Do you suggest "tip pooling" among the front-of-house staff for a high volume cafe with 130 seats?
– Jody Roberts, General Manager, Morada Bay Inc.
This is a question I get a lot. There's no one right or wrong answer—only what works best for you and your operation, so let's look at the pros and cons:
Pros of Tip Pooling
- Encourages teamwork
- Less fighting over potentially less-lucrative sections or guests (for example, the difficult section furthest from the kitchen or a table of lingering regulars who have a reputation for being stingy tippers)
- If the pool is split for an entire week, rather than individual shifts, servers will not object to working lower revenue shifts (lunch rather than dinner, for example)
Cons of Tip Pooling
- High performing/more experienced servers (your stars) may feel underpaid and that their work is subsidizing less skilled or lazier staff
- Servers may slack on excellent service realizing that the positive impact on their individual wallet will be less
- Servers may feel cheated on exceptionally large tips that they then have to share
Individual tipping is largely self-policing. Great servers who are both fast and friendly will have more income at the end of the shift. In a pooled environment management has more of an obligation and a challenge to raise the quality of service for the entire team so there are no "hangers on," unskilled or otherwise low-performing servers who benefit from the pool. Still, Caitlin Walsh, a service manager at a Ruby Tuesday in New Jersey prefers pooling: "The servers help each other because they are not in the mindset of working for themselves."
Also, it is important to know your legal rights with regard to tip pooling and make sure the employees know theirs, especially if you are changing to a new policy. In many states the employer does have the right to require pooling and can require tipping out bussers, barbacks, and other service employees. In all cases, tips need to stay with the service staff—the employer is just the bookkeeper. No tip outs to management, kitchen staff, or "administrative fee" should be charged. Check with your state department of labor and state restaurant association to be sure your approach is legal.
Personally, while I'm a back of house guy, I've always preferred working in operations where tips are pooled. The manager doesn't hear "not my table," or "I've got to take care of my own section first," and more importantly, neither does the guest.