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Which Employees Can My Restaurant or Bar Legally Tip?

By - February 08, 2017 | Alcoholic Beverage Law | Email Will Cheek

We hear lots of questions about tipping.  Can I include kitchen staff in tips?  Can food runners share tips?  What about my sushi chef?

Restaurants, bars, caterers and venues often surprise us with innovative ideas about tipping employees.  Unfortunately, tipping has not so clear laws about who can – and more importantly – who cannot share in tips.

Bone McAllester employment guru Anne Martin gives this sage advice.

There are three basic factors to consider when determining if you can share tips with an employee:

  1. Does the employee meaningfully participate in the customer experience?
  2. Is the employee part of management, which is undefined but disqualifies tipping?
  3. Is the position customarily and regularly tipped in the industry?

Whether an employee can be tipped really depends on specific job duties.  Servers and bartenders can clearly be tipped.  Prep chefs and bus boys generally cannot.

In our humble opinion, the third factor, “is this a position that is normally tipped,” works against innovative entrepreneurs.  For example, some of our restaurant clients feature food prep as a key part of the customer experience.  Like innumerable cable food shows, watching your food being prepared is entertainment.

The roles of traditional servers and chefs, for example, have blurred in recent years.

In our experience, the law is slow to accept new practices.  Sharing tips with chefs and other food prep staff could be risky.

It all boils down to the specific facts.

We encourage folks with good questions to reach out to Anne with specific asks amartin@bonelaw.com.  Anne really knows her stuff and is well worth paying for staying out of trouble.

A classic Michelle Shocked tune comes to mind, although wethinks Michelle is celebrating the jam that makes Music City famous, and not so much the sweet stuff you find at Loveless Cafe:

Yeah, we have a little revolution sweeping the land
Now once more everybody’s making homemade jam
So won’t you call your friends up on the telephone
You invite ’em on over, you make some jam of your own
You’ll be making jam
Strawberry jam
If you want the best jam
You gotta make your own