When should servers pay for a mistake?

sad teen food server


Dear Advice Guy,

Why do we have to pay for every little mistake, even when the mistake is the fault of the kitchen?

– Heather, Server, Giuseppe’s, Ormond Beach, Florida


Building on a previous question a few months ago on whether an employer can charge employees for their mistakes in various states (important because it does vary widely by state), comes your question of how the process should be administered and which mistakes are appropriate for charges.

First, in your state of Florida, it is indeed legal to charge employees for mistakes. From our friends at Avvo, “Florida has no state law on deductions, meaning employers can generally charge you for mistakes as long as they don't reduce your pay below minimum wage.”

Servers are often targets for deductions since they are the first line of contact with the guest, often handle cash—so may be responsible for shortages—and, with tips, generally fall above minimum wage. Employers should be consistent on whether they charge for employee mistakes and, if they do, what kinds of mistakes are included. For example, some restaurants limit charges to specific types of errors: incorrect orders inputted into the POS but not voided, lost or mishandled equipment, cash shortages or dine and dash, for example. In this business of tight margins and rising costs, I understand the appeal for operators of passing on the costs of egregious mistakes to employees. That said, many mistakes are part of the cost of doing business. To pass them on to employees, even if legal, may have implications on morale, satisfaction, guest service and retention, and be outweighed by the greater cost of training a new employee and losing goodwill with employees and guests. The best solution is good training and oversight to minimize the inevitable mistakes that happen, rather than chasing after mistake-prone employees with a tab.

You raise a second problem of concern, as well, that charges for mistakes are not correctly assigned. My advice is to ask for a clear explanation and review of the charges being assigned and the reasons, and if it does not seem reasonable, find somewhere that is. As usual, policies should be clearly outlined in the employee manual and reviewed by your attorney.

More on charging employees for mistakes here.

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