Tips for Gratuities

When it comes to tipping, restaurants should assess best practices.

When it comes to tipping, everyone has their own standards. To keep diners and staff happy, restaurants should assess best tipping practices.

To pool or not to pool?

There are obvious advantages and disadvantages to pooling tips, and ultimately, each restaurant should figure out what works best for its environment.

“More and more restaurants are going to tip sharing or pooling,” says Jason Kaplan, founder of JK Food Service Consulting in New York. “This was brought about to promote camaraderie between servers, as well as to minimize animosity due to server sections and large-party gratuities.”

Kaplan adds that many diners have become more aware of tip pooling and are asking  if the server shares the tip.

Randall Obrecht, general manager at Sorrento Hotel in Seattle, and former food and beverage director at the hotel’s restaurant, Hunt Club, says he has noticed the same trend.

“It seems more restaurants are going to team service and tip pools,” Obrecht says. “I like the concept as it promotes teamwork, and guests tend to receive more attention with additional bodies. The only negative side is if an individual on the team is not pulling his weight then it may take management a longer time to identify and counsel [which may not occur] before morale is affected.”

Pooling tips may also be seen as a model that lacks the incentive to work harder, Kaplan points out. “I advise my clients, depending on the situation with their new or current staff, to see if this would be an effective system in their business.”

Mike West, food and beverage director at the Barking Frog restaurant in Woodinville, Washington, says he and his team have recently debated the “pool or not to pool” question.

“There are pros and cons to both sides,” West says. “We decided not to pool tips in our outlets to keep the incentive for each server to work for her own tips. I think in operations, where everyone’s roles and tasks are relatively equal, say valet service or banquets, it makes more sense to pool tips. However, when serving, you are creating a personal connection with guests, and the amount of work can vary greatly from table to table.”

Ashley Rosenfeld, a consultant specializing in front-of-house service with A La Carte Foodservice Consulting Group in Houston, says she believes there are only a few situations where pooling tips is a good idea, such as those like West described where roles and tasks are relatively equal.

“Tip pooling is most often seen behind the bar or at counter-service establishments. In both situations, pooling is a necessity because several employees may assist one customer. However, in a full-service restaurant, I would shy away from tip pooling,” she says, echoing the same views about pooling’s effects on morale and service standards.



Waitstaff pooling, in my opinion, creates too many negatives.Professional waitstaff provide quality service and are compensated accordingly, most of the time.As a restaurant owner, I want all my waitstaff working for their own gratuities - the level of service is always higher.Tom CrucittiFairways Tavern & TerraceSouthbury, CT 06488

Whether we like it or not, the restaurant business has been an incentive based system for at least the last 35 years and probably longer. Tips and gratuities are incentive based and accordingly those who generally perform the best make the most. Pooling can and most likely will "numb" down your star performers. Does anyone think that pooling and sharing will make your worst performers better?

Tip pooling rarely works in my view because there is always that slacker who takes advantage of his coworkers efforts. Another disadvantage to tip pooling it managements propensity to dip into the tip pool, which has happened in every restaurant that I have worked in using a pool system.

The best run restaurants I've ever worked in have always been fully pooled restaurants. The issue of staff taking advantage of the situation, your star performers being "numbed", or of management dipping into the pool are all examples of sub-par management. With attentive, engaged management and an open dialogue with staff, a fully pooled house should only raise the standards of service, the level of morale and the consistency of your restaurant's message. The obvious service related benefits (as in transferring checks from the bar to the floor without affecting morale or asking a customer to tackily close their tab first) far outweigh the slight effort it would take for even a mediocre manager to monitor the staff morale and push an environment of self-motivated, self-policing, passionate staff that put the effort in to raise the bar for the restaurant. As an incentive based system, moving the incentive from the immediate, "how many customers did I have tonight" to the grander "how busy was the entire restaurant tonight" shifts the entire mentality of the staff and aligns their values more closely with that of management and the owners.Also, if you find that someone on your staff is taking advantage of a pooled house... fire them. When someone else does it... fire them too. Once or twice and everyone will understand that they're in it together or they're not in it at all. It's not like you don't still get a report every night of sales and tips brought in from each staff member when you're pooled.


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