however, is much more likely to happen in states with tip credits (i.e., waitresses only make $2-$3 per hour.)

Waitresses pay the same categories of taxes as any other salaried or wage-earning employee, such as state income tax, federal income tax, social security, medicare. Other paycheck deductions may include employee contribution to health care; you must check with your employer about what deals they offer, if any.

Another thing to be aware of: no employer may remove monies owed to you from your paycheck without your permission. Many restaurants like to hold waitresses responsible for non-paying customers, which is unreasonable for reasons I have detailed in the past, including waitresses are not security guards. However, they will try to get you to sign something giving them permission to do this. It is often in fine print, and if you do not sign you will likely not be hired.

I hope this helps explain how waitress paychecks work, in general. Thanks for asking the waitress!

Edit: I need to add to what I said about waitresses owing the restaurant money for taxes. In states that have tip credits (pay waitresses less than minimum wage,) employers are responsible for ensuring that the waitress is taking home at least minimum wage minus tips. If her income dips below that, the restaurant must make up the difference. This is not relevant in states such as Oregon that do not allow tip credits to begin with. Even in Oregon, if a waitress made, let's say, $1000 in tips in the above scenario, she may owe the restaurant money back for taxes. That, however, is unlikely.

Monday, October 29, 2012

EDIT: Governor Romney, May I Present Miss Sandy

As the East Coast hunkers down, evacuates, and survives Hurricane Sandy, allow me to remind us all about what is at stake November 6. 

Stay safe.

EDIT: Did I, contrary to my usual m.o., post a quickee-meme based blog post? GUILTY
Am I just a stupid waitress who allows my "liberal political leanings" to color my understanding of "the facts?" NOT GUILTY!
I do, however, appreciate that new readers may be confused as to the depth that my posts usually go into, and I apologize to any of you who were grossly disappointed.

Check out this link:

It spells out what Romney said to King about FEMA:

Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.  Instead of thinking in the federal budget, what we should cut — we should ask ourselves the opposite question. What should we keep?  We should take all of what we’re doing at the federal level and say, what are the things we’re doing that we don’t have to do? 
Send it back to the private sector? G-d help us. Why bother having government if people with no money have to beg for disaster relief? Giving disaster relief to the private sector would turn FEMA into the health insurance debacle the majority of us have been suffering under for decades.

Where I am currently situated, we got lucky. Everything is closed, but we are home and I must take care of my beautiful kiddos to day. :-) My heart goes out to all of you in hard-hit places such as NYC. To all of you, but especially to those of you, such as waitresses, who depend upon working shifts for income and are unable, like all hourly workers, to make the money you need to survive right now. May the government do it's job and get us all through this natural disaster.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Mark Your Calendars

Friday, November 9, 2012
8 pm, 7 central

The "Undercover Boss" television show on CBS airs Rob Lynch going undercover at the Tilted Kilt.

Rob Lynch, is 6'6" tall, with a broad chest. He is not the easiest person to disguise, so this in itself should be interesting. I am curious how they did it. 

I am most interested, however, in watching with an eye for how these people dance the line between "we are a restaurant" and "come ogle nearly-naked, young women." Lynch likes to refer to the Tilted Kilt as a "family environment." Only in families that value their daughters' intelligence and ability to acquire skills less than their sons'. 

He does not get any points from me for having his wife and two daughters work at the corporate offices of Tilted Kilt in Tempe, Arizona. In corporate, they don't have to wear scanty "costumes" to work. 

According to the Broadcast Newsroom,
Through his "Undercover Boss" experience, Lynch gained valuable insight into key areas of the business that he will continue to fine-tune and improve in the coming months. Jobs that he participated in during the experience include bartender, line-cook, manager and busser/security guard.
Anyway, I'm sure I'll have more to say after the airing.

On a side note, I have been swamped lately but have not forgotten about all the waitresses out there working for a living -- on the good shifts, anyway. Keep up the good work! 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Credo and Darden

Familiar with Credo? They used to be called "Working Assets Long Distance." Credo started as a long-distance telephone company that used profits toward progressive actions and groups, such as Planned Parenthood. Credo also offers cell phone and internet. 
Anyway, they are among the many voices telling Darden to treat it's workers better. While $2.13 per hour may be legal under federal law, it is pretty ridiculous in this day and age. Employers who simply pay as little as they can get away with are not investing in their employees. 

You can read about (and sign, if you so choose) Credo's campaign petitioning Darden to pay all tipped employees at least $5 per hour at Tell Darden to Stop Exploiting Workers. After that, check out the services Credo offers and consider switching telephone and internet service providers.

EDIT: Just an FYI: I am a customer of Credo, but I am not an affiliate. That means I don't make money or get any benefits if my readers choose to join.   

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Question About Cash Tips

Ask the Waitress!

"I recently started working as a waitress and i am new to this whole reporting my tips thing. How do most waitresses keep track of their cash tips in order to report them on their yearly taxes? am i supposed to just keep a sheet at home and record what i made in cash tips every time?
Also i am confused about the credit card tips that are reported on my check? do i pay taxes on those credit card tips? can i expect my paycheck to fluctuate bi weekly depending on how much i get paid in credit card tips?"

First, workers in the fifty states are required to report all income to the IRS. Income does include cash tips.

This waitress seems to be working in a restaurant that keeps track of her credit card tips for her, but not her cash tips. The credit card tips are included in her paycheck. I strongly suggest to anyone in this situation that you check your paystub or ask your employer whether the taxes are being taken out of the credit card tips for you. You don't want to pay tax twice on credit card tips.

Let's assume that the restaurant is taking out taxes on credit card tips and paying employees what they are owed via paychecks every two weeks. To answer one of the questions above, Yes, your paycheck amount will vary. You should receive a base wage (that may be below minimum wage, depending upon what state you are working in) plus the credit card tips earned during the pay period.

If you get to pocket and take home cash tips at the end of each shift, then Yes, you must keep track of them. Just get a notebook and write down the date and your cash tips. (Hint, hint: I sell notebooks for this very purpose with suggested categories in the Under Cover Waitress Shop.) If you participate in tip pooling, or are required to pay tip outs to bussers, bartenders, or other employees, you should NOT be paying tax on money paid out to others. In other words, you should only pay tax on the money you get to bring home and spend.

Under the above scenario, when you file your taxes you will include your cash tips on a different line than your paycheck income. If the restaurant is removing taxes from your credit card tips, then you will not need to worry about reporting credit card tips separate from your paycheck. If the restaurant is NOT taking out taxes on credit card tips, then you may use your paystubs as a way to keep track of credit card tips. You will need to report them to the IRS when you pay taxes.

I hope that all makes sense and is helpful. Thanks for asking the waitress!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Anonymous Tip

Got a note regarding Darden this morning.

It seems that in at least one location in California, Darden has dropped a waiting period for new hires to become servers. In other words, new hires could not work as servers right away, but had to work as an SA first. Now that so many older, more expensive workers have left the restaurant, new hires do NOT have to work as service assistants first, but may begin their employment with Darden as waiters and waitresses.

I am wondering how many Darden restaurants are quietly dropping an existing "work as an SA before you work as a server" requirement now that the older and more expensive employees have been disposed of, for the most part. Remember, Darden is doing all sorts of things to save money for corporate on the backs of low wage workers, without whom the business would not exist:

  • Darden gave a personality test to weed out "undesirables," which seems to be defined as older workers, among other things. 
  • Darden cut the pay of workers that they did not demote. 
  • Darden enforced new tip out policies to "make up" for the lost pay of employees, such as bartenders, whose pay was cut. Not only did the tip outs not make up for lost pay, but it is evil to expect low wage workers who lack power to pay other employees. Employers pay employees. 
  • Darden changed it's policy in order to keep less wait staff on the floor by giving servers an additional table. 
  • The general consensus from underpaid SA's is that they are grossly overworked. This is likely in order to avoid paying more of them at any one time. 
  • Darden is cutting worker hours to avoid offering health insurance to workers in 2014. 

While, to the best of my knowledge, there is nothing illegal about adopting new policies, changing policies, and being a royal pain in the ass to work for, this pattern smells bad. It seems that Darden got rid of expensive employees by adopting a new policy, then dropped that new policy in order to attract new, young, inexpensive employees.

This place feels slimy.

Anyone else with observations of the ever-changing policies at Darden Restaurants, please let me know. Thanks!    

Friday, October 12, 2012

Too Much Tip

Reddit never fails to please. While browsing in the Ask Reddit archives, I found this gem from a couple of years ago. This post generated over one thousand comments.

"Wednesday morning I was waiting tables at a seafood place when five women came in and ate. The first woman to leave asked for her check, which was $13. She left a $100 bill and walked out without waiting for change.

I waited all day for her to come back in but she never did, so I figured she was rich and could afford to drop benjamins like that. Yesterday I paid my power bill with her tip. Today she called the restaurant asking for me, and told the manager she wanted her change back.

My question is, how long does somebody have in this situation to ask for the money back? Should I reasonably be expected to pay her back money that I had for three days, and have already spent? Looking for input from waiters, restaurant owners, and whoever else. "

My first thought was perhaps the woman expected to pay for her friends, but then why ask for separate checks? She could have the money with her friends. If she expected to pay for them all, it sounds like a case of very poor communication on the customers' part.

Three days is also a long time, and strikes me as grossly unfair to the waitress. If the customer could not return before three days time, she could have called.

In "Don't Get Your Hopes Up," I wrote about a customer warning me not to expect as big a tip as the last time I waited on her.  I thought it was a downright rude thing to say, but I wonder if she mistakenly overtipped me ($10 on a $20 tab) and was too embarrassed to ask for the money back.

I am curious how people may feel about this situation today; don't know if reactions today would differ from a couple of years ago. Feel free to share. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Darden Cutting Health Care Costs By Limiting Employee Access

Thanks to all of you who responded to Sandra Pedicini's request for information. Pedicini, an Orlando Sentinel journalist who covers Darden Restaurants, published "Darden tests limiting worker hours as health-care changes loom" on Sunday the 7th. Please know that she is still interested in conversing with Darden workers if they are so inclined.

My take on her article, which I encourage you to read, is that Darden is planning ahead in the event that flip-flopping Mittens is sent home in November to one of his many mansions. The remainder of provisions in the Affordable Care Act will be enforced in 2014, and they include rules and regulations requiring employers to offer health insurance to full time employees. Darden's response to this is to not offer full time employment to employees, hence the cut in hours those who still work for Darden are being subjected to.

As I wrote earlier, the Financial Times has warned against big companies such as Darden and Sears offering vouchers to employees to go choose their own health insurance via an online marketplace. In Pedicini's article, she states:

[Under the Affordable Care Act] "large companies must provide affordable health insurance to employees working an average of at least 30 hours per week.
If they do not, the companies can face fines of up to $3,000 for each employee who then turns to an exchange — an online marketplace — for insurance."
This seems to be saying that full-time employees who get the vouchers discussed in the Financial Times article will cost the employer an additional up-to-$3,000. Darden seems to be spending a lot of money in an attempt to avoid spending any money on employee health care. How we choose to spend money matters.

Pedicini also writes:
"Analysts said limiting hours could pose new challenges, including higher turnover and less-qualified workers." 
Heh. Tell a Darden waitress (or SA) something she doesn't already know.

Saw a bumper sticker that I disagree with. It said, "This is America! We don't redistribute wealth, you have to earn it." The biggest problem I see is that it is impossible for workers to earn wealth when employers refuse to pay decent wages and benefits in return for labor. Trickle down does not work, and nobody gets out of poverty working for minimum wage and no benefits.

The next cry of the out-of-touch "job creators" is that they cannot afford to "create jobs" that pay above abject poverty and include basic benefits such as health care. I have seen too much to fall for this load of horse manure. Take the restaurant owner who "couldn't afford" to pay full-time kitchen staff more than $8-$10 per hour with no benefits, but paid himself $5,000 every two weeks. Take the small business owners who pled poverty when their IT crew asked for raises, then drove into the lot in brand new BMW's. Take Clarence Otis' compensation package of $8 million for 2011. "Job creators" need to invest in their employees or get out of business yesterday.

Instead of hiring an expensive firm like Kenexa to draft a personality test to weed out older workers, instead of cutting wages for hourly workers, and instead of cutting hours of workers so they still don't qualify for health care, Darden should invest in it's employees and cut corporate fat. They are putting the starving on a diet while ignoring their own obesity. The only good news in all of this is that if the restaurants are manned by stressed-out, overworked and underpaid people who spend their free time looking for a better job, customers will get fed up and stop patronizing the restaurant. When that happens, corporate goes out of business, as well.

Saturday, October 6, 2012


I love camping -- in the woods. Camping in a restaurant is another thing... 

As much as I may agree with this hilarious video, it is also worth noting that waitresses and waiters who rush their diners are behaving in an unprofessional manner and giving bad service. As a customer, if I get rushed, I don't return.

Perfection: allow diners to enjoy their meal. Give them time to finish their wine and to peruse the dessert menu. When they are truly finished, expect them to pay and exit, not spread out their sleeping bags and build a campfire.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Stolen Bank

Ask the Waitress!
"I have a bring your own bank system in the restaurant that I work at. Tonight my wallet/till was stolen and all the cash was taken. Do I have to pay what was stolen?"
Ouch. First, you are the victim of a crime. Sorry for your troubles.

For the record, this situation seems different from Dine and Dash. When customers dine and dash, they steal the cost of their meal and service. In this scenario, somebody stole the waitress' billfold and bank.

At first blush, it seems ridiculous to require waitresses to pay for theft. If somebody broke into the restaurant after hours and stole, would whoever locked up be responsible? (I hope I am not giving any owners out there ideas...) On the other hand, who among us has never seen a restaurant owner or manager behave in a ridiculous manner? Anybody? No?

The answer to the question is directly related to where the crime took place. For example, in Quebec, Canada, servers may be required to pay for customer theft, broken dishes, and I am not sure what else. I am sure that I am glad I don't wait tables in Quebec.

Wiser Waitress refers to federal law when she states that employers may not charge employees enough money to bring the waitress below minimum wage. She writes that it is illegal to require
"... server’s to pay the bill for customers who walk out,mistakes on bills, food sent back and breakages that bring the servers wage below min wage.  for example, if a walkout occured and the bill was $200, the owner could not make the server pay the entire amount.  Under the revised FLSA fact sheet #15, the employer may in some cases only withhold an amount that does not bring the servers wage below the federal minimum wage of $7.25." [sic]
I'd quit before I agreed to work numerous shifts at minimum wage to make a restaurant owner whole from customer theft. However, state laws sometimes prevent the employer from deducting loss due to theft from the employee's pay. Each state in the union has it's own department of labor regulating worker pay and paycheck deductions.

In Wisconsin, legislative document 103.455 states, in part:
"No employer may make any deduction from the wages due or earned by any employee, who is not an independent contractor, for defective or faulty workmanship, lost or stolen property or damage to property, unless the employee authorizes the employer in writing to make that deduction or unless the employer and a representative designated by the employee determine that the defective or faulty workmanship, loss, theft or damage is due to the employee's negligence, carelessness, or willful and intentional conduct, or unless the employee is found guilty or held liable in a court of competent jurisdiction by reason of that negligence, carelessness, or willful and intentional conduct..." 
So, the waitress has to authorize the employer to make deduction for theft UNLESS the theft is the result of employee negligence, carelessness, etc. For example, if a waitress left her bank on the bar in a busy restaurant and walked away for thirty minutes, I think she could reasonably be held liable for the employer's loss when the bank disappeared.

Connecticut is more vague about whether the employer may deduct for customer theft:
"Sec. 31-71e. Withholding of part of wages. No employer may withhold or divert any portion of an employee's wages unless (1) the employer is required or empowered to do so by state or federal law, or (2) the employer has written authorization from the employee for deductions on a form approved by the commissioner, or (3) the deductions are authorized by the employee, in writing, for medical, surgical or hospital care or service, without financial benefit to the employer and recorded in the employer's wage record book." [Emphasis mine.] 
I had trouble finding anything specific on CT state laws that would or would not empower a restaurant owner to deduct wages for customer theft. If anybody has a link to this information, please feel free to share in the comments, thanks.

One thing I notice on forums and websites in which people discuss employees standing up for themselves is the feared consequence of employer retaliation and job loss. Please know that an employer may not retaliate against you for complaining about your rights being violated. This is true regardless of who is found to be right. In other words, if you complain and the Department of Labor finds that your employer did nothing wrong, your employer may not retaliate. You have the right to complain or to ask for help from organizations that oversee labor. If you are retaliated against, go right back to the Department of Labor and complain again, this time about retaliation. Or go to a lawyer.

Best of luck, and thanks for asking the waitress!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Financial Times Warns Against Darden Health Insurance

Big companies including Sears and Darden Restaurants are getting some attention for their plans to offer employees cash to purchase whatever health care plan they can find for themselves online.  While at first blush this may seem benign, and I can hear workers pontificating about wanting to choose for themselves, I assure you this is a recipe for disaster.
This is not an attempt to give workers choice and autonomy. This is nothing more than a cost-cutting measure by the employer. This new plan
"...has raised concerns among consumer advocates and some analysts that low-wage workers will be at risk if they choose their plans poorly and if the healthcare money given by their bosses does not keep pace with medical costs." 
Please don't be offended by the advocacy groups discussing low-wage workers choosing their plans poorly. This is not about "just a stupid waitress." This is about insurance companies paying gobs of money to lawyers and other analysts to craft plans that will make a profit. That just means you don't get the care you need when you make a claim: you get denied.

When the middle and upper-middle classes choose their plans poorly, and they are just as likely to, the end up paying out of pocket for all of the things that are not covered. Or they put it on a credit card, and pay it off for the rest of their lives or go bankrupt. The poor, on the other hand, are simply denied care due to inability to pay.

Darden gets to say which health care plans you get to "freely choose." I'll bet they are more concerned about saving money and less concerned about ensuring that their employees have access to medical care when they need it.
"“It’s basically a voucher leaving people to fend for themselves,” Carmen Balber, of the healthcare advocacy group Consumer Watchdog, said.
“Only after many employees face bankrupting medical debt – a phenomenon that will increase as the employer contribution buys ever less insurance – will the implications be clear,” he said.
Also unclear is if the switch to private exchanges will reduce medical costs overall."
Well, I certainly do not think cheap plans will reduce medical costs, because doctors and hospital administrators want to make money. As long as we keep access to medical care in the private sector, there will be a constant battle between insurance companies and medical professionals over how much money the doctor gets to make. It is the low wage workers and the poor who suffer the most in this situation.
"Les Funtleyder, healthcare analyst and fund manager at Polliwog, said that shifting responsibility on to low-wage workers as a way to cut costs was unlikely to work because doctors and hospitals have incentives to make them spend more." 
Darden is not concerned about the welfare of it's employees. Darden is trying to save money. With this new health exchange group of plans, Darden can fault and turn it's back on any employees whose injuries, cancer, medical problems are not covered by what the employee "freely chose." They can say, "we gave you the money, I guess you didn't spend it wisely enough."

Of course, these shenanigans will stop if we keep Obama in office. When 2014 comes, people have access to medical care without jumping through hoops and having for-profit bean counters scrutinizing their medical histories looking for reasons to deny coverage. Unless, of course, Mittens wins. He'll do whatever the highest bidder tells him to do.

If you would like to read the full article from which I quoted above, The Financial Times requests you use the following link. You will need to register, but it is free and you can use a throw-away email address, if you prefer. You will need to access the email once to confirm registration.