In the best circumstances, tipped hospitality jobs can offer substantial wages. But then, of course, there are also slow days, canceled shifts, and stingy or biased diners to consider.
Tip pooling is a practice designed to level the playing field and provide stability. The system requires all members of the team to contribute a portion or all their tips to a shared pot before the total is then divided among all the staff. That’s where things can get tricky.
The most straightforward way of dividing the pool is by the amount of time each employee worked. “We add up the total number of hours worked by the pooling staff, then divide the tips by that to create shares,” Xania Woodman, a bartender at O.P. Rockwell Cocktail Lounge and Music Hall in Park City, Utah, explains. “Each hour you work is a share of the pool. Eight hours gets eight shares, six hours gets you six shares.”
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Some argue that this method doesn’t account for the varying workloads each position entails. Restaurant bartenders, for example, often work longer hours than servers, as their roles typically include extended prep and cleaning periods, and restaurant bars often continue to serve later than their kitchens. But the floor staff brings in the majority of tips during service.
Calculating each individual’s “shares” based on hours alone may see bar staff earn more — even if they contributed less to the pool and worked at a lower intensity. So instead, some restaurants determine each employee’s take-home by operating a points system based on positions and roles.
It’s easy to get bogged down by the finer details of how to divide tip pools, but this risks ignoring the broader, more important advantages and drawbacks of the system.
Advocates say it encourages individuals to work together as a team. “Every guest becomes my guest and it’s in my best interest to support the servers and back servers,” Frederic Yarm, bartender at La Brasa in Somerville, Mass., tells VinePair. “It reciprocates when servers hop behind the bar to take food orders when the bartenders are slammed with drink tickets.”
Albuquerque-based industry veteran Kate Gerwin believes this system helps managers promote and retain hard-working, front-of-house staff. “When you cultivate a culture that thrives on systems, the team weeds out the unmotivated people quickly,” she explains. “When you are the only one that doesn’t hold company values, you shine, and not only for the right reasons.”
Other professionals contacted for this feature shared experiences of diners tipping less when they found out it was going toward a pool. This raises further issues about the subjectivity of all tipped wages.
There’s also the non-tipped restaurant staff to consider. In March 2018, President Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act into law. Among other things, the act allowed restaurant owners to include back-of-house (kitchen) staff in the tipping pool, provided they pay the federal minimum wage to front-of-house employees.
This revision will likely add further arguments and confusion when dividing tipping pools. For consumers, however, things are as simple as they’ve ever been: If you are eating out and appreciate good service, please, tip generously!