To Pool or Not To Pool

Huber's Café
A lot of places claim to be historic, but Huber’s Cafe really fits the bill. Established in 1879, it is a Portland, Oregon, legend, managed by the same family, in the same building for a century. Originally a saloon known for serving turkey sandwiches with a drink, the mainstay dish evolved into turkey dinner ($16.50), while the Spanish coffee ($9.75) has become the most popular drink. Co-owner James Louie says the restaurant has a tipping system in which servers keep all of their own tips but are urged to give a percentage to bartenders, cooks and others.
Ceia Kitchen + Bar
Known for its food and wine from the European coastline, Ceia is housed in a 19th century brick building in Newburyport, Massachusetts, about 30 miles north of Boston. The 60-seat boutique restaurant is known for its fresh pasta dishes ($18-$26) and unique seafood preparations ($28-$35) that rotate every eight weeks, and an award-winning wine list. It also features outstanding service, and founder and owner Nancy Batista-Caswell says that's a result of a team atmosphere, including pooling of staff tips.
Why do use your current form of tipping?

I think the motivation for the server is to give better service if you actually keep your own tips, but tipping out makes everyone happy. It started about 20 years ago. Prior to that time, servers kept all of their tips. But tipping out was actually started by bartenders. If servers didn't tip out, it might take a long time for your drinks to come. Eventually we decided to establish some guidelines, but we can't order servers to follow that.

The time and attention we spend on training and service require everyone to work as a team. We're a small restaurant, and details can be missed if we're not working together. Our menu and wine list requires a lot of [guest] handholding and education, and that can take away from [the time and attention spent with] other customers. We want to be certain all of us have hands on the table, making sure the customers have what they want.
What do the staff and guests think about this?

For the most part the wait staff is happy with this system. If the wait staff is happy, it's going to be a better experience for the guest, and that will result in a better tip. It also keeps the staff on its toes. Sometimes if the busser is kind of slacking, say yakking in the back with an attractive female employee, the server will refuse to give any part of the tip to him.

I believe it helps build a strong team and provides a seamless experience for our guests. Our servers have a great relationship among each other, and the customer feels that. There are times a server may open a bottle of wine for another table, and the customer asks, "Are you the sommelier?" and we just say, "No, we are working as a team."

Have you considered changing this tipping style?

No. Why change something that's working? Our guidelines call for servers to keep most of their tips, but they're supposed to tip out 2 percent of sales to the bartender, 2 percent of food sales to the kitchen and 1 percent of sales [each] to bussers and host staff. It is really a team effort, and everyone should share the wealth. If a cook or bartender is not doing their job or has a bad attitude, it brings down service and hurts business.

No. Working as a team, everyone is more genuine and sincere in their delivery of service. They all know they are going to share in the great service. They are also watching out to make sure everyone else [on the staff] is honest and working hard. We have had times when a server may think another one is draining the pool [by not working hard enough or helping out in a busy situation], and then it falls back to the manager to handle that.