Philadelphia Cafe Keeping Server's Tips For Themselves?

There’s a war of words going on in the comments of a restaurant review in Philadelphia’s City Paper. Someone claiming to be a server has outed the Arbol Cafe for confiscating server’s tips. In response, someone claiming to speak for the cafe defended the practice, claiming that they need the tips to pay for their renovation.

The “servers” comment:

The owners of the Arbol cafe do not allow their workers to keep their tips. While getting paid 7 dollars an hour to bus, clean, set, take orders, run food, do dishes, and bleach bathroom/floors, the tips from customers are kept by the owners. Tipping the owner is considered rude and telling servers that they can’t is poor practice.
After a four hour shift (28 bucks) with no tips, which one time a server made 30 dollars in tips I was unable to keep it.
The place has all the potential, but has bad policies. NEVER TIP! Your server doesn’t see it.

The “cafe” responded:

We regret and apologize at having to respond to such a base, unfair and inaccurate comment made by the waitress, “John Smith”. The cafe has been open all of three months and is undergoing drastic rennovations. Prior to our hiring any person, we make it quite clear that they will be paid above minimum wage to start. It is also our clear intent to not have waiters or waitresses but rather, persons who are interested in working and growing as a team and excelling in the project’s full potential. Many of our customers have offered their time and skills, free of charge, because they too share in the same spirit of what we have to offer to the community.As newcomers into the Northern Liberties community, we feel a true responsibility to complete a project that is long overdue. A quaint cafe with attached garden seating. Our goal is to bring to the community a relaxed, casual, family atmosphere where tipping is optional for the customers and not needed by the staff. All money generated goes towards financing the rennovations as well as aiding us in being able to pay the workers well above minimum wage in respect to their ability and contributions.We want to thank everyone for their support, generousity and interest in Arbol Cafe. This is a true gift that has been placed in our hands and we vow to remain true to our purpose and sincerity no matter the resistance from those we may never be able to please. Our vision is clear and exspansive, we do hope that you will know Arbol Cafe first hand and understand how the impossible can be overcome against all odds. Thank you again and we apologize for any doubts that may have surfaced, yet we are certain that our heart, actions and intentions are whole and just.

This response doesn’t seem to be going over very well with City Paper readers:

wowwww the fact that you would even attempt to justify this must be one of the most pathetic things I have ever heard. I have been here a handful of times and enjoyed the atmosphere but knowing this my friends and I shall make sure never to step foot into this place. I gave my waiters healthy tips because they were nice and did a great job, not because I believe my food was worth more than menu price. disgraceful


Profit sharing arrangement, Serious Please? What % share of Arbol does a worker receive? When you’re at any restaurant or cafe with table service, and you receive the bill from the server, it’s an assumption that the tab goes to the house and the tip goes to the server. If patrons knew tips were being seized to benefit the house, people likely wouldn’t tip.

If the owners provide the bulk of the service, they’re more than welcome to put their tips back toward the house, but operating under the myth that a server is somehow eventually ‘profit sharing’ in the ‘enterprise’ is the sort b.s. that I was now the exclusive province of Internet startups trolling Craigslist for content producers.

Even the claim that they’ll pay minimum wage at the expense of tips belies their knowledge that the value patrons perceives in a server collectively exceeds minimum wage. Arbol’s exploiting that assumption to benefit themselves.

Other posters got it right, there’s no way Arbol will be able to maintain servers in Philly’s or even Northern Liberties’ restaurant worker market.

If true, is this legal? Judging by what’s been going on in California with Starbucks, it may not be. (We obviously are not experts in Pennsylvania law, so who knows?) Would you tip if you knew that the server didn’t actually get the gratuity?

UPDATE: And in response to this post, 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.”

Thank You,

Arbol Cafe [City Paper] (Thanks, Maurice!)
(Photo:Tracy O)