Celeb Chef Mario Batali Sued By Staff For Alleged Tip Skimming

We know that tipping is a touchy subject here, but not as touchy as it is to the wait staff at the restaurants owned by celeb chef Mario Batali. The red-headed TV personality is the subject of a class action lawsuit that alleges he’s been screwing his employees over by skimming off the top of the tip pile.

The lawsuit claims that Batali has been holding back on sharing credit card tips and that the amount being withheld is equal to 4-5% of the nightly wine sales at his restaurants.

Says the lawyer for the plaintiffs: “This policy is vintage tip theft… Our clients hope their case will put a cork in it.”

The suit seeks unspecified damages for workers at Batali-owned restaurants Otto, Casa Mono, Bar Jamon and Lupa and Tarry Lodge.

Mario waiters cork’$crewed’ [NY Post]


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  1. Triterion says:

    Just another reason not to tip well!

    • MamaBug says:

      obvious troll is obvious!

      (sorry, I’ve had this phrase stuck in my head all freaking day, and have really really really wanted to use it. Thanks!!)

    • common_sense84 says:

      You are dead on, but for more than just this reason.

      Tips first go to the business, only the overage goes to the worker. This is the federal system that has existed for decades.

      Workers are paid 7.25 from the business. But the business gets to credit the first 5.12 of each hour of tips against what they have to pay the worker. So after tips the business only pays 2.13 an hour.

      This means that if a worker works 20 hours a week the first 102.4 dollars in tip all go to the business to pay for the workers pay.

      Never believe the myth that tipped workers get paid 2.13 an hour. They get paid 7.25(or higher depending on the state) and the business gets to pocket 5.15 an hour of the tips to pay themselves back.

      No waitress or waiter gets paid below the federal minimum wage of 7.25 they lie because it gets they sympathy.

      • MamaBug says:

        can I call absolute bullshit?! have you seen one of those posters that include what the minimum wage is?
        I served for two years, in a range of dining establishments. at ONE place I was paid $3.5/hr, and the rest were $2.13/hr.
        here you go!
        “Under the federal law, workers that receive a portion of their salary from tips, such as wait staff, are only required to have their total compensation, including tips, to meet the minimum wage, so often their hourly wage, not including tips, is less than the minimum wage.”

      • MamaBug says:

        bullshit. I’ve worked serving for 2 years at various dining establishments, and at one place (1) I was paid $3.50/hr + tips. The rest were $2.13/hr + tips.
        “Under the federal law, workers that receive a portion of their salary from tips, such as wait staff, are only required to have their total compensation, including tips, to meet the minimum wage, so often their hourly wage, not including tips, is less than the minimum wage.”

        I have the w2s to prove it.

        • MamaBug says:

          gah! I hate double posting!

        • common_sense84 says:

          Wow, you are way off base here. This is the federal law. You can claim it is wrong all you want, but you are a liar.

          They don’t require the employee to turn in all tips and have the tips come back in the paycheck. This is probably what is confusing your tiny brain.

          Instead you keep the cash tips and the business just pays 2.13 an hour – minus the taxes on pay + tips.

          But the end result is the same.

          The business could make you turn in all tips and issue a check for everything together. Or they can just automatically take the credit and just issue a check for 2.13 minus all the taxes.

          The end result is the business subtracting 5.12 * total hours out of what they have to pay you. Thus they take a chuck of the tip money for themselves. The actual federal law considers the 5.12 to be a TIP CREDIT that the business takes out of your tips. But the law only worries about the final result so it does not force the business to collect all the tip money and reissue it in a single check back to the employee.

  2. Buckus says:

    So, he doesn’t have enough money already?

  3. rpm773 says:

    Says the lawyer for the plaintiffs: “This policy is vintage tip theft… Our clients hope their case will put a cork in it.”

    This is the guy I would want representing me. Right there, you’re getting more for the money than you would from most lawyers.

  4. A.Mercer says:

    I remember the first place I worked at. I was 16. It was a cafeteria. The owners of the place had convinced us we were not allowed to accept tips and any tips left were to be immediately turned over to the owners.

    They were a classy place. They would work you 60 hours one week and then 20 the next and then say that you did not work overtime the one week because the weeks averaged out to 40 hours.

    They routinely shut off the lights around the place to save on electricity even if it meant washing dishes in the dark.

    Selling food that was past its prime was not a particular concern to them. Season it and cook it just right and they claimed no one could tell the difference.

    They made one of the cooks take all of the towels and aprons to her apartment so she could wash this greasy stuff in the apartment clothes washer (which was of free use to the residents at this particular place).

    I was 16 and enthusiastic and yet to develop brain cells. I worked there for about 3 months before I decided that a cafeteria was not the place for me to be.

    • RvLeshrac says:

      I don’t see the problem there. They state that the policy is not to accept tips and, if someone leaves a tip, you still can’t accept it. That’s not to say the policy isn’t bad, but they clearly stated the policy.

      If, on the other hand, they said you could accept tips *AND* required that you turn all the tips over, that would be a different story.

      • A.Mercer says:

        Ah, they did nothing to let customers know that we were not allowed to keep the tips. In fact, we were discouraged from letting customers know this. We were told not to let the customers know of this policy because it did not look good for the place.

        The owers reasons for not letting us keep tips was fairness. They said the people who worked the line and in the back cooking and doing the dishes did not get tips so we out on the floor should not get tips. Of course, the idea of tip sharing never entered anyone’s mind.

        What was going on was this place was cheap and a bit on the crooked side. They wanted that money and they kept it. It went out of business a few months after I left there. When they had people working in the dark, we knew they were running out of money.

        • dg says:

          I never went for those “Well janey and betty didn’t get X, so you can’t have it either.” F’ the guys on the line and doing the dishes. That they don’t get tips isn’t anyone’s problem but their own. If they want tips, they can be a server.

          I went to summer camp back when I was oh, 6 yrs old. The camp went on an afternoon outing to a local circus. Mom gave me a couple of bucks for doing something around the house, so I took it with me and bought some popcorn.

          Camp Counselor said I couldn’t have the popcorn because all the kids didn’t have popcorn. I said “Yeah, well that’s too bad for them then, and kept eating.” I got kicked out of camp. Mom got the tuition refunded after our lawyer called up.

          And to this day – I believe the same thing. Tough shit. Not everyone can afford or gets everything that everyone else has. That’s life.

          • Evil_Otto would rather pay taxes than make someone else rich says:

            Ww, r y vr gnt dch.

            • pantheonoutcast says:

              Why? For showing the bleeding hearts that life isn’t fair? I’m assuming he didn’t go to Kamp Komrade in Soviet Russia. If the rest of the kids wanted popcorn, maybe they should have saved their money as well. And unless the counselor was going to pony up the funds to buy everyone popcorn, he should have bloody well stayed out of it.

              • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

                I hate the mentality of “fairness” to the degree that someone has to suffer because everyone else didn’t do xyz. He bought his own money,and he had already purchased it. She should have told the other kids. “Too bad, you should have bought money.”

                It’s just a smaller version of star students or athletes getting the same trophy as the whole team though they worked twice as hard, so no one’s feelings are hurt. There are actually public schools where teachers are no allowed to display the names of kids who passed AP exams because it might make the students who failed feel bad.

                Poo on that crap.

            • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

              Really? So by your reasoning, you think it’s okay that I tell my neighbor he can’t buy a Mercedes because I don’t have the money to buy one? This isn’t a communistic society.

          • Clyde Barrow says:

            As for this article and the dishwashers not getting tips? Well I’ve worked a ton of waitering jobs and I don’t remember any of the dishwashers getting tips because they got a wage. In Michigan we got $2.50 an hour plus tips but that may have changed. I have heard dishwashers can earn $12.00 an hour these days so yeah, no tips as far as I am concerned.

            When I was reading the OP article, the owners were lying through their teeth and taking advantage of the youngun’s. But when you’re young and need a job you’ll do things such as take home the laundry. lol.

            There was a time when restaurant management was made up of true blue hard-working types. Back in the late 80s I worked for a couple from the WWII era. This guy and his wife were the classics; he had that tough-guy yet compassionate attitude toward his employees, his wife had the big, blonde bee-hive hairdo and she would give you $5 if you were broke. Great couple to work for. He started this pizza chain in the 40/50s in Grand Rapids, MI and there were extremely successful. These guys were doing karake back when that word didn’t even exist in the 70s. Lines waiting outside the restaurant for hours, people inside singing, basically an adult karake/polka/beer fest with a homemade pizza receipe that would beat any guy nationally. He didn’t own a fancy car or wear nice clothes but looked like an everyday kind of man and he was soooo cool. You felt like he was your dad. lol. First day on the job I got a .25 cent raise cuz he thought I worked hard. Those types are in the history books and don’t exist anymore. In the early/mid 90s his kids took over the chains which were located in Muskegon, Grand Rapids and some other townships and by 1998? they ran them out of business and lost everything.

            A very good friend of mine worked for an automotive auditing firm until last year. He told me about an audit that he did in 2001 in Minnesota for this “old man” WWII type guy that built this business from scratch and basically ran a multi-million dollar automotive supplier business. Well guess what, the sons took over and my friend audited this very same company almost one year later in about 2002/3. The fricking company was almost ready to go out-of-business and this guy’s kids ran this company right into the ground. It’s probably closed now.

            Now days, I think managment are made up from the same fabric as reality TV folks; it’s all about them and the money.

          • tournant says:

            a quick note on why cooks and dishwashers should get a small but not insignificant cut from the tip pool:

            Yeah, we get a a wage that is higher than that of a server but at he end of those crazy busy nights spent eyeball-deep in the weeds a server will walk with piles of extra cash while we get nothing for busting ass twice as hard, and then again the next day as we prep our asses off to get back to par levels of mise for the next night.

            And don’t tell me about how it balances out on slow nights. Cooks have zero excuse not to be doing something at all times while on the clock, while it is generally more accepted for servers to kinda of stand around and shoot the shit at slow points.

            • qualia says:

              You realize the average pay for servers is about 9 bucks an hour all said and done? Often the line cooks make more. Just because they take home cash doesn’t mean they make more than you.

      • mythago says:

        An awful lot of expensive wage-and-hour lawsuits are paid by employers who start off saying “I don’t see the problem here.”

    • moorie679 says:

      Wow…They should have been kind enough to give you guys 40 acres and a mule. Also their logic about works hours is so flawed, its borderline retarded.

    • JMILLER says:

      Most everything you mentioned is not only borderline crooked, it is blatantly illegal.

    • Dutchess says:

      Let me guess a Chinese Buffet?

    • qualia says:

      I was at a similar place, it was just a popular takeout shop, but I was also expected to cook in addition to taking orders if it was super busy. I was the only person who spoke fluent English. They put a tip jar next to me, but the owner took the tips. It was pretty cool otherwise. I got to re-write the menu in better English and help the owner set up his home and business internet for double wages, which was a lot at the time, and was also consulted on whether to stay open for holidays.

      A couple people in the know made sure to put a tip in my hand, but all those nice people shoving dollars in the jar had no idea I saw none of it. And I wasn’t allowed to say anything. Years later, I went to a restaurant my old manager worked with my boyfriend’s family, and found out they’d upgraded. However, I whispered to my boyfriend’s father that the cashier never saw the tip. He was maaaaad, he loved tipping well and felt lied to.

  5. The_Fuzz_53 says:

    Another fine product of New Jersey…

  6. Major Annoyance says:

    And he apparently lost his Iron Chef USA gig too. Things aren’t looking good for poor old Mario.

  7. moorie679 says:

    I think there is a typo in the last paragraph…….”The seeks………Tarry Lodge”. I am just wondering how much damage this will do to his brand image as a lovable Italian guy that is just passionate about food……. I mean honestly how much is enough for these people, you have 4 restaurants and you are messing with the income of waiters. This is on top of all the other business ventures you have going on. Also wasn’t Starbucks doing something similar to this ?

    • myrna_minkoff says:

      I have always gotten a very creepy, weird vibe from him. I feel like this story justifies my desire to punch him in the gut.

      • FangDoc says:

        I liked the episode of Tony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” though, where he’s in New Jersey with Mario Batali and Mario has Tony whacked in the car in a reenactment of the “Leave the gun, take the cannoli” scene from The Godfather.

        Contract murder, I could excuse. Not this petty tip-swiping nonsense.

      • moorie679 says:

        Yeah, I feel you and I feel the same way about Bobby Flay…..I find myself constantly rooting for the challengers on Iron Chef America.

    • backinpgh says:

      No, the Starbucks suit was about shift supervisors getting tips. At first the court ruled that since they were managers they shouldn’t be getting a cut of the tips. But then that was overturned, because shift supervisors aren’t really managers, they are hourly just like the regular baristas.

  8. areaman says:

    Now that makes at least two fat guys with pony tails I don’t trust. Mario and Steven Seagal.

  9. chefboyardee says:

    an interesting comment on the article page, while i still think it’s wrong to skim from the waitstaff’s tips, this is a side i hadn’t thought of, just throwing it out there.
    while the withholding of a portion of the tip may be improper – that is money that the owner is not receiving as the owner is charged a percentage of the tip as a credit card fee when the customer puts the tip on the credit card. Thus if it is a $25 tip the owner is charged by the credit card company $1 to $1.25. Thus the owner is subsidiizing the tip when it is placed on a charge card. Guess what you would want to do if you were the owner?
    to be clear, i still think he’s a jerk for doing this. as a former server, i remember the feeling that every penny of your tips is super important, especially if you live in a state where minimum wage for servers is $2.xx like i did.

    • Dover says:

      4-5% of the wine sales? Can someone please explain this to me?

      • Dover says:

        Oops, didn’t mean for this to be a reply. Anyway, a 4% credit card fee seems very high, I remember it being less than 2% (plus per-transaction and service fees which have to be paid whether or not the tip is charged, so wouldn’t make sense to take out of the tip). That person’s comment doesn’t hold up.

      • moorie679 says:

        Well based on what I read, it is not more than 2-3% of the transaction plus 25 – 50 cents per transaction and a monthly BS fee of $18-$20 (statement fee, monthly something or another fee). Assuming two people went there to eat and got a bill around $100.00 (80 dollars for food and 16 dollars tip comes out to $96 ) with tip, then that would cost the restaurant $3.50 at most and let say 200 customers ate/paid with a credit card in a month then that is $.1 for the monthly fee. So it cost him $3.60 in terms of fees.

        Also he is calculating this amount from wine sales not the actual tip itself which would be around $.64 (16 (tip)*.04). I think he is doing it from wine sales because the margin and the price on wine is higher compared to food or the tip itself (ranging from $16 per glass to 300/400 per bottle). So in the above example if this couple consumed two glasses of wine to get a $100 bill then the cut he gets is doubled to $1.28.

    • JMILLER says:

      Actually many restaurants started charging servers a % of their tips to cover these credit card expenses. As an employee I would choose not to work for them, but there is nothing illegal about them (at least in Michigan, there may be laws in other states that deal with this)

    • soj4life says:

      the charge is on the whole bill no matter if there is a tip or not. in your scenario, the wait staff is paying for the restaurant’s exchange fees.

  10. MrBryan says:

    Gwkr pstd ths ght ds g, knw, whn t ws nws.

  11. Lollerface says:

    Wow, so much for innocent until proven guilty. You guys are really quick to rip him up. A suit was filed, the piece doesn’t say a judge found him guilty. Give him some benefit of doubt.

    • mythago says:

      “Presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” is the standard of proof for finding someone guilty in a criminal court. It doesn’t mean “nobody is allowed to think somebody has done something bad absent a criminal conviction.”

      • NikonGal says:

        When I was on jury duty, one of the lawyers advised us the correct way to say that statement. It’s “Presumed innocent UNLESS proven guilty.”

  12. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    Okay, so he owns four restaurants – unless he’s a magical Italian leprechaun, he can’t be in all four locations at once. So is he skimming off the top or are the managers doing so? And are they doing so under his discretion or are they just doing it under their own volition?

    • marlathetourist says:

      I would think that if it is happening at all 4 of his restaurants then there is a directive coming from the top. If it was only happening at one or two of the restaurants then it could be douchy in house management but to have it going on at all 4 seems to me like its probably his doing.

      • MMD says:

        Because you’re so intimately acquainted with the way his restaurants are managed?

        Seriously. We don’t know the truth here, so this speculation is based on nothing.

    • TheGhostshark says:

      He owns a lot more than 4 restaurants.

    • mythago says:

      The article says the claim is regarding credit card tips. He doesn’t have to be physically present to skim those.

  13. Bohemian says:

    I would guess HE isn’t doing this and has a management team that deal with the money and books at each of these restaurants.

    This is also a good reminder why the US needs to go to the European style of no tipping and just paying waitstaff a decent wage in the first place.

    • moorie679 says:

      I agree, but I still tip in Europe maybe a dollar/franc/euro or so…. it is still a nice gesture and the staff really takes care of you.

    • Mike says:

      The thing I do like about European waiters (or waiters in any developed nation besides the US) is that I know that no matter how crappy their pay is, they actually have decent health care. I would be more than willing to pay an extra tax on my restaurant bill if I knew it would go to health care for the wait staff.

      I know, this makes me a raging socialist-nazi-fascist-communist or whatever.

    • qualia says:

      You’re liable for how the restaurant you own is run, whether you’re there every day or not.

  14. GirlCat says:

    Waiters: If I’m a regular should I tip everyone based on their individual service (good or shitty) or should I tip based on the best service I’ve received in the past? I always feel like I don’t want to screw my favorite servers out of a decent tip just because I got stuck at Crappy Waiter’s table. On the other hand, if I tip Crappy Waiter badly do you put pressure on him to improve because he’s screwing up the pooled tips?

    • Doubts42 says:

      Tip on the individual visit. Yes you’re hurting the pool for that night, but who contributes what to the pool is tracked. (If management isn’t doing it the waiters sure as hell are).

    • MamaBug says:

      ditto. Tip the server based on how they serve. If (Jill) does a crappy job and gets 10%, but (Amanda) tells her that you tipped 20% for her, as long as (Jill) doesn’t perceive it to be a race issue, than it sends a message to (Jill).

    • doctor.mike says:

      Very simple answer: Request to be seated in favorite waitron’s section! Every good (not necessarily expensive) restaurant will do that. You win by have excellent service, and the staff wins by having your generous tip.

    • Thespian says:

      Remember that not all restaurants have the waiters pool their tips with each other (though pretty much all of them do require the waiters to kick a few percent to bartenders, hosts, and bussers).

  15. ericfate says:

    This is why I always tip cash. Even when I’m paying the bill by credit card.

    • UltimateOutsider says:

      If I did that, I’d have to make sure I only ate $100 meals. I rarely have anything other than 20s on hand.

  16. Ephraim says:

    The problem here is more complex. CC companies charge a percentage (let’s say 2%) per transaction, plus access fees, machine rental, etc. They take the same percentage on the taxes as well. So a bill for $100 plus tax of 6% is $106, then a 20% tip is $20, so $126. CC cut is $2.52…. So that’s $6 for the government, $20 for the waiter, $2.52 for the credit card company and $97.48… so basically that 2% is costing over 2.5%.

    The waiters should be responsible for the 2% that the CC companies charge (up to 5% for some CC). That’s not theft. Now… how many of these waiters are declaring this income, the way that they should?

    • moorie679 says:

      Look if it was the waiter profiting from higher margins or the sale of the good I could understand but using a credit card machine/service is business related expense which results in more revenue generation (people tend to spend more when they are not using cash).

      look all the additional CC expense in terms of tip which he can somewhat justify recouping (which I do not agree with) is $.40 on $20 tip. The rest is shenanigans…………

    • soj4life says:

      so should the bartenders pay the delivery charge from the distributor?

      Having the wait staff pay for the restaurant’s exchange fees is retarded. if a owner is paying their business expenses from the tips the wait staff gets, it is sleazy and illegal.

    • arachne says:

      Considering the credit card processing expenses are business expenses I hope the management is also noting the amount recaptured from employees when taking that tax deduction.

    • peebozi says:

      Hopefully, you’d also give the server the option of accepting credit cards…or you can say “they can work anywhere, they don’t have to work there.” :rolleyes:

  17. Sheila says:

    Well, duh. How else is he suppose to afford to trot all over Italy with Gwyneth Paltrow?

    • pantheonoutcast says:

      Spain. They went to Spain. Had they gone to Italy, someone might have figured out that Mario Batali doesn’t know the first thing about Italian food.

      • FreestyleDoctoress says:

        Hey, say what you want about the character of that creepy, croc-wearing motherfucker, but the pizza and pasta at Otto is some of the best I’ve ever had. And it’s pretty cheap if you don’t drink.

        • pantheonoutcast says:

          You’re kidding right? The food at Otto is perhaps one step above an all-you-can-eat buffet. Everything tasted like it had been thawed out before serving, and the waitstaff had the attitude (and collective IQ) of a room full of petulant middle-schoolers in detention.

          If you’re looking for a “celebrity chef”-run restaurant in NY, try Lidia Bastianich’s “Becco.”

    • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

      She’s the the vegetarian who eats fish.

  18. EtherealFlame says:

    Am I the only one that thought Casa Mono was a strange name for a restaurant? Does their food come with a side order of sore throat and lethargy?

  19. common_sense84 says:

    Before you call it tip theft, are they tipped employees? Does he pay them 2.30 + tips + any shortage below minimum wage?

    If he pays them minimum wage or higher, they have no legal right to the tips.

    • JiminyChristmas says:

      That’s simply incorrect.

      As a matter of federal labor law, tips are the sole property of the tipped employee. The only exception is when there is a valid tip pooling arrangement. Even in that case, the ownership/management are not entitled to participate in the pool – only employees that provide direct table service.

      You might be thinking of the ‘tip credit’, which New Jersey does have. In this case, the tipped employee is entitled to the Federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr. However, the employer is obligated to pay a base cash wage of only $2.13/hr, with the tipped employee’s first $5.12 of tips credited (hence ‘tip credit’) towards the required $7.25/hr minimum.

      Now, the important part: If the gross tips earned by a tipped employee amount to more than $5.12 x hours worked that “surplus” belongs to the tipped employee or the tip pool. Under no circumstances can the ownership of a restaurant collect gratuities from patrons and not distribute that money to tipped employees. A restaurant would be free to pay their employees a fixed wage, be it $7.25 or higher, and not allow them to accept tips – but whenever tips are accepted they belong to the tipped employee

      • common_sense84 says:

        You don’t seem to get that if the restaurant pays 7.25 out of pocket and does not take the tip credit, the employee is not a tipped employee. Thus the tips go to the house, not the employee.

        The restaurant would be limited in how much tip they could take if they took the federal tip credit of 5.12 to offset the workers pay.