UnderCover Waitress: Shorting the Busser

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Shorting the Busser

Ask the Waitress!

Received this heart-felt missive from a current manager:
I have worked at a the same restaurant for 5 years. I started as hostess and later became a server and a bartender. Currently, I am managing. 
 Sometimes servers short the busser's tip outs. The standard tip out is 2% of their total sales. I discovered recently that anytime servers bus one of their tables, they deduct those sales from the total. Bussers do more than reset a table. They are required to clean and reset tables, restock ice and glassware, take out the linens, refill soys and stay after close to reset the dining room. 
In addition, many bussers go above their job requirements. They run food and drinks, refill waters, pre-bus, help with guests and meet server's demands. I love that teamwork mentality and want it to continue. However, the servers have become so dependent on the help that the bussers often are slower to reset a table and that is when a server will deduct tips. Servers believe that when they reset their own tables, they should not have to tip out for those tables.
 It saddens me that people are doing this and I am afraid morale may start to fade. I know tip outs suck. If I could pay people more per hour I would, but I do not have that power at my restaurant. 
How can I approach this matter with my staff without offending anyone or invading anyone's privacy? I have discussed the importance of teamwork with my staff, and made the servers aware that bussers are doing more than required. I have asked the servers and also watched to see if the bussers are meeting expectations. I do not know what else to do. 
Thank you for writing. This is a difficult issue; let's break it down and examine elements separately.


The rule of the restaurant: servers owe bussers two percent of their total sales for each shift. This is clear. Therefore, any server who does not pay bussers two percent of their total sales is guilty of insubordination. Worst case scenario = you fire them.

You may not wish to be so Draconian. You may certainly have a staff meeting in which you point out to the group, without singling anybody out, that this is the rule. Tell them refusal to follow the rule will result in a warning and then termination.

Most employees in Arizona are at will employees; that means they can be fired anytime for any reason or no reason. They may not be fired for a protected reason, which is a fancy way of saying you may not fire somebody, for example, due to their religion or skin color.

You should have a way to check each server's sales. Require the wait staff to write down the amount they are tipping out each shift. I recommend against putting the bussers in the position of reporting to you if they get stiffed; deal directly with the wait staff.

Management and Morale

I hear your concern about employee morale. However, it may be misplaced. If you are afraid to upset your staff then you are likely a weak manager; please do not be offended. I've seen the dynamic too many times. Effective managers communicate the rules and enforce them. As long as you are being appropriate, it is not your concern whether a staff member is offended. If I get pulled over for speeding, I can be offended all I want, but the police officer shouldn't care. I broke the rules. I got pulled over. Period.

I worked as part of team in which the manager always gave a specific waitress her way so that the waitress would invite her golfing and be friends. So, the "friendship" was insincere, it was nothing more than a waitress' way of manipulating the manager. If your friends at work reject you because you do your job and enforce the rules, you need better friends.

Tip Outs

Ideally, a tip out is a thank you and an incentive for the busser to get tables turned. It is my opinion that it is egregious to underpay staff and require waitresses and waiters to pay other staff members. There are restaurants in which waitresses pay out a grand total of thirty percent or more of their tips to other staff members. I don't like it, but I don't make the rules. I do have to follow the rules.

Job Descriptions

It sounds to me like the waitresses are taking advantage of the bussers. Are running food and serving drinks included in the busser job descriptions? Perhaps you should discuss the hierarchy of busser duties with your staff. For example, bussers are to clean and reset tables as a first priority. If they have time, they may help the waitresses run drinks, etc. See how that works.

In the end, it is not the food server's right to decide whether the bussers are entitled to their tip outs. If they feel that the system is unfair, the appropriate thing to do is discuss the issue with management -- that would be you. I hope I have given you some food for thought, and good luck.

Thanks for asking the waitress! 


  1. What should be done in a situation where the bussers/hosts/bartenders aren't fulfilling the duties they are tipped out to do? A busser may clean a table, but wipes the mess to the floor, or takes 15-20 minutes to get there. A host seats a table that is clearly filthy underneath and includes sticky menus. Or a bartender that berates and screams at you for making a non-alcoholic drink after she took 10-15 minutes ignoring the ticket wheel in favor of flirting with her immediate guests for an extra dollar. Are there any options available besides opening oneself up to scrutiny from the higher ups outside of the immediate management staff?

    1. Working with people who don't do their jobs sucks. My initial reaction is that your (only?) option is to discuss it, politely and professionally, with management. This is fodder for another post in which the ins, outs, risks and benefits of doing so are explored.

  2. Can you imagine the guy next to you at work giving up a portion of his wages to pay yours? Happens at my job EVERYDAY. It's called tip pooling or tip sharing.

    Together we can move the President of the United States to consider abolishing tip sharing for food servers in American. I have started a petition to abolish tip sharing/tip pooling. Please take a few minutes and sign it. This is your chance to improve the lives of millions of Americans. https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/abolish-tip-pooling-american-food-servers/WJrwCk8x

    Abolish "tip-pooling" for American food servers. | We the People: Your Voice in Our Government petitions.whitehouse.gov

    Abolish "tip-pooling" for American food servers. | We the People: Your Voice in Our Government petitions.whitehouse.gov

  3. Good advice, Under Cover, particularly in management style.

  4. I believe that tip pooling should be abolished for all workers who receive tips, not just food servers. While it was originally introduced as an allowance for employee to share their tips with other workers, it has become an allowance for employers to seize control of their worker's tips so that the employer can use the money for his purposes. There is no need to create allowances for people who wish to share their money with others. Our consitution covers such situations.


Please share your thoughts.