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Just when it seemed that service charges were all the rage, tip pooling has reemerged to grab the headlines. Making the rounds from courts to agencies, and now Congress, the issue appears to have been settled by Congress that employers can impose mandatory tip pooling to include certain non-tipped employees.

Can Non-Tipped Employees Participate in the Mandatory Tip Pool?

Water question markUnder the Fair Labor Standards Act (the “FLSA”), employees who are customarily and regularly tipped can be required to participate in a mandatory tip pool. Under a tip pooling approach, the employer directs tipped employees to combine their tips, and the employer determines a structure for redistributing the tips among the employees in the tip pool. As we have reviewed previously in this blog, employees in tipped positions have challenged mandatory tip pools that include non-tipped employees, such as dishwashers and cooks, asserting that they violate the FLSA. Because those employees are not customarily and regularly tipped, the argument was not without merit as the law has always made clear that tips are the property of the employees to whom customers given them. However, the law also provided that tip pools may be imposed by employers. The FLSA further allowed that employers may claim a tip credit against the federal minimum wage.

Service charges, administrative charges, surcharges, house fees—whatever you call those charges assessed for food and beverage service in restaurants and in hotels—the rules about how they need to be disclosed to guests and how they must be allocated are propagating. More and more cities, municipalities and other local legal bodies are taking on service charges in detailed laws, and we expect more to come.

Interest in this issue at all levels of lawmaking seems to be increasing as living wage/minimum wage raise efforts become more and more popular throughout the country. Many such efforts result in laws that also affect how service charges may be collected, distributed and how they must be disclosed to consumers. In other words, the locus for relevant law in this area has shifted significantly from the state to the county or city level.

Regular readers of this blog will know that we have been following the development and implementation of the FDA’s new menu-labeling regulations with some interest. After multiple rounds of drafts and public comment periods, the agency now has issued its final guidance for compliance with the new rules. According to the FDA’s press release, the guidance is intended to respond to the most frequently-asked questions from business potentially subject to the new rules, and “differs from the draft guidance by providing additional examples and new or revised questions and answers on topics such as covered establishments, alcoholic beverages, catered events, mobile vendors, grab-and-go items, and record keeping requirements.”

One big trend in the restaurant industry is no-tipping policies, replacing the optional gratuity line on the bill with a “service included” mandatory charge or higher menu prices. After a number of successful restaurants having tried and failed to transition successfully to this model, the service-included model is not necessarily the future of the industry.

Sticky note with salt

After surviving its first go-around in court, New York City’s attempt to require restaurateurs to add sodium warnings to their menus has hit a roadblock in the form of a temporary injunction.

Perhaps taking inspiration from the FDA’s recent imposition of nutrition-labeling requirements on restaurant menus, the New York City Board of Health had approved a menu-labeling regulation of its own this past December. Under the regulation, the New York City Health Code was amended to require “Food Service Establishments” (or “FSEs”) to post salt-shaker icons on their menus next to any food item containing more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium – the FDA’s recommended daily allowance of the delicious mineral. The regulation also requires FSEs to include a statement on their menus that “[h]igh sodium intake can increase blood pressure and risk of heart disease and stroke.”

Tip money with coffee

In the latest of a series of twists and turns regarding the legality of certain tip pools in Western states, on February 23, 2016, a divided three judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals validated regulations by the Department of Labor (“DOL”) that significantly limit employers’ ability to have tip pools that include more than “customarily and regularly tipped” employees. This development means that employers operating in states or territories in the Ninth Circuit (covering Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, California, Arizona, Hawaii, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands) cannot include in their tip pools “back of the house” employees (such as cooks or dishwashers) or other employees who are not customarily tipped. We examine the impact of and history behind this decision below.

Tips

In a recent blog post, we highlighted the trend amongst hoteliers and restaurateurs toward adopting service charge models to meet the rise in state and local minimum wage requirements. Although “no-tip” and “service charge” policies are receiving their fair share of attention in the news, employers with improperly designed tip pools are garnering their own headlines—and lawsuits. For example, Red Robin recently agreed to a $1.3 million settlement in response to class action claims against the company that it impermissibly included back of house kitchen staff in the servers’ tip pool. If your company requires employees to pool their tips, or is considering doing so, it will want to avoid some common and costly pitfalls that have beleaguered others. For starters: 

As lawmakers continue to increase the minimum wage in states and cities across the country, many hoteliers and restaurateurs are implementing service charges and tip pools in order to meet rising costs and help workers earn consistent and livable wages. If your company is considering making such a move, you will want to do your homework to avoid the negative headlines, legal complications and financial burden that can accompany improper implementation of service charge or tip pool policies. Today’s post will focus on service charges.

This blog post discusses how the recent Supreme Court ruling, Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, may impact potential employee wage and hour claims for hourly employees in the future. – Greg

What is the impact of the FDA’s New Food-Labeling Regulations? The new rules cover any restaurant or “retail food establishment” selling “restaurant-type food.” Does that include the wide array of retail and hospitality businesses, including bakeries, cafeterias, coffee shops, convenience stores?  This post sheds insights on how these new regulations might affect hoteliers and restaurateurs. - Greg

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Greg Duff
Editor
Greg Duff founded and chairs Foster Garvey’s national Hospitality, Travel & Tourism group. His practice largely focuses on operations-oriented matters faced by hospitality industry members, including sales and marketing, distribution and e-commerce, procurement and technology. Greg also serves as counsel and legal advisor to many of the hospitality industry’s associations and trade groups, including AH&LA, HFTP and HSMAI.

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