Democratic Lawmaker Says Restaurant Servers Shouldn't Have to Pool their Tips

Photo: Lennart Tange on Flickr.
Photo: Lennart Tange on Flickr.
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It’s common practice for servers to make about $4 an hour, because it’s assumed that the tips they earn will take them up to minimum wage or more.

But some servers who work at restaurants in Ohio say their employers have started putting tips into pools. And Democratic State Sen. Nickie Antonio says they’re requiring those pools to be shared with people who clean tables, seat people and more.

"Under this current practice, a percentage of the gross sales of each check from the restaurant's patrons is automatically taken to pay bartenders, hosts and bussers," Antonio said. "If a server is not given a tip for their service, they still have to automatically pay out-of-pocket percentage based on the gross sales of a customer’s bill to another employee, essentially paying to wait on tables some days."

Domingo Fontanez, a server at a restaurant in Northeast Ohio, says it’s not fair to him.

"I think the tip pool is something that is I guess you would say an unfair act by employers that kind of has us paying the wages of other employees as opposed to the employers paying minimum wage," Fontanez said.

Fontanez says he and other servers must chip in a cut from their tips to bring the pay of workers who clean tables and seat customers up to minimum wage.

Destany Carroll says she’s worked as a waitress for 18 years, and has voluntarily given tips to a bartender or someone on staff who's helped her during a busy shift. But recently, the Northeast Ohio restaurant where she waits tables decided to go to the tip pool.

"It feels like somebody's taking advantage of me," Carroll said. "I like to work as a team and if somebody's automatically given a certain percentage of what I sell as an individual, then they have no obligation to work as a team with me."

Carroll and Fontanez say one problem with these required tip pools is that the amount to be tipped out is based on sales. Fontanez says the problem is the tip is assumed in the calculation of what a server pays out to other employees.

"You're donating this amount based on this sale amount regardless of what you get on that bill," Fontanez said. "But you don’t know what you're going to get on that bill. Yeah, sure I could get a great tip, I could get a 20 percent tip. I could walk away with zero as well though. And regardless, I have to pay that x percentage of that sales of that check to that employee."

The servers say everyone is paid the same when the tips are split, so it’s unfair because some servers are working hard, while others are hardly working -- and that the system doesn’t help employees work together. But the group that lobbies for restaurants doesn’t see it that way.

"We truly do believe that it attempts to solve a non-existent problem," said Richard Mason with the Ohio Restaurant Association. While his group opposes Antonio’s legislation, he says it hasn’t taken a position on tip pools themselves.

"The Ohio Restaurant Association believes that each restaurant owner needs to decide, within the law, what employee compensation package works best for their particular business model," he said.

As far as the complaint that servers say they sometimes have to pay out of their own pockets when customers fail to leave appropriate tips, Mason isn’t convinced.

"Certainly there are tip pools where a portion of a tip is put into a pool," he said. "But where there is no tip, we're not aware of situations anywhere where employees are expected to put some of their own money into the pool."

Antonio’s legislation would not ban tip pools. However, it would say servers would not be required to participate in the tip pool.

The bill is in its beginning stages, and Antonio is a Democrat in a legislature that is dominated by Republicans.

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