By CHARLES FERRUZZA
Remember all the buzz among restaurant servers back in 1997 when Lidia’s Kansas City opened and announced that it would require its waiters and waitresses to pool their tips?
The collected gratuities would later be split evenly among the servers working that night. If you’ve ever worked in the food-service business, you know that’s not one of the more beloved practices. A real pro, who can handle a big station and has regular call customers who will only sit in that server’s station, will rake in a lot more tips than the kid who just finished training or the perpetually lazy waiter or waitress who shambles from one restaurant to the next. Who the hell wants to share tips with those types?
Not surprisingly, tip pooling only lasted about a year at Lidia’s. I know a lot of excellent servers who won’t work at a restaurant where tip-pooling is required. Or, even worse, at a place where the cheapskate owner covers his ass by insisting that waiters tip out a hefty percentage to practically everyone working in the joint.
In my waiter days, I didn’t mind tipping out to the bartender and the busboys, but I resented my experience at one Midtown bistro, where it was mandatory policy to give a share of my hard-earned cash to the sullen dishwasher as well – an employee who not only did a terrible job washing plates, but was always complaining that the waitstaff didn’t give him enough money. He was as superstitious as he was lazy, so one night I spit on a five-dollar bill, told him I had put a Sicilian curse on it and tossed the greenback in his face. That was the last time he complained about my generosity.
Then there’s the sneaky way that some national chains have toyed with their servers’ incomes by cutting into the tips and giving a portion as a “bonus” to well-paid managers.
Now servers are fighting back. Nation’s Restaurant News reported this week that the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas ruled that a class-action suit brought by 3,500 servers against the parent group of Chili’s Grill & Bar, Brinker International Inc., could move forward. The federal suit was filed six years ago in response to the Chili’s policy of sharing servers’ tips with expeditors and quality assurance managers.
According to Nation’s Restaurant News: Despite six years of legal maneuvering by the Brinkers attorneys, Judge Keith P. Ellison “rebuffed Brinkers assertion that sharing tips … is a common practice within casual-dining chains.”
Brinkers has, reportedly, stopped the practice of tip-sharing, perhaps in the backlash of the negative publicity. You might say the policy has gotten a Chili’s reception.