Here's How Tipping Actually Works
Is this common where you are -- pooling the tips for everyone and assigning percentages?
When my son worked at an upscale Hollywood 'club/restaurant' that was how it was done. AND the tips were pooled for the entire day, not just shift by shift.
Where I've been working, a very small place, tips are split equally by all the staff working that shift. Tips are recorded hour-by-hour to account for shifts that cross each other.
It's been years, so I may be a little fuzzy on the details, but this is how it worked at a steakhouse I worked at in CT.
Bartenders--pooled all bar tips and divided at the end of shift according to how many hours each person worked.
Cocktail waitresses--pooled all cocktail tips, gave a certain percentage to the bartender, and divided the rest at the end of shift according to how many hours each person worked.
Waitstaff--pooled all meal/wine/cocktails-during-the-meal tips, gave certain percentages to broilermen, bussers, and, I think, the hostess. Gave a percentage of at-table cocktail sales to cocktail waitresses. Divided up the rest according to how many hours each person worked.
There are some places that practice this method, usually within the shift. My issue with this practice is that if there is a waitstaffer that is slacking they still get compensated the same. In such places, I often ask to be seated in a certain section where I know who the waitperson is. I'll place a small tip on the check and then discretely, say via a handshake, give the wait person a 'gift of thanks' in cash. Alternately, if I have time in advance, I'll place cash in an envelope and present it to the waitperson, as it looks like a birthday card etc.
If I were working in a place that pooled tips and someone gave me something "on the side" I would, as a matter of course, put it into the "pool". If not, I'd be stealing from my co-workers. If we're pooling tips, then we're pooling tips.
As far as the premise of the OP's question is concerned, I believe there are many different ways of how tips are distributed. I think bartenders tend to pool tips more than any other group as they tend to work more as a team than regular servers.
Having kids in the business, in most places where they've worked, by a fairly large percentage, the servers did not pool.
Bartenders almost always tip out bar-backs (the guy getting ice, washing glasses, generally keeping things stocked for them) and will often tip out runners unless they're running their own food (often depends on the location of the kitchen).
Servers tip out bartenders, usually a percentage of the "bar" portion of their tabs (if they have a pos system that breaks that down for them), runners, and bussers. A server can easily "tip out" up to 30% of their tips depending on how many people they have to tip. The sommelier may get a percentage of the wine served.
Some places will tip out hosts as well. Basically, I think it's fair to say there are almost as many different ways as there are restaurants.
"... say via a handshake, give the wait person a 'gift of thanks' in cash..."
I was responding to that part of your statement. My point is that, no matter how deserved a tip is for any one individual, when you're pooling, you pool regardless of how the cash ended up on your person. I agree with you about not liking such pooling set ups but sometimes there might be legit reasons as in when different sections of the restaurant may result in much more business and therefore tips than other sections (outside on a nice day for example) and servers might rotate through those areas. I'm a regular in a place that pools but every server helps out at all tables. I'm sure someone works harder than someone else and is therefore "shorted" at the end of the night but I seem to end up with great service and return often partly because of it.
in massachusetts it is illegal for management to distribute tips this way.
the house may suggest a preferred percentage that wait staff tips out support staff, but it cannot mandate or enforce this.
some establishments do make waiters pool. for example, if the total gratuities for the evening come to $2000, with 10 waiters working, each person gets $200 and then tips out bussers, runners, bar, etc., independently.
it is also illegal here for any percent of tips to be disbursed to anybody on salary or making more than minimum wage.
Seemingly well researched article. Some years back l asked whether tips in a particular restaurants were pooled or not. Many times the answer was not true as it was thought if not pooled, tips would be higher.
To give your friend, the waiter, a side tip on top of a small 'real' tip does penalize the back staff. Wonder if there is a really correct way to control your tip money's direction.