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Jun 12, 2010 10:38 AM

Pooling Tips

In the various threads on tipping I often see servers posting something like, "At our restaurant we pool our tips. At the end of the night the pool is split among the bartender, servers, and bus persons."

At the one restaurant I worked at that had bus persons, each server tipped them at the end of the night, but there was no pool, and AFAIK, the bartender wasn't cut in. (But that was back in the days when he was known as a "saloon keeper.")

My questions are: (1) What is the incentive to be a good/better server if your tips are the same as a mediocre/bad one at the end of the day?

(2) Why should the bartender get a portion of my tip if I didn't order anything from the bar.

(3) Should I ask if tips are pooled and tip accordingly? Why should I leave a more generous tip for excellent service if the server will not benefit from it directly. Conversely, how will my "short tip" teach a server who gave poor service?

A second part to this question is this: Do the bartenders put their tips into this pool, too, only for those from patrons that ate at the bar, or not at all?

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  1. different for every establishment. i was a bartender 10 years, several establishments. some of them very high-volume nightclubs. at a high vol nightclub, it makes a lot of sense for all bts who work the same bar to share tips, since one may just get stuck on the service bar (pouring drinks for the cocktail servers) while one waits on the regulars in a charming, chatty way, and one speed-demon rocks out at the busy corner of the dance floor, averaging $12 in transactions/minute. one barback, or a team of barbacks, stocks and runs ice for all of them. all 3 bts pool tips and (after getting tipped out by each cocktail server), in turn tip the bar back(s) out a percentage. some transparency in regards to the money keeps everyone honest-- no greedy bts shorting the hardworking barbacks on their percentage, please!!! in theory everyone carries her/his own weight, and work as a team to make money and pick up slack for each other. problems arise when one member of the team doesn't pull her/his own weight, but this is much rarer than you'd think. the team thing seems to be just as big of a motivator as the cash ime.

    thanks for reading the preface. to your questions:

    1) good one. in places where servers pool tips, all of the servers will tend/trend to be at the same level of aptitude & ability. this is because you tend to weed out the outliers--really outstandingly good servers will feel like they are busting their butts so that some not-so-good folks can benefit. these servers look for greener pastures elsewhere & leave. really poor servers encounter a fast learning curve and improve pronto, or the rest of the crew will close ranks and refuse to carry the dead weight. the bad servers will find themselves looking for work elsewhere.

    so you have establishments where servers pool tips that are across the board good, across the board mediocre, across the board poor. but all of the servers are incentivized to help each other out, run food & clear for each other, etc. they tend to improve as a team. some of the servers may be a little better and make the best tips in the pool, but the difference should not be extraordinary, and the other servers should be helping them in some way to earn the tips, so it's generally copacetic.

    2. even if you didn't order anything from the bar, the bt should get a % of a server's check because the bt is a member of the server's support team, just as the host, food runners and bussers are. when the server orders drinks, including nonalcoholic drinks and glasses of water, the bt is generally the worker who fetches, builds, fills, opens, garnishes, and partially serves these drinks. the bt is additionally probably ultimately in charge of stocking all alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages, their ice and garnishes, and all of the glassware in the establishment, including keeping service items such as coffee carafes and water pitchers filled. most of the time glassware is washed in a separate glassware-only dishwashing machine, or a separate triple sink, by the bt or her/his support staff (barback), who is in turn tipped out by the bt for this labor. recycling of glass bottles is yet another task generally assigned to the barstaff.

    in a restaurant where the servers tip out bartenders 10%, for example, a customer orders a $5 microbrew tap beer from a cocktail server. the customer tips the server $1 for the beer. following this scenario, 10cent will be tipped out to the bt, who will then tip out her/his barback 20%, or 2cent. so 90cent for server (pre-tax), 8cent for bt, 2cent for barback. for the same beer, different scenario: the $5 tap is on a dinner tab where the customer tips 15% on the total=75cent. bt gets tipped out 7 cent, and in turn tips out a penny to the barback--- server 68cent, bt 6cent, barback 1cent.

    as you can see, the bar staff is probably not paying the rent with the staff tip outs, unless it's incredibly high volume. however there needs to be at least a token financial incentive to keep the bar staff from absolutely ignoring the waitstaff's drink orders in favor of working for direct tips from bar patrons. getting the server's drinks out needs to happen as far as the house (and the servers) are concerned, so the bar staff get a tip out on the servers' total tabs.

    3) ask if you like. if service was great i would tip accordingly whether or not the tips were pooled--because as in 1) chances are good that service across the board is great, and every member of the team that works to make it great deserves to get a great tip. if service was really poor, i'd also assume that service is generally poor. the only time i'd really hesitate to dock a tip in a place that (i knew) pooled tips is when it's really obvious that one person (my server) is totally dropping the ball, when the rest of the crew is doing fine. in that case i may tip an arbitrary amt/percentage, but call the situation to the mgr's attention. they tend to like a heads up before performance issues cause a rift in their server team. so i think it would work out appropriately in any case.

    re bartenders: i can think of no instance in my experience where bts share tips with servers. bts pool tips amongst themselves, and servers tip them out for service, either individually or out of the servers' own pool.

    sorry to write a damn chapter. :)

    1. Almost all restaurants have some type of tip pool system, but they can vary a lot from place to place.

      In most casual or chain restaurants, servers keep most of the tips from their individual tables, and tip out a percentage of their sales to the bar/hostess/kitchen (and, increasingly, to the house or management). Here the benefit of a higher tip obviously goes directly to the server, as the amount that the server tips out remains the same whether the guest leaves 10% or 25%. In this scenario, the server often tips the bartender only on beverage sales (and the kitchen only on food sales), so the bartender is not getting any portion of your tip unless they provide you with a service.

      I think your questions are probably more geared to the other type of system, where all of the servers on the floor pool their gratuities and split them evenly (usually by hours worked). This system is, in my experience, more common in smaller mid range restaurants and some fine dining restaurants.

      During university I worked as both a server and a manager in both situations. I think they each have their pluses and minuses (for customers, servers and restaurants). To answer your questions...

      1. As I say, the two types of restaurants that I have seen this structure used in most commonly are very small ones or fine dining. If there are only three servers on the floor, you are still feeling some of the impact of a good vs. bad tip. In a restaurant this size, a certain amount of peer influence is exerted as well -- dead weight will be exposed and pushed out pretty quickly. Fine dining servers are generally highly trained and see it as much more of a career (at least much more than your average TGI Friday's server)... Most of the ones that I know take a lot of pride in what they do and are unlikely to let service slide just because they are pooling their tips. Not to mention that positions in high caliber restaurants are obviously competitive and if you want to keep your job (or, at least, prime shifts) you better be delivering top notch service the majority of the time.

      2. This is a tough question to answer because restaurants are all structured so differently. I would say that at the majority of restaurants that pool tips, most tables do order some alcohol (not to mention that the bartender is often responsible for non alcoholic drinks, ice and lemons for water, etc). Bartenders are often serving their own guests at the bar in addition to making beverages for all of the servers. In a lot of restaurants, customers who choose to sit at the bar are often serious diners or high tipping regulars, and the bartender winds up contributing almost as much to the pool as some of the servers.

      3. The only time I have let pooled tipping affect how I tip is possibly if I would have left an exorbitant gratuity due to a personal relationship with the server, comps, etc. As to how good or poor tipping will affect the server, keep in mind that management and the other servers do see the tips (as most are on credit card slips). As a server I was always proud of my high tip average, and embarrassed about low tips (as though I had let the team down, even if the cause was beyond my control). As a manager I certainly kept an eye on server averages. Obviously a small number of high or low tips is probably not indicative of anything, but if it happened frequently it would probably mean that there was an issue that needed to be addressed.

      As I said, advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. I think you have the disadvantages down -- namely, the server has less incentive to work really hard because they less directly feel the effects of doing a good or bad job.

      I do think that pooling encourages teamwork between servers. If one server is slammed and another is slow, obviously there is more incentive to step in to assist the busy server (thus improving overall service). It reduces competition between waiters for good tables or regulars that are known to spend (or tip) like crazy. I suspect that it improves service for those who don't drink alcohol or have small appetites, as it reduces your chances of getting shunned so your server can suck up to a table of big shots. Lastly, it reduces the financial incentive to up sell or push expensive items over cheaper ones -- it lets me focus on delivering the best possible experience, and recommend a cheaper bottle (or the pasta instead of the veal) if I thought you would enjoy it more than the more expensive option.

      Apparently I have put more thought into this than I thought I had. Too many boring hours in management classes and polishing cutlery during the summer, I suppose...

      1 Reply
      1. re: echoamphitheatre

        Good posting!

        One of the positive aspects of tip pooling is that those who are good manual laborers but need to learn the finer points of service can improve their skills while making a meaningful contribution to the team.

        Yes, the best and the worst tend to leave but that would happen in any event.

        Tip pooling makes this process relatively equitable.

      2. My questions are: (1) What is the incentive to be a good/better server if your tips are the same as a mediocre/bad one at the end of the day?
        The idea behind pooling is to work as a team on all tables to ensure that all tables are being cared for. Server still have their stations, but - say they might clear tables, do refills or deliver food (etc.) readily for thoe tables outside their own station. If you have a crap server, the good ones will weed them out one way or another. They will either help them get better or run them off.

        (2) Why should the bartender get a portion of my tip if I didn't order anything from the bar?
        Generally, you will not tip out the bartender unless you have ordered from the bar. You tip out on a percentage of your bar sales. Sometimes the bartender acts as busperson or other functions. If that is the case, then the restaurant can jigger the tip amounts.

        (3) Should I ask if tips are pooled and tip accordingly? Why should I leave a more generous tip for excellent service if the server will not benefit from it directly. Conversely, how will my "short tip" teach a server who gave poor service?
        I sort of answered this already, but to clarify: No, you needn't ask if tips are pooled. That really isn't your concern. The server knows the situation and if they found it objectionable, they would serve elsewhere. If you knew they pooled, how would your behavior change? Would it be license to tip less? Would you say - here is $4 for my main server, $2 for the person who trucked my food to the table, $2 for the guy who got me more butter and cleared my dinner plates... Oy! Let your server handle the backroom stuff. If your server stunk, tip accordingly. It will not go unnoticed by the other servers. The shame often elevates servers performance.

        A second part to this question is this: Do the bartenders put their tips into this pool, too, only for those from patrons that ate at the bar, or not at all?
        Usually the bar is separate, but that depends on the restaurant and what is going on at the bar.

        I owned a restaurant and I have worked in a few. Only one where the tips were pooled. I liked it. It depends on the people working and the economy - and the ability to find and hire good workers. - how well the pooling goes.

        15 Replies
        1. re: Sal Vanilla

          Management sharing in tip pools is evil but becoming commonplace.

          This is one of the reasons why immigrants are often preferred to native born Americans especially to those above 25.

          Where I work we tip out the barback 4% of the bar sales. The reasoning is that the amount of labor should be the element that determines the tip-out rather than the ability of the bartender to make $.

          Where I had my first bar job the servers didn't tip out the bartender because we had internal promotion.

          Most of our volume was in the Lounge and dining tables so it was imperative that the servers be the priority.

          The bartenders incentive to take care of the servers was to keep their job!

          The person who could replace you was right in front of you.

          Believe me when I say that so many people want to tend bar that it is expedient to put pressure on the bartender.

          Servers added juice and soda to drinks in what was admittedly the simpler time of 1982.

          As a Bar Mgr. I initiated tip pooling among the bar staff and achieved a 10% reduction in Pouring cost in 3 weeks.

          Give-aways dropped dramatically.

          Back in the day when men were the overwhelming majority of bar staff physical fights occurred and drugs were commonplace.

          Tip pooling lessens the income disparity that leads to violence and drugs.

          1. re: postemotional1

            "Tip pooling lessens the income disparity that leads to violence and drugs."

            gotta say i don't follow your post at all, especially this statement. drug-fueled workplace brawls between co-workers? nope, doesn't match my experience. i also don't know what you are trying to imply about immigrants, i read that part several times and i fear i can't break the "code" to grasp your meaning.

            lastly, management sharing in tip pooling is absolutely not commonplace. maybe if you work in absolutely reprehensible quasi-legal establishments such as you describe, you encounter this more often than not.

            1. re: soupkitten

              If you are under 40 it is highly unlikely that you have ever seen a physical altercation in a bar/club/restaurant.

              It died out around 2001. I was a manager in the 90's and physical fights occurred on at least 1/2 occasions within the firm I worked for.

              This firm stills exists and has at least 5 stores within Greater Boston.

              Fighting was huge in the 70's, almost went way in the 80's, notched up dramatically in the 90's and is now virtually extinct as far as I know.

              The relationship between pooling and violence is much less than causal.

              The relationship between pooling and violence is much more than coincidence.

              This is in addition to fight clubs, "knucks" al.

              Immigrants take orders without question. Bussers and barbcks in Boston are largely immigrants.

              Blacks and Puerto Ricans don't follow orders with blind obedience.. Blacks and Puerto Ricans have largely left gratuity work as they will question items such as tip pooling.

              Just try to tell a black or Puerto Rican that a manager "deserves" to share in a tip pool.


              I have never worked in a place where salaried managers shared in a tip pool, nor would I.

              L' Espalier and Top of the Hub are 2 places that have this practice as is Eastern Standard.

              1. re: postemotional1

                "If you are under 40 it is highly unlikely that you have ever seen a physical altercation in a bar/club/restaurant."

                You could not be more wrong.

                1. re: postemotional1

                  ridiculous. nightclub and bar brawls are relatively common ime, i have had 16 sutures in my face due to "physical altercations" at the bar where i was working, and i wish dh and i could both say we've never been detained after work for witness questioning by the police and/or homicide detectives. talk about just wanting to sit down and have a beer, and not being able to! unfortunately, where alcohol is served, there will eventually be violent incidents. it's why bars have bouncers and higher insurance premiums than taco stands.

                  what i've never seen are workplace fights between employees? in the establishment? over money/tip disparity? ridiculous. these posts stink to high heaven.

                  1. re: soupkitten

                    I am relieved to read that someone else has had the experience of fights between co-workers although it is truly unfortunate that they exist.

                    Having said that...the days of "step outside" have largely subsided in the last 15 years.

                    I do think that tip pooling has contributed to the diminishing of this dangerous, archaic blight.

                    The increased # and skill of female servers has also brought some degree of civility to the business.

                2. re: soupkitten

                  lastly, management sharing in tip pooling is absolutely not commonplace. maybe if you work in absolutely reprehensible quasi-legal establishments such as you describe, you encounter this more often than not.

                  Steve Wynn believes in management tip sharing with the dealers and it's caused quite a stir in Las Vegas. Wynn has also forced union-covered nightclub employees to share tips with management personnel.

                3. re: postemotional1

                  I was under the impression that management sharing in tip pools is illegal in MA, according to Chapter 149, Section 152A of the General Laws. No?

                  1. re: invinotheresverde

                    Makes sense if the manager is acting as a manager, but what if they are working as a server or bartender? Can they not be part of a tip pool even if they are contributing to it?

                    1. re: purple bot

                      I think, and this is just an assumption, that if they're working as an "employee" for a shift, they are allowed tips.

                      1. re: purple bot

                        No they cannot and with good reason.

                        All they want to do is double dip.

                        As a salaried worker they do not have the risk that a server/bartender has.

                        1. re: postemotional1

                          Not all management is salaried, which is how they get around it, I think.

                      2. re: invinotheresverde

                        Yes, you are correct. It also is unethical in addition to any legalistic doctrine. Bartenders serve at the risk of zero compensation at the usual hourly rates. Thus they are motivated to serve with speed, skill and love.

                        Bar Mgrs. have the ability to 'cherry pick" and serve their "regulars" to bolster their status and income at the direct expense of the staff.

                        Yes, it is becoming more common every year here in the 21st. Century. I quit a job over this illegal, immoral and cost ineffective practice. Go the the "Buy backs' thread at Not About Food for my rants on this topic.

                  2. 1, You have a good job with predictable income in many restaurants.

                    2. The same could be said of the Chef to a waiter. It is what it is and it's a way of making thing equal for effort over time during working shifts.....not an individual check.

                    3. Why should pooling affect your tip?

                    Bartenders do not participate in pools with food servers generally....that's why they request you settle your bill at the bar.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: fourunder

                      The bartenders have been a part of every tip pool I've worked the last 15 years.

                      1. re: invinotheresverde

                        another reason not to live in MA....

                        I have over 40 years experience myself, and not once did any bartender ever kick in a cent of their tips made from the bar, into a pool shared by food servers. They would contribute to the barback or busboy only.....however, they would receive a nominal amount from each individual food server. I should have made that distinction earlier.

                        1. re: fourunder

                          I think we're talking about two separate things. I meant the bar always gets tipped out (I was confused by "participates in") by the servers. No, the bar never gives to the server pool.

                          1. re: invinotheresverde

                            The only times I have seen a bartender contribute to a pool with servers are at functions.

                            This is because cash tips are a small part of function income where the gratuity is a % of the bill for all goods.

                            No, bartenders do not pay in to pools along with servers at a restaurant in my 28 years of experience.