UnderCover Waitress: When is the Shift Over?

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! 


  1. The servers in a place my husband and I frequent do a great job in this situation. When it's time for one server to clock out, she'll ask if we'd like her to transfer our ticket to the oncoming staff. If we've only had a drink or two, we indicate with a yes and tip the server with cash. Then when the final bill comes, we tip the appropriate 20% minus the amount we tipped the previous server. :)

    1. I am certain it is also nice for the servers to wait on people who understand how it works! Good system and good customers.

  2. You guys are awesome! Super suggestions and advice! This was much appreciated! Thank you!

  3. Is it legal to post the Dash & Diner's pictures in the restaurant?


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