UnderCover Waitress: May 2013

Friday, May 31, 2013

Baristas Fighting to Keep Tip Jar Tips

All eyes are on the state of New York. Baristas at Starbucks are complaining about manager-level employees dipping their paws in the tip jar.

Let's review:

  • We know that it is against federal law for back-of-house employees to take server tips. 
  • We know that it is against New York law for owners "and their agents" to take server tips. 
What is an agent? An employee who works on behalf of the owner; for example, a manager. The problem here is that New York has not specifically defined who qualifies as an agent. The result is a tip jar depleted by those working in management positions. 

Currently, Starbucks managers and assistant managers may not take part in the tip pool. Shift supervisors are considered between management and barista. They have more responsibility than the lowly baristas, but they do serve customers.

Never having worked at a Starbucks, I wonder if the shift supervisor is, essentially, a hostess in a sit-down restaurant. The hostess seats customers in waitress sections and oversees all of the tables. When a waitress needs help, the hostess is there to make sure everything runs smoothly. Ideally, a hostess should not be paid as a tipped employee, although I would not be surprised to discover shady restaurant owners doing it anyway... but I digress. 

With the added responsibilities and authority, the shift supervisors at Starbucks should be making more per hour than the baristas, before tips. And I know that when I am in a coffee shop, when I drop a dollar or my change into the tip jar, I hope/expect that it is going to the person behind the counter, on her feet, looking at a long line of potentially impatient people and smiling the whole time, as if she were making coffee at home for a friend. 

That change that gets dropped into the tip jar brings up an important difference between Starbucks and a sit-down restaurant: the tips left for baristas are smaller than those left for a waitress. I highly doubt the volume makes up for it, but I could be wrong. 

Shift supervisors should be paid according to their level of responsibility, and should get their paws out of the tip jar. Leave the tips for the working stiffs. According to MarketWatch, Starbucks' profits are up and rising. Therefore, if they complain that they can't afford to pay their shift supervisors we should all sneer at them. 

The shift supervisors are arguing that 98 percent of their work duties are the same as the baristas, which is why they feel entitled to tips. 98 percent is high, and if that is true then I would not deny the smiling, on her feet shift supervisor behind the counter making my coffee a cut of the tips. However, I am skeptical of the claim. I am listening and watching to learn how this plays out. 

What Do You Think? 

I would love to hear what others think about this, especially if you have experience in coffee shops including Starbucks. Please feel free to leave an anonymous comment expressing your viewpoint. Thank you! 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Exposing Dine and Dash

Always99 has asked about the legality of posting photographs of people who dine at the restaurant then do not pay for the meal and service they received.

"Dine and dash" refers to people who attempt to make a run for it and escape the restaurant making no effort to pay. Another problem restaurants have is people who write bad checks. With the wide use of debit cards, this may be becoming a thing of the past. There are, however, business owners too cheap and, forgive me: stupid, to get with the program and do business in the 21st century. I've had plenty of friendly conversations with owners (not necessarily of restaurants) who wax eloquent about the expense of taking Visa/MC and about their virtuous customers whose good deeds rival that of Christ himself; therefore, they would never write a bad check. Each one I can think of has since gone out of business.

One of these "we take cash and checks" owners was my boss for a time. She owned a greasy spoon diner that was losing money, in part because she hadn't raised prices since the Middle Ages, and in part because she was unable to compete with a new restaurant in town that offered tastier fare, took plastic as payment, and wasn't run by a habitually angry person.

But I'm getting off-topic. When I started waiting tables at the diner, I noticed that under a piece of glass at the counter were a bunch of checks. The sign that accompanied them instructed employees not to accept checks from these people, but both employees and customers could easily see the names, addresses, and any information on the front of the personal checks. This was a transparent attempt to embarrass the check writers.

I recognized one name. A woman in her twenties with a high-school education had been living with her boyfriend. They had two young children together. Before the eldest was old enough for preschool, they broke up. She ended up leaving town to live near her parents and family so she would have help and support raising two children by herself as an uneducated woman.

Her situation does not excuse the bad check, nor does it make the economic loss any easier on the diner's owner. Because I know the people involved, I am prevented from falling back on stereotypes and villifying the "irresponsible welfare queen" who may be publicly shamed and punished for writing a bad check. Rather, I knew her well enough to have seen her work hard to make her new family work. I saw the stress and strain take a toll on her as things started to fall apart. I saw her heart break. I was glad she made the decision to move closer to her parents and family; I believe that was best for her and her children. I dare say she would not have knowingly written a bad check, but was likely in over her head and made a mistake. If anybody from the diner had called (and I don't know whether they did) to ask the woman to make good on the check, they may have gotten a cancelled number.

The point is that while the diner owner was legitimately upset, engaging in angry, spiteful behavior only reflected upon herself. I wonder if some paying customers stopped coming back because they were turned off by the display of bad checks.

Always99 is wondering if it is legal to post people's pictures who do not pay for their food and service. She indicates that perhaps the public shaming will encourage people to return to pay up.

It won't. Public shaming results in people not coming back.

But, is it legal? Great question. I'm not a lawyer, I'm just a stupid waitress (you knew that was coming!) so if I get anything wrong real lawyers are welcome to weigh in.

Laws regarding what you can and can not record have changed, and I am not sure where YouTube fits in. YouTube may or may not be an example of the laws' inability to keep up with technology. George W. Bush's "Patriot Act" removed some rights to privacy and allowed the government to listen in on telephone conversations without a warrant.

I believe it is legal to post a person's photograph on the wall, but I strongly suggest you not do it for the purpose of shaming a non-paying customer. For one, you open yourself up to allegations of slander. If you mistakenly post a picture of somebody who did NOT dine and dash, you open yourself up to complaints, lawsuits, and bad PR.

And if they did dine and dash, posting their picture on a wall of shame makes you look like a nasty, angry person. My old boss was one of the angriest, most obnoxious people I have ever met.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

When is the Shift Over?

Ask the Waitress!

This in from a restaurant manager:

In a situation where the server's shift is nearing its' end, they have completed their side work and the customers are still seated eating. Am I required to allow the server to stay on the clock and just wait for the customer to complete and pay for the meal? Do I have them to clock out and wait then for the tip from the customer? I considered giving more side work, but what happens when that is all done? I need to please understand the laws please? Do I tell them they forfeit the table? Do I set up a system where they share the tip with the server that will take over? I'm lost. :( help please
Hi, there. Let's go through your questions one at a time.

The situation is clear: A server has completed all of her tasks and could clock out and go home, but her table is not yet finished. What to do?

1)  Am I required to allow the server to stay on the clock and just wait for the customer to complete and pay for the meal?

The short answer to this one question is you are not required to let the waitress stay on the clock and do nothing during that time. It is, however, a viable option.

2) Do I have them to clock out and wait then for the tip from the customer?

No. That is illegal. You may not require any employee to remain on the premises unpaid. Think about it: do you agree to clock out at 4:00 and stay until 5:00 with that hour unpaid? If you attempt to require this of a server, you can and should be reported to the Department of Labor. Don't do it.

3) I considered giving more side work...

Giving the server appropriate, work-related tasks to do while her table is finishing is a good solution. If the sidework gets finished, you may either simply have her stay until the table is done, or one of the below options.

4) Do I tell them they forfeit the table?

Not if you want to keep your staff. I am operating under the assumption that the table is near finished. I quit a job when I realized that is what the senior servers had talked the manager into doing. They had the newer hires come in to set up, start tables, then when the senior servers arrived they could take over our tables, tell us to go home and keep the tips. Forget them.

On the other hand, if a table walks in right around the time of shift changes, a server may start the table and and allow another server to take over. In this scenario, the second server does the bulk of the work.

5)  Do I set up a system where they share the tip with the server that will take over?

That is a viable solution, but gets messy when people argue over who did the bulk of the work. It can also turn into more paperwork trouble that it is worth. Who claims the table?

Close the Table

Is there a reason you can't let the server go home and close the table yourself (or have the hostess do it?) You then leave the tip in an envelope for the server, or make sure she gets it in some system that works for your restaurant. If tipping out a busser is an issue, you can do that with a small portion of the tip money, as well.

If the table had just started, and other servers were arriving, then it may be appropriate to transfer the table to another server. A server who starts a table at the very end of her scheduled shift may already assume that she will transfer to another waitress. This is different from being forced to forfeit a table while they are finishing their meal.

Talk to Your Staff

While I would warn you against asking your staff what you should do, you can solicit their opinions without giving up authority. Tell them you are looking at options regarding how to handle this situation, and would like to take their thoughts into consideration.

I have certainly worked in situations when a lunch waitress was waiting for a table to be ready to pay, and I have offered to let her go home. I cleared the table and left the tip for her. This is more complicated with the POS systems that require you to claim tips as you clock out; nobody wants to pay tax on somebody else's income.

Whatever their responses, put your chosen policy in writing and explain it clearly to staff. Explain it clearly to new hires as time goes on.

In the end, I would encourage you to

1. require hostesses to close out the occasional stray table and leave the tips for the servers. If this is a problem, then yes,

2. you may have to pay a server to stick around until her table is finished.

On an end note, servers who are willing to help each other out and close a table for each other are most likely displaying emotional maturity, and are valuable employees. Be careful, however, about requiring servers to serve and handle each other's tables. People may find ways to take advantage of the situation and you will have a mess on your hands.

Thank you for Asking the Waitress! 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Keep Comp Time Illegal

How many restaurant employees in non-serving positions have been asked to take "comp time" instead of overtime pay? As I have smelled the underbelly of the restaurant industry, I expected the rush of air when so many of you raised your hands.

Comp time is against federal law, and has been since 1938 when the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was passed. The FLSA guarantees hourly workers time-and-a-half pay for any and all hours worked over 40 in a week.

I've known shady restaurant owners asking hourly employees to take comp time instead of the overtime pay they have a right to. And too many employees say, "Yes" because they don't want to  anger the penny-pinching, law-breaking employer and wind up jobless. Comp time is against federal law. 

PayScale reports that Eric Cantor and the Republican led House of Representatives is trying to change all that. Forget them! The conservatives are calling it "The Working Families Flexibility Act." Give me a break! It should be named "The Tightwad Employers Get More Hours and Save Money Act." In the end, all this Act would accomplish is parents (and other workers) spending more time working and less time with their children, and all for less money.

Think about it: No worker who can do math would choose comp time over overtime pay. Plus, the Act include no provisions protecting employees; for example, there is no clause stating when the employees must be allowed to take the comp time. An employer could cause you to rake in the comp hours, and wait until it is convenient for the employer, not the employee, to take the time. If the employee ever gets to take it.

This is a terrible deal for workers. Worker rights continue to be chipped away at with "right to work" states and now this? Shame on the Republicans. Shame.

Fortunately, PayScale blogger Beth Taylor also points out that President Barak Obama has promised to veto this deleterious Act. Thank goodness!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Cost of a Burger

There is an article on the PayScale blogs about the recent protests by fast food workers in New York City. NYC is one of the most expensive cities in the USA in which to live, and yet fast food workers are still making about $8 per hour.

They were demanding not only $15 per hour, but benefits and union representation. While I agree that would raise the costs of owning a fast food franchise, I also believe that workers deserve a living wage. Employees are human beings, not tools or machines that can be used up and thrown away.

Blogger Beth Taylor asks her readers if they would be willing to pay a little more for their fast food if they knew it meant living wages for the workers. What do readers here think? Would love to read your comments, here and at PayScale. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Guest Post: Tips On Tipping In Foreign Countries

Marcela De Vivo writes today about tipping in foreign countries. Thank you so much, Marcela! 

Tips On Tipping In Foreign Countries

Traveling to a foreign country is one of the most exciting experiences an individual can have. While being somewhere new can be fascinating, it can also be difficult to figure out what customs you’re supposed to follow as a traveler.

In the United States, you likely already know how to tip. You know that tipping is expected in restaurants, bars, airports, hotels and pretty much every other place you might go in the U.S. You probably even know how much you’re expected to tip for a particular service, in any given situation.

When in a different country, however, you may not be clear with the rules. In some countries, tips are expected. In others, they’re frowned upon.

Taking the time to learn about the country you’re traveling to and what standard tipping practices are can be very helpful. You will feel less awkward when the time comes to pull out your wallet or leave it in your purse or pocket.

Hotel staff members expect tips of some kind in most countries / Image Courtesy of Flickr

A trip to Africa is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many people and it will likely be an incredible one. While visiting Africa, you should know that tipping is common; however, the amounts people normally tip are generally less than what they usually are in the United States.

As a guest in a restaurant, tipping between 10 and 15-percent is normal; however, service charges are sometimes included in more upscale restaurants, therefore, you do not have to feel obligated to tip more. Taxi drivers usually get about 10-percent tip; hotel porters about $1 per bag and about $10 per day for tour guides.


Tipping in Europe varies from country to country. In some areas it’s fairly common, while in others, such as Italy, tipping isn’t necessary or common, except for exceptional services. In many restaurants in England and France, a service charge is automatically included to your meal, which makes tipping at the table unnecessary.

Dissimilar to the United States, most bartenders don’t expect tips in Europe. In fact, oftentimes it’s only Americans who give European bartenders tips.

When tipping in a hotel, porters and housekeepers usually get about 1 to 2 euros per bag as well as between 3 and five euros per night. Tipping between five and 10 percent of the fare in a taxi is standard. 


Tipping is very common in India. In fact, tips are generally expected by people in service industries. In most restaurants, a 10-percent service charge will be added, but you can certainly tip above this amount when provided with excellent service. Tipping graciously is fairly common in mid-to-high-end restaurants.

Typically, porters receive about $1 per bag, while housekeepers usually expect about $5 per night. For taxi drivers, rounding up the fare to the next dollar is fairly common.


In Asian countries, like Japan and China, tipping is actually considered rude, therefore, make sure you put your change in your pocketbook before you head out the door of a restaurant. Tipping is also considered rude in taxis, hotels and on tours in most Asian countries.

The exception to the rule is Hong Kong, where tips that range from 10 to 15-percent are commonly expected for food service. Hotel porters typically receive about $HK 2-5 per bag. In Hong Kong, rounding the fare up to the dollar for a taxi ride is standard.

Tipping is generally frowned upon in Asian countries. / Image Courtesy of Flickr 
The Middle East 

Tips are generally expected almost everywhere in the Middle East. In fact, many people from the United States will feel comfortable tipping in the Middle East, as practices are somewhat similar.

In parts of the Middle East, like Turkey, tipping 10 to 15-percent is common. In other places, such as Yemen and Qatar, the more American standard of 15 to 20-percent is expected.

For American travelers, there is one fundamental piece of advice: tip what you would tip in the states and you’ll always be appreciated by service staff.

Central and South America

In Central and South America, tipping is pretty standard, as many people in service industries are paid only minimum wage, therefore, tips help to subsidize their paycheck. In most restaurants, a service charge will be added, but you can tip above that if service was excellent.

In hotels, about $1 to $2 per bag is common and an additional $3 to $5 should be left for the cleaning staff. Taxi drivers don’t expect tips, but rounding up is always appreciated.

Tour guides do expect to be tipped about $5 to $10 per day.

There are very few countries where tipping is actually considered rude, therefore, if you’re traveling somewhere and you don’t know about a certain country’s tipping policies, play it safe and leave a small tip. Better yet, ask your hotel’s concierge about tipping standards.

Chances are that they will be happy to help you; they’ll likely appreciate that you want to follow the customs of the region.

Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer from Los Angeles who loves traveling, finding the best travel deals, and writing about her experiences. She’s been around the world with her family, but back home she writes about everything from social marketing, real estate, and technology, to music, health, and fitness. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Lunch Rush

For those of you who don't get enough waiting tables at work, you may now go home and play Lunch Rush on your computer!

Check out this hilarious game review by a self-reported former waitress:

Lunch Rush HD Review

Seriously, man, don't we have anything better to do with our free time? ;-)