UnderCover Waitress: Our Bar is in Desperate Need of Help

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Our Bar is in Desperate Need of Help

Received a long letter from a reader that began: 
My question comes in the form of a story, but our bar is in desperate need of help.
This is no exaggeration. Here is the story:
Our owner opened the bar as a second job and we have been open for almost a year. Business is booming and the bar is doing well. I have been working there for about six months. For the first few months of my employment, we had three bartenders, but for the last few months, there have only been two of us. We feel married to the bar and practically run it ourselves (with kind guidance, of course).
Our boss has employed his two daughters as waitresses for this whole time.. which has been nice. We've had no problems and life has been easy going. His daughters have become tired with working at the bar because they have day jobs and have only been working to help out their dad. Their whole family is exhausted, so he outsourced for help. He hired an experienced bar manager, who then hired a waitress (with whom he has a thick history). With new management as well as employees, naturally, the dynamics of the bar and rules have changed. 
To shed a little light on the changes, I'll explain how things worked before, then explain how they are beginning to work now.
The owner's daughters used to come behind the bar and to get their own beers and work the register. They were trusted, and there was no issue with them doing all these things for themselves. The other bartender and I made all their cocktails and did the cleaning/dishes/stocking/etc. They did not tip us out because they did the majority of their own leg work and we received enough business behind the bar to keep us all afloat. Sometimes things would get a little crowded, but we were enough of a team to make it work.
The new manager brings in his ex-girlfriend as our new waitress. He also institutes rules that make our bar consistent with other bars (i.e. waitress orders drinks and pays the bartender for those drinks). So now, we are doing everything. All the things we were doing before (cleaning, stocking, dishes, inventory, closing the register) as well as making all her waters, sodas, opening beers (everything a bartender normally does for a waitress). She is a real go getter, which is great. The customers are getting good service most of the time.  
She does nothing to help with the upkeep of the bar. She comes in, makes money and leaves. Everything is our job.
The new bar manager is quick to jump to her side and will only allow us to receive 3% of the tips she claims to make. She had to help me bar tend one night and I caught her hiding tips that we were supposed to share 50/50 in a drawer. There is no way to determine how much she makes and when we bring up that incident, he is quick to dance around the subject and come to her defense. 
She intercepts customers on their way to the bar and as a result, our income has been cut in half. If someone starts a tab at the bar, and orders ONE drink from her, we are forced to give her the tab and miss out on everything but still do 80 percent of the job because she is merely relaying a message. We have been having great busy nights where we don't make any money behind the bar, and her tip out is less than five dollars. 
HELP! should tip out be determined from her sales or tips? and what is the proper percentage? What should we do about the favoritism and blatant theft that is being ignored? we love this bar and our owner, but every time we bring any of this up, we just look like we are complaining and being greedy.
Wow. I'm curious to know how many readers are out there, nodding their heads and thinking, "Been there, done that." I wish these types of problems were less common.  There are a lot of issues and questions in this letter; I will do my best to break them down into "bite-size" portions. ;-)

Tip Outs 

The dishonesty and downright theft described above is the very reason why many restaurant owners and managers have a policy that wait staff pay a percentage of sales to bartenders and bussers. When you allow servers to tip out based upon claimed tips, you open the door to dishonesty. Know anybody who cheats on their taxes? It's similar.

Waiters and waitresses who tip out less than they should sometimes rationalize their behavior. I've known many an entitled waitress who would complain "the host/busser/bartender/whoever didn't do very much for me tonight" and use this as a reason to skim off the top of the tip out. The problems with this attitude are fodder for many a blog post, but the short answer is to nip it in the bud and require tip outs based upon sales, not tips received. Which begs the question: what percentage of sales should be paid?

Percentage of Sales

If my math seems off, please feel free to correct me. If I am thinking and calculating clearly, this should make sense:

Let's say that the waitress is told to tip out 10% of her tips.

She received 20% of her sales in tips from customers.

SO: She sold $1,000 worth of food and beverages.
She made 20%, or $200.
10% of $200 = $20.
2% of $1,000 = $20.

The waitress is told to tip out 2% of her sales.

The problem here is that servers don't always make a full 20% on each table. But this is what you get for lying about your tips.

Each restaurant will have it's own set of numbers. I have worked as a bartender and received 4% of drink sales as my tip out. I also took diners at the bar. Being stuck behind the bar, I did not help with anything other than bar duties: glasses, restocking, cleaning. And I would need a little help clearing my "tables," so I felt the tip out was fair. If I wasn't busy, I would pour sodas and such for the waitresses, but if I was swamped they were able to get those themselves.

There is a lack of regulation governing how much waitresses must tip out; I personally would advise anybody paying out more than 20-25% of their tips per shift to keep their eyes open for other opportunities.

There is a lot more here that I will cover in the next posts. We need to talk about:
* blatant favoritism
* how and to whom to complain
* lack of regulation.

In the meantime, I hope that helps some.


  1. I hate it that wait staff and bartenders have to deal with this sort of thing. My daughter is a server and she does pretty well where she is, but things can get petty, and then things can get just out right criminal.

    When you are talking about someone's livelihood, if you're the owner, you have a responsibility to address these concerns.

    Let's just say this is my daughter who is having issues as a bartender, such like the waitress is stealing tips. Call a grievance meeting with the owner and manager. The manager is accountable to the owner, and if they owner doesn't know what's going on, it won't get resolved.

    If after the owner has been confronted along side the manager, things don't change, start looking for another job.

    I'm sorry, but I hate it there are people out there who favor one over another. It's not professional and it certainly isn't healthy.

    1. Thank you so much for this comment, Diane. I hope everybody who reads the post also reads this comment! :)

    2. I hope small business owners read this post as well. There are so many business owners who operate inefficiently because they rely on "experts" who are not qualified to run their business.

      Just because you have money to start a business, doesn't mean you have the knowledge to run it!

      Just because you have business income, doesn't mean you hire "expert" management so you can step out of the picture because you don't have skin in the game.

      That "expert" is going to make sure they make out, because they DO have skin in the game and you're the lazy, ignorant business owner who deserves to lose out...I hope you feel like shit, because you just hurt the people who tried to get your back!

      This really chaps my ass! Sorry! lol

    3. Well said, and another angle on the story. So many restaurant staff complain about the very real problems working for corporate restaurants. Small restaurants have another set of potential problems.

  2. Definitely underhanded. I find myself wondering how much of an ex the ex-girlfriend is if the manager favours her to that kind of degree.

    1. Agreed. Maybe they just said "ex" so people wouldn't complain... not that it got them very far. He is still highly invested in keeping her happy.

    2. Who wants an ex to be happy, after all?

  3. I'm a chef setting up a new restaurant and would love to hear about what an ideal situation would be from your point of view for tipping. Do you think your cooks or host deserve tips? Your blog is quite insightful. I just happened by on some google searches on this topic.

    If you tell your owner privately there is theft happening and there isn't instant reaction, something is wrong. Especially the history of personal interaction and trust built up over time of employment. Within a few days there should be action either way; the accusation was found to be true or false. The state of mind of the owner is also a key element. Perhaps the exhausted family has decided to accept paying someone to run it and moved towards a bottom line type operation. Allowing the person hired to do their own thing so long as every month the numbers match and the bottom line dollar value is met. Maybe it's time to go, it's tough to leave from someplace you really liked and have worked there for a while and now it's a place you can't even recognize. Yet you still have the desire to help restore it to it's former glory.

    That story is common. Owner builds up a good spot and becomes burnt out but business is good so why not just hire someone and not have to bust ass all day everyday and checking on everything. New staff start coming in, small little changes here and there and six months later the business is upside down. Once the core of the successful operation leaves on unfriendly terms or to find a better job it's over. It's no longer the same successful business, it's a different version and hopefully a profitable one. When an owner hires someone who is going to run their business everyday they need to invest quite a lot of time and energy to train them personally for everything and work with the new manager for a good couple weeks to a month. Make sure it's the type of person who does what the resume claimed. A lot of owners don't do that they say I'm hiring them to do the job. But, hey ya know! It's the industry... haha

    Hopefully it all works out for the best for you. :)

    1. Tip outs can only go to FOH staff. You as an owner can set up other ways to reward great work ethic based on waste, turning tables(geting good out fast) based on entrees sold per hour, or your own guest satisfaction surveys (% of happy guest based on taste, temp, or appearance).


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