top of page

Thoughts on Restaurant Gratuity and Tip Pooling

I've been fortunate to spend most of my time serving and then managing restaurants where gratuity income was set up to share in an organized system among different FOH positions and with a portion going to the Back of House as well. One of positive affect of the pandemic and restaurant re-strategizing has been the elimination of individual tips at some businesses. This often comes with the addition of a service charge, which can be a great way for business to more evenly compensate employees and provide benefits. Still, the topic of this posting is the trouble with what is still the most prevalent method of paying FOH staff: individual tips.

I was inspired to write this post after a dinner out with my visiting family at a small, successful and casual neighborhood restaurant I frequent here in San Francisco. My parents and I had sat at the bar for a drink waiting for our two other guests. When they arrived, the nice host promptly came over and offered to take us to the table. We hadn't settled our tab for the 3 drinks and as we started to follow the host, the bartender interrupted and asked if we could settle up. I had assumed they would just transfer the tab to our table.

So the first problem is that there was no communication or system being followed between the host and bartender to avoid this awkward moment that I now had to interrupt conversation with my family to settle up. But the most basic issue here is the bartender wanted his tip for the 3 drinks. This doesn't make him a bad person, he's just a part of the system, a flawed gratuity system! By not pooling tips, this nice restaurant inherently is putting the desire of a single employee earning a tip over the smooth functioning of the restaurant and the guest experience.

Here are a few advantages to a pooled system:

1. Creates a more stable income for staff without the highs and lows of good and bad nights.

2. Creates a sense of comradery between the staff and willingness to help each other.

3. Eliminates the territorial nature of many servers.

4. Allows servers to take over other sections for breaks and cut staff appropriately without them having to worry about losing tips.

5. Puts an end to negative judgement towards guests that innocently don't tip expected amounts (e.g. travelers from countries that don't traditionally leave gratuities).

6. By sharing tips with the BOH team, it lessens the divide between FOH and BOH that exists in all too many restaurants. A server could not do their job without a backwaiter, food runner, etc. and definitely could not do it without a cook or a dishwasher!

First and foremost to be successful in a pooled environment still requires a strong presence from a front of house manager. Managers need to train their staff to ask for and anticipate help when needed. When everyone is sharing the tips, it creates an environment where bad service affects all involved financially. As much as I dislike being motivated by tips rather than just doing a good job (a topic for another day!), financial incentive is real. When everyone has a stake in the happiness and proper attention given to every guest that walks through your door, service standards and desire to help your teammates go up!

This is the type of restaurant operation I love to help build. With strong systems and thoughtful management and guidance, a restaurant can be successful, efficient and a great place to work- benefitting both your guests and employees.

bottom of page