"Service Fees" Can Confuse Matters for Tipped Employees

While most restaurants leave it up to their customers to decide how much to tip their servers, and increasing trend among some restaurants is to include a mandatory gratuity or “service fee” on their bills. Sometimes this is done only for groups of six or more patrons. Other times it is included as an extra charge when customers purchase a banquet package or other private dining option.

Mandatory gratuities or services fees are legal only under certain circumstances and only if handled properly by the employer. In some states, such fees are only legal if the money is used for the sole purpose of paying the server. Under the FLSA, service charges must be counted as income on the books of the restaurant, and then they may be used to pay servers or for other purposes. In no event, however, may servers be paid less than the minimum wage.

Other common issues tipped restaurant workers face include:

  • Requiring servers and bartenders to contribute a percentage of tips to a tip pool, but using the tips to pay employees who are not customarily tipped, such as custodial, management, or kitchen workers.
  • Denying overtime pay to employees who worked at more than one restaurant owned or controlled by the same company, even when their combined hours totaled more than 40 hours in one workweek.
  • Having employees work off-the-clock, earning only tips for their labor. Even if tipped employees receive most of their pay through tipping, the employer still must pay them at least $2.13/hour in cash wages on top of whatever tips they may earn.

If you have a question about how a tipped employee should be paid or if you think your employer is violating the FLSA, visit my main website to learn more.