How to keep pooled tipping policies fair for all

tip jar


Dear Advice Guy,

We pool tips. We catered a wedding and at the end of the night, the groom was paying the tab. I handed it to him, and he left $200 as an added tip on the credit card slip and specifically said it was for me and the other bartender. I let the manager know that the guest had left a tip on there for me and the other employee and he said he would take care of it. Well, 2 weeks went by and he still hadn't given us our money, so when I said something, he said he would give it to us soon. When he did, he gave me $40 and the other girl $40. Doesn’t the customer have the right to determine who gets the tip?

– Jaylyne Hettrick, Bartender, Boulder Creek Golf Course, Streetsboro, OH


The column last week along with the news that Union Square Hospitality Group is moving to no tipping raised some great questions and comments about fairer tipping policies.

This question comes up often: in a pooled environment, if a guest designates a tip for a specific employee, can/should the operation honor that guest’s request?

My advice is to go all or nothing. If you’re a pooled house, letting employees keep any tips out of the pool introduces a slippery slope of inequity. It is not the guest’s responsibility to know the tipping policy of the restaurant in designating a tip for a single employee. As long as the pool is being operated properly (no administrative or management fee, management not in the pool, only FOH in the pool in tip credit states), this case reinforces the whole purpose of pooling: some tipped employees will have better nights than others but in a tipped environment, servers can mitigate highs and lows (such as getting stiffed) and can have a bit more predictability in take-home-pay.

In an interview on WHYY’s Radio Times Philadelphia restaurateur Avram Hornik points out that feelings about tips, pooling and no tipping restaurants are a bit like gambling—employees remember the big hits (such as being slipped a $100) but don’t remember the small disappointments where a pooled model can make a bad night bearable. Chalk this one up to a nicer tip for the pool than you would have gotten were you not so great at your job.

As usual with these types of questions, regulations vary by state and the best course of action is to clearly spell out the policy in the employee manual to prevent future disputes. 

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