UnderCover Waitress: Managers Taking Tips

Monday, April 22, 2013

Managers Taking Tips

Received a great comment on my last post, Managers Taking Tables
I feel the only way it would be acceptable for a manager to accept tips is if they are taking complete care of the table, as in, you're too busy to help that table at all, so they do all of the work, and they're not just assisting you. Even then, in my experience, most managers that have had to take a table or 2 have enough class to ring it under the server's number, and give them the tip from it (and I work for a small business, btw). I have had servers try to tip me out when I've been managing (as a supervisor, with a slightly higher hourly pay, not salary) and had to jump in and help out, and I refuse them on principal.
 I was friends with a girl who was a salaried manager at a local counter/sit down restaurant. She always partook in the tips the counter girls were making because she helped out during the lunch rush. I questioned her on that because I thought it was unfair, and her response was "well, I helped, why shouldn't I get tipped?" My response was "because you're a salaried manager, and making sure things run smoothly is part of your job." Not to mention that as they were counter tips, we're talking about maybe 40-50 dollars being divided up between 2 counter girls, and a manager. Seriously, you need that extra 15 bucks so badly? More than the 2 girls making minimum? I lost a lot of respect for her after that, and always wondered how the other girls there must have felt about her dipping into the pot like that.
Well said. I attempted to explain, in my last post, the possible point of view of the hostess/manager. I appreciate my readers on the floor responding and reminding me that just because it is legal does not make it right.

Federal Law

The U.S. Department of Labor's Fact Sheet #15 is an awesome resource for information regarding federal tip laws. It clearly states that an employer may not retain any employee tips for any reason other than a valid tip pooling arrangement. A valid tip pooling arrangement is when wait staff are required to share tips with other FOH employees, such as bartenders and bussers.

Managers, however, are not mentioned. A manager playing the role of hostess or bartender is performing FOH work that is normally allowed to "participate in tip pools." A manager who takes a table is not breaking federal law if she pockets the tip.

State Laws

Sometimes states enforce stricter laws than the federal government. In Colorado, managers participating in tip pools nullifies the tip credit. That means that if the manager dips his hand into the tips, the owner owes you full minimum wage.

Before everybody moves to Colorado, I got this from the same page on the Colorado's Department of Labor website:
Colorado wage law allows for an employer to assert claim to, right of ownership in, or control over tips only if: the employer posts a printed card at least 12 inches by 15 inches in size with letters one-half inch high in a conspicuous location at the place of business. The card must contain a notice to the general public that all tips or gratuities given by the patron are not the property of the employee, but instead belong to the employer. 
Sounds like they are saying you can break federal law as long as you tell people you are breaking federal law. Yuck.

In California, Labor Code Section 351 prohibits employers and their agents from taking employee tips. That sounds like it means managers...? In California, there is not tip credit so wait staff are paid full minimum wage. Tips belong to the employees, but they may be required to pay into valid tip pools. California has a nice question-and-answer sheet here

Grass is Always Greener

Thinking back over my own experiences over the years, I see a situation in which the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. I also see that waitresses are in an extremely weak position due to lack of laws protecting them and a greater culture that does not respect them as deserving earners. 

Waitresses make (in most states) less than minimum wage. Even in states with no tip credit, you can't live on minimum wage, so wait staff is a low-paid job. Tips received bring the hourly rate of a waitress or waiter up. Because of the reliance on tips, a waitress' income varies from month to month, and she is well-advised to save her money during the busy times so she can survive during the slow times. 

Managers are, in many cases, salaried. The idea is that they are paid a fixed amount, consistent from month-to-month, to make the restaurant run smoothly. 

So, managers look over the fence and see waitresses making "soooo much money!" for doing non-managerial work, and they get jealous. Managerial work is more respected than walking the floor, and some managers may believe they are working harder for less. Managers want a piece of the pile of cash they see on busy shifts. Managers don't think about how the waitress is doing when the restaurant is slow. 

Waitresses look over the fence and see a manager with power and a salary; waitresses have neither. They may think that managers have it made; actually, I know some people take a pay cut to become managers. At least, it's a pay cut during the busy season. 

Employers are sometimes a part of the problem. There are employers who pay their management poorly because the managers perform FOH jobs, such as hostessing; the employer figures he can use waitress tip outs to pay the manager. Sometimes the problem is not a greedy manager; the problem is a cheap employer who worked tip outs into the manager's salary. It may also be a combination of the two. 


* Knew a woman who had worked as a bartender. She and the manager worked behind the bar every night together, and at the end of the night they would split the tips. It never occurred to her that this was wrong. She was promoted to manager, hired a new bartender, and continued in the same vein. After the first night, her new bartender quit. "I just can't work for a manager who would take my tips." 

* I was surprised once, long time ago, to hear a manager tell an assistant manager, "If you need to take a table, just do it." ("Need" meant the restaurant was too busy, not "need" the money.) 

* The one time I was livid was when the hostess decided to take my table without telling me. Every time I checked on the table they had been taken care of. We were extremely busy so I didn't dwell on it. Later, the hostess told me, "Well, I did everything for your table so I'm just keeping the tip." Eff you, too. 

* To end on a positive note, an owner of a very small restaurant used to work shifts as a hostess. She said, "I will never take tips from my workers. If I am hostessing, you don't tip out. If an employee is hostessing, you tip her out." 


  1. It is likely that some waitresses make bank. Maybe they are very good at serving. Maybe they are super friendly and cute, so get much of their tips by flirting, etc. I would think that if a manager has a tendency to become jealous, they are in the wrong line of work. But then again, this sort of jealousy can be found in any work environment, but outside the restaurant business, we're not likely to have to give up our pay to our boss. :)

    1. True. Some of this goes back to the lack of rules protecting wait staff.

  2. That last owner you mention sounds like just the right person to work for.


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