Talking About Tips

Darcy O'Neil :: April 26, 2006 8:01 PM

1dollar.jpgThe idea of working for tips is a strange concept, basically it is a “for hire” type job where you show up and you make however much you can based on your service. That’s if you are a lone wolf bartender who runs his own bar or has a section of the “wood” that’s exclusively yours. It gets really interesting when you throw group dynamics into the mix. Money causes wars, money is the number one thing married couples fight about and money is addictive, people always want more. This combination of variables tends to cause friction, mistrust and greed. So how do tips work in a group environment and what can you do?

Before you can worry about tips, you need to earn them and that depends on you and the company you work for. The company part is usually out of your hands, but if you work for a good one, that stocks quality products, supports your creative side and creates an atmosphere that people want to visit, then all is good. If the bar you work for is a dive, well, sorry about your luck, but most people start there and move up eventually. It doesn’t mean it’s the dumps, it’s just that the bar will attract a “select” clientele. The real trick is to bring your “A” game to the bar and work all the guests. Give them great customer service by remembering their names, knowing their drink and just treating them well. This is universal and will increase your tips in any bar.

The problem comes when you get into “tip pooling” and serving “internal customers” like servers. In tip pooling, every tip gets thrown into a pot and is usually divided up evenly among the bartenders working that shift. This isn’t necessarily the best thing, since some people work harder than others. While you are taking great care of your guests, another ‘tender may
be spending his time hitting on the waitresses and goofing off. While they’re doing this, some guests experience at the bar may suffer and then they don’t tip. So basically, you can bring in a large portion of the tips, but only end up with a fraction of that at the end of the night, which sucks. Tip pooling doesn’t encourage good customer service skills, especially among those that like to slack or even for those who are having a bad week. The fact is you can do a half-assed job and still get an equal cut of the tips.

The other issue is trying to get servers to appreciate your skill and tip accordingly. Where I work, the bartenders get 3% of the lounge servers total sales (food and drink) as a tip out. So if a lounge girl sells $1000, we, the bartenders, get $30. However, the dining room servers don’t tip the bartenders directly, instead they give 3% of their sales to a central tip pool which is divided among the hosts, setters, cooks and bar-backs. It doesn’t amount to much after two weeks, maybe $40. It’s rare to get a “thank you” tipout from a dining room server, even if you did go the extra mile to make a Punch Grassot, with extra acetic acid. Also, getting the mandatory 3% tipout from lounge servers isn’t usually a problem, but there are always a few who will try to avoid the tip out.

If you work in a bar without a mandatory tip out system, then you better have a good repour with your serving staff. I worked in a place where it was recommended to servers that they tip out 10% of their tips to the bartender, but the company wouldn’t get involved with tips. Most servers didn’t tip regularly and there were some who outright refuse to tip you and if you did anything, like slow down service, they would complain and complain and complain. That’s part of the reason I have a new job. No one needs to put up with that crap. There’s not much you can do unfortunately.

Another area that sucks is the issue of transferring a tab from the bar to the dining room. Usually most people don’t have a problem settling up, however some don’t want too and demand to have the tab transferred. So if you sold $50 in drinks and appetizers, and then transfer the tab, that hard work is going to get you zero, zilch, nada in tips. However, the dining room server will get a free tip bonus for putting in no effort. So far I have never had a server come to me and give me a small tip out for the work I did. It would be a nice gesture if they did, but hey it’s free money for them. At the end of the day, you have to remember to take care of the customer, because if they don’t come back, you won’t have a job. So the customer is always the customer and transferring the tab is one of those things a bartender has to do. It sucks, yes, but there are more people that will settle up instead of transferring.

As a bartender what can you do? In reality you shouldn’t seek revenge, it’s petty. But, I’ll admit, I have been petty and slowed down service to some servers and even queue jumped other servers because they treat me exceptionally well. I’ve even chastised a server for being “evil” and refusing to do “extras” for her. My snarky little comments only provided temporary relief, kind of like a Midol. Use them sparingly. If it gets really bad, do what I did and just jump ship and move to another bar. A fresh start can solve many problems.

I personally don’t like the tipping culture. I would rather work in an environment where I’m paid a decent wage for my skills. But in North America, the tipping culture is not going to go away. So my alternative preference would to work in a bar where I have my own section (or the whole bar) and don’t have to do a tip pool. I work hard and treat my customers exceptionally well, therefore I am willing to put my income on the line, based on my skills, to earn my pay. I can’t stand the nights where I do a great job and bring in $150 for the pool and at the end of the night go home with $85. Yes, that actually happens. Sometimes I keep track of how much I’m brining in and compare it to my take home.

With a great bartending team, you can make good money, but Stanley Cup winning teams are rare and the same can be said for teams behind the bar. It’s rare to find a true professionals behind the bar that work as a cohesive money making machine.

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