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Can restaurants require servers to finish side work before tipped work?

water collecting tips at a restaurant
Photograph: Shutterstock


Is it OK for a server to be deprived of a section until their side work is complete?

– Server, Duquesne, Pa.


As a follow-up to the column on how much side work is too much—especially when taking the tip credit—comes this question about whether completing side work can be a required step before being assigned a section to earn tips.

As often happens in this column, the question can be answered on two levels:

  1. What is allowed?
  2. What is best practice for your restaurant?


The short answer is yes. Under federal wage and hour guidelines, recently reinforced in 2018, it is absolutely allowed to require that this side work be completed before starting tipped work, so long as the server makes at least the full minimum wage overall. The old 80/20 rule, which placed a 20% limit on side work, no longer applies. Side work is seen as “related duties” to tipped occupations under federal guidelines, rather than a second type of job requiring a full wage without the tip credit. Keep in mind that state and local regulations may be stricter, and the tip credit is not allowed everywhere.

As a matter of best practice, it is a good idea to evaluate the amount and type of side work you are expecting of servers to be sure it can be reasonably accomplished in the time you set out and wouldn’t be more appropriate for a nontipped employee to complete. It’s a fine and controversial line. For example, spot-checking a restroom before a shift to tidy it seems a reasonable ask of any employee—deep cleaning, less so. In answering your question: What work is being expected of each employee before a shift, and is that expectation reasonable and able to be accomplished in the time allotted?

There are certain truths that all servers seem to perceive: There will always be too much side work, tip-outs will be too high and tips too low. They are common refrains, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored. Check your SOPs to be sure that what you are asking of your employees is reasonable and allows you to get needed work done while still being able to motivate and retain your staff. If your expectations are reasonable but the work isn’t getting done in time, give them some guidance to help.

More on side work here.

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