is it ok for a bartender to not be tipped out on server drinks?
June 24, 2015 10:13 PM   Subscribe

I make a tipping wage at my bartender job, yet I'm not being tipped out on hundreds of dollars of server drinks I make every day. Should I be angry or is that a normal practice at U.S. bars?

I’ve been a bartender at the same establishment for the past 3 years. It was my first bartender job, and I love it. Until recently we were basically only a bar, that served a small menu as well. The bartenders were paid minimum wage, instead of the lower tipping wage, because there was only a few of us, and we did everything.

Recently the bar expanded into a restaurant as well, and servers were hired to handle the tables. The bartenders still handle the bar, and food when someone at are bar places an order.

So now bartenders not only make our own drinks, but drinks for the tables as well. Every shift I make anywhere from 40 to 100 drinks for the servers to take to their tables. I do that as well as provide service for my own bar patrons.

Since the bar expanded into a restaurant, our pay has also been cut from minimum wage to a lower tipping wage, the same as the servers.

Again, I’ve never worked at another bar, but I was under the impression that generally servers tip out bartenders when the bartenders are making the server drinks. We were pretty confident that eventually the restaurant would set up a system for us to be tipped out.

However, though we’ve requested to be tipped out, we’ve recently been told by ownership that we will not be tipped out. The reasons seem to be random - that we make enough money, that we make their drinks, and they bring us our food when it’s ready.

This seems ridiculous to me. I get 1-5 meals brought to me a day. And again, I make 40 to 100 drinks a day. Making those drinks takes a lot of time, much more than brining out a plate of food. It takes away time from my customers, which means my tips are lower.

Even if a table of 4 orders only drinks we receive no tips. A table getting two rounds of bloody mary’s and no food give the entire tip to the server, even though all they did was take the drinks I made to the table. And we are an expensive bar, so the tips are generally large.

In the big picture, every time I’m making server drinks, I’m working for less than minimum wage, because I will not be making tips for those drinks, no matter how fast or well I make them. And at the same time, making those drinks takes time away from my customers.

For many reasons I can’t get into, moving to another bar is not an option. My question is simple: Is this a normal situation? Is this something that does happen, and I’m overreacting? Or am I right and the whole situation is unfair? I’m very frustrated, but don’t feel I know enough about how bars in the U.S. are run to know if I should be angry or not. Thanks for any advice.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: No, this is not normal, and I am not even sure it's legal. It may depend on your location. But in every restaurant I've worked at bartenders were tipped out by servers for all the drinks they made.
posted by Anonymous at 10:30 PM on June 24, 2015

When I was a server (in the US) we were expected to tip out the bartender and the bussers. I can't imagine it's legit for you to be making drinks and not getting tipped out, especially if you are making less than minimum wage.
posted by flex at 10:31 PM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have visited bars where servers did not tip out bartenders (This was in Las Vegas though, where tip-sharing / tip-pooling is a huge political issue). It took FOREVER to get table service, as the bartenders were incentivized to pay more attention to the patrons sitting at the bar. I think after a few nights of paying attention to your tipping customers instead of your waitstaff, they will get the message and you can come to an arrangement.
posted by falconred at 10:49 PM on June 24, 2015 [8 favorites]

In every restaurant I've worked at the servers tipped out the bartenders.

But your set up is a little different because you have the servers bringing out your food. That does complicate things a bit. In most places I worked servers might occasionally bring food over to the bar but it was usually the job of the runner.

I take it your restaurant isn't large enough to sustain a runner. Do you have a barback that can run the food to the bar? I do think it is unfair to burden waitstaff with this.

You should do a local, informal survey of practices in your area; I'm sure all the bartenders are tipped out by waitstaff. Then take this information to your manager and ask the restaurant to rethink its policy.

If necessary, you could become really slow with the waitstaff's drinks...
posted by girl flaneur at 10:50 PM on June 24, 2015

This is not normal, hugely bullshit, and i bet if you left they'd have a serious problem hiring quality bartender(s) to replace you or anyone else who bailed.

You pretty much got bait and switched here. It worked the normal way in practice before the place expanded, and now it works the bullshit way.

Are there other bartenders? You all need to present a unified front to management of this being bullshit. If it's just you, same thing. Make sure they know you're going to walk if this doesn't change. That's a huge amount of your income to be leaving on the table(heh).

I have seriously never heard of it working this way, and i've heard of some properly bogus tipout arrangements.
posted by emptythought at 3:37 AM on June 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Note: I've never worked in food service in the US. But in one place I worked where customers actually tipped, the bar tenders were tipped out at least 1% of drink sales.

Based on everything I've read, what's happening to you is not normal and is not okay. For all the reasons that you already named. I think that from a legal standpoint they can get away with it as long as your take home pay is equal to the federal minimum wage for the hours you worked, but that doesn't mean you aren't being screwed out of tips that should be going to you.

Have you read this previous question? That will give you a bit of an idea of how it works in other restaurants.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 4:13 AM on June 25, 2015

Not normal. Like others, every restaurant I've ever worked in, the servers tip out the bar & bussers. It is usually either a percent of total sales or a percent of beverage sales. The POS systems I've worked with can tabulate the actual tipout and print it out on the server report, which we had to implement at the last place I worked because some of the server staff weren't tipping out anywhere near enough.

The last place I worked had a very bar heavy patio area (live entertainment every night) and servers tipped bartenders 5% of beverage sales. The place before that was a food heavy environment and servers tipped bartenders 10% of their tips. In both places, servers were required to write (or circle, once that was included) the tipouts on their server report which was turned in.
posted by imbri at 5:53 AM on June 25, 2015

I've never even worked in a bar and even I know that you're supposed to tip out the bartenders in a situation like this.
posted by radioamy at 7:49 AM on June 25, 2015

Every place I've ever worked that had a bar and a dining area, we tipped the bartenders. At one place which was more bar than restaurant, we would just give a percentage of total sales, at another place that was more restaurant, we gave 10% of our total tips to the bartender, 5% each to the bussers and runners.

If you work at a place where it's not uncommon for people to just get drinks, or to mostly be there for the drinks, you absolutely should be getting tipped out. Do you have a barback? Are the servers just running your food or are they bussing the bar too? Even so, they should be tipping you something.
posted by Aubergine at 9:03 AM on June 25, 2015

Are you making minimum wage now that the owners have changed the way you're paid? If not, they could be violating the law. Check the labor laws in your jurisdiction, if you're not making enough in tips with this new scheme to bring your pay up to minimum wage you might want to contact your local labor board.
posted by i feel possessed at 9:37 AM on June 25, 2015

Data point: I have worked as a server at two restaurants where the bartenders were not tipped out. However, at both places, bartenders were paid an hourly wage several dollars over minimum wage, and one of them was only beer and wine.

That said, the fact that it happens doesn't mean it is right. And it DEFINITELY doesn't make sense for you to be making the lower wage.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:04 AM on June 25, 2015

I posted this in the previous AskMe question kinddieserzeit links to above, but it's worth having.

Even though the document comes from Texas, it clarifies national policies on tipped employees via tip pools, including the circumstance you're in.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:39 AM on June 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've worked on both the server and bartender side and tipping out was always the rule. Running food is just something that the server, busser or even manager might do (point A to point B, no more responsibility for it).
posted by Pax at 11:49 AM on June 25, 2015

As a bartender in VT, NH and MA I always got tipped out for every drink... those tips were generally worse than my bar tips, % wise, but I still got them.
posted by French Fry at 1:54 PM on June 25, 2015

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