UnderCover Waitress: Bartender Blues

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Bartender Blues

Received a question in the comments on Understanding Tip Pools, Tip Credits, and Tip Outs:
We recently changed our tip pool policy where I work, and it doesn't seem fair/legal. The servers are now evenly pooling tips with the bartenders, but the bartenders make nearly twice as much per hour. This is pretty tough to swallow. It's not so much a pool anymore, more like a waterfall into the bartenders pocket. I've done a little research but haven't come across anything that fits this situation. Thoughts?
Yeah, you bet I have thoughts. My thoughts are that this sucks.

For the record, I've worn three hats in the restaurant industry: waitress, bartender, and hostess. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2012, 71.2 percent of people employed as waitresses/waiters were women. Food serving remains a female-dominated occupation. I was surprised to discover that almost 60 percent of those employed as bartenders were women, meaning bartender is no longer a male-dominated occupation.

I have personally dealt with sexism, entitlement and privilege from male bartenders. I remember hearing a male bartender complain to a waitress once that everybody thought he was soooo rich, he only made $11 per hour! We were making $3. Add to that he took "tables" at the bar, meaning he made tips on serving meals as well as drinks. He expected us to help him bus so that he didn't have to leave his post behind the bar, and required a full ten percent of out tips, regardless of drink orders.

All that I could have put up with. My beef with him that I complained to management about was that he would hog one of the two soda guns and stand around and watch women waitresses and bus girls line up to pour ice teas and sodas from the one other gun. Even when he wasn't doing anything else. He was just too good help pour a soda. Long story short, management changed the policy so that we only tipped him out on drink sales. Then the owner figured out he was wasting money paying the guy to stand around and look pretty, when all of the waitresses were perfectly capable and qualified to tend bar. So that bartender was dust. Heh.

Back to the asker's question. Both waitresses and bartenders can legally be required to "participate in valid tip pool arrangements." The definition of "valid" is pretty vague; it is illegal for back of house employees to "participate" in tip pools because they don't customarily earn tips. As far as I can tell at this point in time, the arrangement described above is legal. (Remember: I'm not a lawyer, just stupid waitress.)

Based upon my own experience, this is most certainly not fair. Waitressing and bartending are two different jobs, and the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. My personal opinion is that tending bar is easier, more fun, and makes less money due to tips. Waitressing makes much more in tip income, and you'll bust your butt doing it. That is based upon working in small, fine dining establishments. But other restaurants are different.

Different strokes for different folks (this post has too many adages in it) so others may feel differently. I'll bet there are some pretty busy and difficult bartender positions out there, so please don't be offended if you tend bar. Ideally, everybody will get a job doing what they like to do.

My gut reaction to the idea that food servers and bartenders pool tips equally is that somebody in management does not like the wait staff. Maybe they complained about the amount they have to tip out the bar and are being punished?

I'd love to read other people's thoughts on this one in the comments section. (Hint, hint.) ;-D

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