Arbol Cafe Responds To Tipping Controversy

Two weeks ago, we made note of a word war going on in the comments section of the restaurant review section of Philadelphia’s City Paper after a former employee complained that the Arbol Cafe was confiscating their tips. In response, Beth from Arbol Cafe wrote us:

Arbol Cafe does give tips to the employees, and was giving tips at that time ‘John Smith’ was in training. John Smith was in training and she received $25 for each of her three, 3 hour shifts. We opened in January and she worked a few days in February. If people think that we do not tip employees, they are only feeding off of one of our first employees in training as well as repeat bloggers/posters who now seems out to slander us at every chance they have. While we can’t continue forever defending ourselves without further criticizim from people who like to post negative comments, we do feel that it’s important for our customers and future customers to know that our employees are, and have been, and will continue to be treated with respect and the tips have been, are currently, certainly will continue to be forwarded to them as they pass the training period and can competantly work the front desk.

But what she really should have done is pointed us to what she told the City Paper’s Critical Mass blog, which is a bit more informative and a litte more reasonable-sounding.

PREVIOUSLY: Philadelphia Cafe Keeping Server’s Tips For Themselves?

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  1. l951b951 says:

    This article didn’t make sense to me until I followed the link and read the article. I didn’t understand what the Consumerist was trying to say. Let me try to paraphrase for people who don’t want to follow the link.

    The restaurant doesn’t share tips with an employee until after they have passed a “training time”. The original complaint was made by someone who quit before getting out of the training period. The restaurant has 5 tables, and is staffed by the 2 owners, and 2 part time waitresses. From the sound of the article, one of the owners is the only cook, in addition to waiting tables. Tips are split with those employees (because they are past the training phase), but additionally, the owner will share the tips because they are also serving staff.

  2. l951b951 says:

    One final note, the owner won’t give specific numbers, but assures the public that the serving staff is making over $10 per hour with tips.

  3. friendlynerd says:

    It would probably be simpler to simply let staff keep what they’re handed rather than make a complex system that attracts bad PR and requires constant damage control.

  4. stacy75 says:

    When I worked in restaurants, I was never allowed to keep any tips while I was in training. I worked at 3 separate large national chains. (I really miss the Cheesecake Factory’s giant apple dumpling… yum)

    I was always paid a higher hourly wage (usually just above minimum wage) until I finished training, at which time I was dropped to the regular $2.13/hour and THEN kept the tips.

    It sounds to me in this case that because the cafe is really more like a coffee shop (they only have 4 tables!) that the tip/payment system works out so that you aren’t shafted for working a slow lunch shift.

  5. metaled says:

    Quote: “At the end of the night, [Beth's husband/owner] Oscar will give [employees], say, $8 an hour out of the day’s cash,” says Acuna. “Then, I’ll take money of out the tip jar to bump up their pay scale, so they’re walking away with at least $10 and $11 an hour. END QUOTE

    So the restaraunt only makes $4-$8 an hour in tips? ($8 if they are splitting the tips 4 ways between the 2 employees and the two owners who bus tables.) If it’s that low, why confiscate it at all? 5 tables? Customers are only leaving pocket change as tips then!

    QUOTE:”She believes it stems from misconstrued language in her March 8 response to the original poster:
    “All money generated goes towards financing the renovations as well as aiding us in being able to pay the workers well above minimum wage in respect to their ability and contributions.”
    “What we said was ‘all money generated’,” says Acuna. “It did not say ‘all tips generated.’ At that time, we were, and still are, splitting tips.” END QUOTE

    Misconstrued Language? (Still, $8 an hour for 5 tables in tips???? WOW!) It still says you are taking ALL income (TIPS) and using it to pay employees and finance renovations! You are giving employees (Part Time) $8-$10 a day of the tips earned (Plus sallery) and putting the rest into the business. Even at low tippers, that would be 8-10 customers only leaving $1 in tips per day.(for each employee./4 way split) I tip low, but not that low! Business is that slow, you don’t need employees!
    If you think that is fair then use all profits to split between employees, owners and renovations. You still don’t get it, it is money THEY EARNED. Do you split tips YOU earn on days they do not work, along with them? If they only work 3 days, do you split the tips from all 7 days with the other 2 employees? I know you don’t serve as many customers as them, but share in their tips? Why the hell should they split them with you and your Renovation fund???!
    2 comments from the owner/management and you STILL can’t get it to spin in your favor! The person quit because you don’t have a clue that you are ripping them off! The people you hire are what brings in your business, who cares if you are building it bigger and better (they won’t see any profit from the increased customer flow/work.) Figure it out and do it all legit and on the books, then you won’t be so confused in your answers to the public (or the Tax man!)

  6. grouse says:

    Sorry, after reading the other side of the story, it still looks like… the restaurant is stealing the tips. Unless there is some sort of notice that the tips are not actually for the wait staff as is customary, it seems like fraud.

  7. jeblis says:

    Still seems hokey to me. The cafe shouldn’t touch any of the tips. Why shouldn’t a trainee get a share of the tips?

  8. Using the word “confiscate” is rather misleading. I doubt this restaurant is stealing her tips, she just misunderstands how restaurants work.

    Did you know a server may share their tips with the bartender and/or busboy? Yes, your extra dollar gets split 3 ways. Many restaurants require wait-staff to turn over their tips so they can make sure everyone is tipped out properly.

    When I waited tables at TGIF and Cheesecake, we didn’t get paid tips while in training, which was about 2 weeks. Then, we had to turn over our tips to the management for a 4-6 week probationary period. During that time the manager showed us how to tip out the bar and the busboy and ensured we did it fairly and correctly. Once off probation, you had to report your tips to the manager, then tip out the bar and bus yourself. This was to ensure each waitress was tipping out fairly and to provide evidence if there was a dispute.

    Many restaurants have a similar procedure, and if you don’t agree with the policy, well, wait tables somewhere else.

  9. stacy75 says:

    I’ll back up ceejeemcbeejee on Cheesecake’s policy. At my Cheesecake, we had to tip out 32.5% of our total tips: 15% to the busboy, 10% to the food runners, and 7.5% to the bartender.

    (I think that was the break-down. I know for a fact it totaled 32.5%)

  10. hatrack says:

    Ok, I’m totally confused now. In the first article the the owner says that employees are told that they won’t get to keep tips when they are hired. They then go on to explain the policy. They don’t want waiters and waitresses they want team members. The servers are paid well above minimum wage. They also say the tips go towards the renovations for the cafe. As though that somehow justifies it.

    In the follow up article they say that the servers do keep their tips. In fact they always have. It’s only new employees that don’t keep their tips. Then she goes on to say that the person that complained did in fact receive tips while she was training.

    If there’s confusion over their policy it’s not the fault of the original employee or bloggers. It’s their contradictory statements.

  11. fostina1 says:

    as a customer, and the husband of a former waitress. tips are for the server end of story, not all the servers, just the 1 or 2(training) that served me. if my money didnt go to the intended server, it is theft.

  12. Smitherd says:

    defending ourselves without further criticizim from people who like to post negative comments

    Sounds like they need training in more ways than one.

  13. MissPeacock says:

    @l951b951: Thanks for the summary. It wasn’t making sense to me as presented.

  14. Juggernaut says:

    I owned a bar/restaurant on a boardwalk in NJ and we were open from April thru Oct. My staff and I knew that the tips they got in April, the beginning of May, the end of Sept., and Oct were going to be shit just like the income I got. And we screamed at each other daily… and people quit one day and came back the next… and there were times I fired the whole staff during the day and hired them back that night…

    And during the summer when they were making $300 & $400 a shift and I was making deposits twice a day we were the happiest family in the world…
    that’s a fucking team!

    Beth and Oscar are theives!!

  15. BigElectricCat says:

    @l951b951:

    “One final note, the owner won’t give specific numbers, but assures the public that the serving staff is making over $10 per hour with tips.”

    I wonder what the IRS thinks of those W2s.

  16. AnderBobo says:

    When I worked in an actual restaurant, there were tip outs with just the bussers and bartender. This doesn’t sound so much a restaurant as like a coffee/sandwich place with a lot of things ordered to go and most likely the cashier is also the waitress and probably the busser… so if that is the case I don’t see why that one person performing all those duties should have to pool their tips.

    I feel kinda bad for Arbol Cafe but they should have really taken a stronger stance from the get go about this.

  17. RandomHookup says:

    Owners should not take tips. They make their money from the operation of the restaurant. If they receive tips, they should be pooled for other employees.

  18. snoop-blog says:

    i’m curious as a former server, how much tip money is never claimed, and therefore never taxed. one more reason to just do away with tips and just pay the employees what their worth.

  19. Mary says:

    @fostina1: I certainly hope you don’t eat at restaurants where there are bartenders or busboys. If you order anything above a soda (even if it’s non-alchoholic) part of your tip is probably going to the bartender, and do you want the busboy to get a little recognition for clearing the table before you sat down and after? Or is it only the people you physically see that deserve credit for helping you out that night?

    I think a lot of people commenting here have never worked for a place that does tips. In the coffeeshop where I worked, there was a tip jar and even if you were handed tips, they went in the jar. At the end of your shift, you counted the jar and took your share (depending on how many people were working at the time). Only managers were not allowed to take a share of the tips, and our supervisor very rarely would take them out of respect.

    But considering that the owners ARE also waiting tables, I don’t think it’s outside ethics to take their share of the tips (they’re doing the same work, they get their share) and putting it back into the business. Because it’s THEIR money, to do with as they see fit.

    This doesn’t sound like the kind of place that is making a lot of money for the owners.

  20. fostina1 says:

    @Meiran: .

    busboys should get an hourly wage, if its not minimum wage its breaking the law. bartenders should get tips at the bar. the places i eat (applebees, ruby tuesday, ocharlys) the waitress is the one making my drink at her drink station. and most of the mom and pop places i eat at, the waitress does it all anyway. the server is the only one working for less than minimum wage. and should be the only one who gets my tips (wage subsidy)

  21. Cattivella says:

    The owners seem to have a chronic case of foot in mouth disease. They’ve contradicted themselves a couple times, as previous posters have pointed out.

    And it STILL seems like the owners are taking tips. They shouldn’t just “pad” the salary a couple dollars with what came out of the tip jar – the entire contents of the tip jar should go to non-owner staff.

    I worked in a small mom and pop coffeeshop all through high school and the owner was frequently out in the serving area helping customers. She NEVER took tips because her money is coming from the built in price of a cup of coffee. Even if the shift was her and one other person, the other person received the entire amount of tips.

    And, yea, that place would have to be pretty slow to only be getting $2/hour in tips.

  22. Veeber says:

    @fostina1: Depends on the restaurant. All the ones I worked at were a full tip-share. All tips go into the pot and then is divided between all runners, servers, bus boys, cooks, hosts, and bar tenders. Everyone contributes the experience and it wasn’t just the server’s responsibility. Everything was based off of the hours that you spent there and there were different percentages based on your job.

  23. LJKelley says:

    Well as a Consumer, I don’t have to tip. If I do Tip it should go to the person I tipped. I’m sorry the cleaning staff should or are paid above minimum wage and cooks are generally paid well or again more so than the waiters.

    I think its theft to take money I have given to an individual. Just like it redicioulous to forbid tips (as they do at McDonalds for example, not that I go there ever). If I wanto give a complete stranger money, that is my business. Just as much as its not required that I tip. Set the price of the food as required and I will tip if I like the service provided the waiter. I hate those who think I owe them something. Oddly enough I always tip well uless the service is appalling (the only time so far in my life that has called for a $0 tip).

  24. dragonvpm says:

    IMO, it sounds like they’re doing this in order to give their employees a certain, SET pay rate while being able to pay less in taxes.

    IIRC, if an employee’s wage is $8 (for example) the employer only has to pay employment taxes (SS, Medicare etc…) on that $8 even if the employee earns another $2-$3 in tips (of course the employees has to pay income tax on all their income).

    It seems like this place isn’t trying to screw their employees (who work less than 1/2 of the hours worked in total apparently), just trying to give them a decent wage even in a situation where the business might not generate enough tips to do it on it’s own.

    Given their size and the system that seems to exist, I wouldn’t be surprised if the two servers there are actually happy working for a small restaurant that pays them a certain wage consistently (consistent wages seem to be a significant concern for a lot of folks I know who work limited hours).

  25. snoop-blog says:

    i bet if the restaurant paid their servers a wage of $10/hour but no tips, we’d actually get better service as customers because who’s going to hire an idoit with no background check for $10/hour. keep in mind i live in the cheapest cost of living area, and fast food jobs start at $5.15, and $10/hour is considered good.

  26. @fostina1: Nope, busboys and some waiters (in some states like GA) don’t get min. wage and it’s perfectly legal: the system assumes that you will make up the rest of min wage in tips AND expects you to claim as much on your taxes.

  27. @stacy75: That sounds about right but I forgot about the food runners! We didn’t have to tip them at my TGIF: whomever was free ran food, including the manager if we were slammed. At Cheesecake I tried to weasel out of tipping the food runner by bringing out my own tables, but my conscience got the better of me.

    But I’ve always thought it was odd when someone other than my waiter brought my food out.

  28. @fostina1: Hate to break it to you, but Applebees, Ruby Tuesdays, etc… have the similar policies as TGIF. Waitresses and busboys (and sometimes bartenders) get half min. or just min depending upon the state. And waitresses tip out the busboy and bar, even if you just got a soda, because another one of her tables may have gotten more.

  29. @ceejeemcbeegee (AKA!): I know about this system in other states, as I worked as a waiter in texas and got 2.15/hr. But a waiter friend in CA told me that it was state law that in this state they get minimum wage. His mom also worked for a labour rights organization, so I assumed he knew what he was talking about.

  30. dantsea says:

    The only thing consistent is that Arbol seems to be changing their story every week.

  31. Mary says:

    It might be important to note that in most states (I don’t want to say all) if you are waitstaff and your wage is dependent on tips, if you are NOT making minimum wage after tips the restaurant is required to make up the difference.

    So if min. wage requires you take home say, $50 per shift, and with tips you’re still only making $30, the restaurant owes you $20.

    Most waitstaff I know of don’t rock the boat on this policy though, and I wish more would. Restaurants need to stop taking advantage of the system.

    Though I still think that if an owner is working as a waiter and gets a tip, they deserve to keep it just as much as the other wait staff do. I’m very surprised at the people who seem to think that the money you give should go to the person you give it to, unless it’s the owner in which case, they don’t deserve it.

  32. RandomHookup says:

    @Meiran:

    I’m very surprised at the people who seem to think that the money you give should go to the person you give it to, unless it’s the owner in which case, they don’t deserve it.

    It’s not so much that that don’t deserve it, it’s that 2 factors enter in: (1) ettiquette rules have traditionally said you don’t tip owners (though I’ve noticed that some places it’s accepted) and (2) state laws often address the sharing of tips by management (which would usually cover owners).

    The way I look at it is you are saving money by doing the work yourself rather than hiring someone. Be a mensch and share any tips with the rest of the staff.