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The owner of Barcito, an all-day cafe and late-night bar in Los Angeles, Andrea Borgen says she always tips 20 percent when dining out, “No matter what.”

But, she explains, many customers don’t always consider how the tip they leave is distributed once their plates are cleared.  

“People don’t realize there’s a huge pay equality gap between [back of house] and [front of house],” Borgen says. “It’s really the BOH that are getting left behind.”

In addition to different base pay per position, tipping rates vary wildly between front-of-house and back-of-house staff.

“I don’t think most people realize how hard BOH staff work,” says Stephanie Leva, who has been a server in Los Angeles restaurants over five years. “But maybe they should just pay them better wages. … I can see how some servers may not like this arrangement.”

According to Simple Insights, average tipping rates can vary as much as 7 percent across the U.S. The largest discrepancy is between New Orleans, Louisiana (16.8 percent) and

Andrea Borgen of Barcito
Andrea Borgen of Barcito

Sunnyvale, California (9.7 percent).

New Law Changes Tip Pooling Policy

But with the passing of the Consolidated Appropriations Act in March, if a restaurant decides to operate with a tip-pooling system, back-of-house employees (including bussers, dishwashers and cooks) must be included.

“Many employers are now allowed to require FOH employees to pool their tips with BOH employees. In some cases, this will significantly reduce the tips that servers and bartenders keep, while significantly increasing the tips that cooks, dishwashers, and other BOH employees receive,” notes employment attorney Kyle D. Smith.

This can put staff in contentious positions, Borgen notes.

“Tip pooling may create some problematic relations between BOH and FOH,” she says. “BOH and FOH have a historically tenuous relationship as is and this may create more tension…but it really depends on the culture of the restaurant.”

Tip pooling scenarios can vary by restaurant, but the Department of Labor has offered a few potential outcomes, such as servers contributing 15 percent to a tip pool, and other employees receiving a portion of the tip pool based on the amount of hours they’ve worked.

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“Tip pooling may create some problematic relations between BOH and FOH.” -Andrea Borgen



Who Benefits from Tip Pooling?

“The terms of the tip pooling arrangement can also impact who benefits the most. If employees who receive little in the way of tips are participants in the pool—like, say, hosts at a restaurant—they would benefit the most from the tip pool,” Smith notes. “Although those employees might ‘customarily and regularly receive tips,’ their contributions to the tip pool would be substantially smaller than other employees and they would therefore benefit the most.”

In addition to providing perks for employees and fostering a culture of teamwork, tip pooling has the potential to benefit employers. Smith explains that employers can use a tip pool to effectively subsidize the wages of employees who wouldn’t otherwise be tipped well or tipped at all. This may attract more skilled workers and provide employees with more wage stability.

Attorney Kyle Smith
Attorney Kyle Smith

Tip pooling has the potential to benefit both employees and employers but, according to Borgen, it still perpetuates a toxic workplace culture.

Borgen switched Barcito to a Hospitality Included model three years ago. Instead of accepting tips, Carcito added 22 percent to menu items to cover hospitality and service. Her goal is long term: to provide better pay to kitchen staff, revenue-share with waitstaff to improve wage stability, and provide health benefits to all full-time employees.

“For me, this is about eliminating the tipping culture. It’s racist, it’s sexist. Hospitality Included is the most philosophically-sound way to do this,” Borgen says.

Tipping is subjective for many people, and, as a Cornell University report shows, some diners let race, gender, and attractiveness impact how much they pay servers. Most notably, diners of all races tend to give higher tips to white servers and lower tips to black servers.

Although the price increases soured the appetites of some guests, Borgen feels her restaurant team “has never been stronger.” She added that the Hospitality Included model fosters collaboration because servers are focused on the overall dining experience rather than just their table tips.

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Born and raised in New Jersey, Veronica An is a Southern California transplant with a degree in Narrative Studies from the University of Southern California. She is a photographer and reporter for The Hub. Her work has been exhibited at galleries across Los Angeles and published internationally.
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