Tips are any money left by a restaurant customer for an employee in excess of the sum total owed for the goods or services they acquired. Tips belong to the employees and not their employers.

What is tip pooling?

Tip pooling is when the tips given by each patron are “pooled” together into one lump sum and then redistributed to the employees.

Who has a right to share the tip pool?

Only employees who directly provide service to the patrons have a right to the tip pool. Such employees include busboys, waitresses or waiters, bartenders, maitre d’s and hostesses or hosts. Chefs that prepare food at the table may share in the tip pool as well.

Owners or any employees that act as agents of the owner (i.e. have hiring/firing or disciplinary power) cannot share in the tip pool. These employees include managers and supervisors. In addition, employees that do not supply direct service cannot share in the tip pool. These restaurant employees include chefs, dishwashers, and line cooks.

Can my employer force me to pool my tips?

Under federal law, “YES.” However, the answer may still be “NO” depending on what state you live in. Some states say involuntary tip pooling is illegal, and some say employers can make it mandatory should they so choose, including Nevada and California.

Are mandatory service fees in restaurants considered tips?

Some restaurants impose a mandatory service fee for larger parties of approximately 6 persons and up, and this service charge takes the place of any tips the patron would give. As such, it would count toward the employee’s tips.

Do I need a lawyer?

There are major jurisdictional differences among the states, so it can be difficult to know if your rights have been violated without expert legal advice. If you are concerned that your employer is violating your rights, please contact an employment lawyer.