UnderCover Waitress: But Isn't It Strange... More On The Tip Out Debate

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Monday, January 6, 2014

But Isn't It Strange... More On The Tip Out Debate

 Received a comment this morning on my last post. I would like to respond to his/her questions here.

This whole whether or not to tip out situation is very aggravating. As a manager of a restaurant, I've been at a cross roads with the tip out. When I was a server, I was always told we were required to tip out a certain percentage to both back and front of the house employees. I agree that it was unfair to force me to give a portion of my hard earned money to someone else, especially if I felt they didn't do anything for me. But isn't it also strange that servers only think that it's only the front that makes the restaurant successful? I've worked with other servers who were never at their tables, always short-cut their side work and then complain about everything no matter how much money they made. I've also worked in the back as a cook and can recognize the unfairness in giving money to the kitchen if they really are just standing around doing nothing. But doesn't a great dining out experience require a smooth running restaurant with great food AND great service? I have never forced my employees to tip out to anyone on either side but have given them a choice. If they choose to tip out they only need to tell me how much so that it can be accounted for in their reported tips, otherwise I don't ask or say anything. Is it illegal for me to do that? 

Okay, let's have a conversation:

 This whole whether or not to tip out situation is very aggravating.  I couldn't agree more! :-) And, based upon the number of comments and questions I get on this issue, tons of people agree with us on this point.

required to tip out a certain percentage to both back and front of the house 
Being required to tip out the back of house is against federal law. No state may require it, period.

Regarding "a certain percentage," that is complicated but in most states it is legal. In Kentucky, servers may not be required to tip out; it is voluntary. In Massachusetts, there is language about a reasonable percentage, and "reasonable" seems to refer to some sort of industry standard. It may come into play if most restaurants require 15 percent and one restaurant requires 30 percent. The employees tipping out 30 percent may have a valid (legal) complaint.

unfair to force me to give a portion of my hard earned money to someone else, especially if I felt they didn't do anything for me.
I understand your frustration. The problem is I've seen too many situations when support staff are stretched too thin, then servers complain and don't want to tip them out. Sometimes somebody isn't pulling their weight, but other times they are either in an impossible situation -- and we all know some servers are unreasonable.

But isn't it also strange that servers only think that it's only the front that makes the restaurant successful?
This one sentence is the reason I am turning your comment into a blog post. You are making an unfair and illogical assumption. The fact that the federal government has gone so far (but not far enough) to protect servers from exploitation does not mean that servers do not recognize the kitchen's contribution or accomplishments.

On a side note, I've worked with kitchens that think it's all about them, and I've worked with kitchen staff that appreciate teamwork and cooperation between them and the front of house. But it's beside the point.

The kitchen's envy of server tips is caused in part by a lack of appreciation of what we do, and also in part by employers underpaying them. Kitchen staff who have never waited tables are green with envy on busy nights when our take is high, but on slow nights when we get sent home and they get paid the same, consistent amount of money to make a few dinners they don't give us a thought. I've never had a kitchen employee call me on a slow night in the winter to make sure I could pay my heating bill, but G-d help servers if some kitchen staff sniff money on a good night. (Don't get me wrong; I have worked with some absolutely lovely cooks and chefs -- but I've also worked with some donkey butts. We all have.)

I've also worked in the back as a cook and can recognize the unfairness in giving money to the kitchen if they really are just standing around doing nothing.
Should the kitchen give servers money on slow nights? Depending upon your state, servers make less than minimum wage. So, to be "fair," the kitchen should have to supplement server incomes on slow nights if the servers have to supplement kitchen incomes on fast nights.

I'm not advocating we do this -- I'm trying to point out that it is silly to require employees to pay each other. It is the obligation of the owner to pay people -- and not underpay people.

I've worked with other servers who were never at their tables, always short-cut their side work and then complain about everything no matter how much money they made. 
If that is happening now, you are the manager. You know what to do -- have a private conversation and hold them to the standard of better behavior.

If they choose to tip out they only need to tell me how much so that it can be accounted for in their reported tips, otherwise I don't ask or say anything. Is it illegal for me to do that?
No, your behavior is perfectly legal. I thank you for being smart and responsible enough to not have servers reporting and paying taxes on tips that they paid to somebody else. (That seems to happen a lot.)

For the record, if tipping out is voluntary then the waitress may do whatever she wants. You are not breaking the law, but you should still tread carefully. Let's say some servers choose to tip out the kitchen; others don't. Some cooks start making food faster for servers who tip out. Now, there is pressure on the waitresses to tip out the kitchen. If a reasonable person would say that servers are forced to tip out the kitchen or suffer consequences, you may still find your employer defending himself against a wage theft allegation.

You sound like a thoughtful manager who wants to do the right thing. Thank you for writing your comment.

3 comments :

  1. I've always thought it was unfair for employers to be able to include tips as part of the servers' wages, period. When I tip, I've never done with thinking of it as paying someone else's employee--it was simply a reward for good service. Good service got good tips. Bad service got little.

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  2. I think most people are with Norma on this one, William. Problem is, restaurant owners have taken advantage of the idea of T.I.P.: to insure prompt service. I think if they had never used tips to pay wages, the tip percentages would not be so high, as well.

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