Dear Advice Guy,
My work makes us tip out the sushi chef. On average for me it’s $15-20 per shift. It’s so much money. Wondering what the laws are about employees tipping out sushi chefs.
– Jack, Bartender, Sushi Restaurant, Rhode Island
Recently I’ve had a number of questions relating to the fair implementation of tip pools. The law is pretty clear on the surface—in tip credit states, including yours, cooks and other back-of-house professionals may not participate in a tip pool. However, imagine a scenario like a sushi chef or teppanyaki chef where the normally back-of-house cook is working in the front-of-house, interacting with guests as a primary function of the job. A cook in that position is no longer truly a back-of-house person and, in fact, the US Department of Labor issued an opinion in 2008 agreeing, saying that, “It is our opinion that itamae-sushi and teppanyaki chefs may participate in tip pools and be considered tipped employees under the FLSA [Fair Labor Standards Act].”
While laws vary by state, the practices at your restaurant seem perfectly legal, at least as described in your question. What you may be asking is whether the pooling percentage is fair and equitable—that’s a common complaint and one you can raise with management.
As always, check with your attorney and restaurant association as you need to consider state and local laws as well. More on tips for sushi here.