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Tips for Gratuities

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When it comes to tipping, restaurants should assess best practices.
By Amy Sung July 2013 Employee Management

When it comes to tipping, everyone has their own standards. To keep diners and staff happy, restaurants should assess best tipping practices.

To pool or not to pool?

There are obvious advantages and disadvantages to pooling tips, and ultimately, each restaurant should figure out what works best for its environment.

“More and more restaurants are going to tip sharing or pooling,” says Jason Kaplan, founder of JK Food Service Consulting in New York. “This was brought about to promote camaraderie between servers, as well as to minimize animosity due to server sections and large-party gratuities.”

Kaplan adds that many diners have become more aware of tip pooling and are asking  if the server shares the tip.

Randall Obrecht, general manager at Sorrento Hotel in Seattle, and former food and beverage director at the hotel’s restaurant, Hunt Club, says he has noticed the same trend.

“It seems more restaurants are going to team service and tip pools,” Obrecht says. “I like the concept as it promotes teamwork, and guests tend to receive more attention with additional bodies. The only negative side is if an individual on the team is not pulling his weight then it may take management a longer time to identify and counsel [which may not occur] before morale is affected.”

Pooling tips may also be seen as a model that lacks the incentive to work harder, Kaplan points out. “I advise my clients, depending on the situation with their new or current staff, to see if this would be an effective system in their business.”

Mike West, food and beverage director at the Barking Frog restaurant in Woodinville, Washington, says he and his team have recently debated the “pool or not to pool” question.

“There are pros and cons to both sides,” West says. “We decided not to pool tips in our outlets to keep the incentive for each server to work for her own tips. I think in operations, where everyone’s roles and tasks are relatively equal, say valet service or banquets, it makes more sense to pool tips. However, when serving, you are creating a personal connection with guests, and the amount of work can vary greatly from table to table.”

Ashley Rosenfeld, a consultant specializing in front-of-house service with A La Carte Foodservice Consulting Group in Houston, says she believes there are only a few situations where pooling tips is a good idea, such as those like West described where roles and tasks are relatively equal.

“Tip pooling is most often seen behind the bar or at counter-service establishments. In both situations, pooling is a necessity because several employees may assist one customer. However, in a full-service restaurant, I would shy away from tip pooling,” she says, echoing the same views about pooling’s effects on morale and service standards.

Auto-Gratuity

For larger parties, many in the industry say they’ve observed an automatic gratuity to be standard, although instances of automatic gratuity for anything else, like shared meals, are rare.

“[Auto-gratuity] is due to the fact that after the bill is split, customers often neglect to tip between 15 to 20 percent,” Kaplan says. “With the troubled economy, many restaurants are adding a surcharge for shared meals; this occurs only if the other party does not order an entrée or anything else. But I have not seen an automatic gratuity for sharing meals.”

Barking Frog automatically adds a 20 percent gratuity to parties of six or more, West says. “We do this to ensure the server is taken care of—large parties can be very taxing on time and energy. It also makes it easy for the large party when that is added directly to the bill.”

Obrecht, on the other hand, says he does not like auto-gratuities.

“A gratuity is something earned, and when an individual is expected to earn their tips based on merit, it ensures that quality service will be given versus a set amount, with no incentive to exceed expectations,” he elaborates. “I’ve found most professional servers prefer to ‘roll the dice’ and usually find a greater gratuity is given.”

Since the dip in the economy, people have been slightly reluctant to tip as much, Kaplan says.

“Service can make or break a meal just as the quality of the food does. If your server provides you with an exceptional dining experience, then they really deserve something extra when it comes to gratuity,” Kaplan says. “Once the economy starts to rebound, I believe it will become standard practice to tip 20 percent and up, leaving behind the 15 percent and making 18 percent the low.”>