The Caterers Corner
Restaurant Associates Withholding Tips: Legal? Caterers Corner: Restaurant Associates Withholding Tips: Legal?
By Chewablec (Chewablec) on Thursday, February 10, 2005 - 04:30 pm: Edit

Having worked for numerous NYC catering companies in the past five years, I have found Restaurant Associates ("RA") to be the only one to not distribute client gratuities to its butlers. This is true even of weddings, where gratuity is the rule.
RA management stresses to its employees that it is the largest, costliest and best caterer in New York and places higher demands on me as a butler than any other employer, yet the company has raised the starting pay only once in the past 5 years--from $18/hr. to $19/hr.--and has never explained the reasoning for withholding tips.
From what I read of NY State employee rights, this is not legal. Has anyone had similar experiences with RA or other companies? Is there any recourse?

By Chefmanny (Chefmanny) on Thursday, February 10, 2005 - 07:38 pm: Edit

I worked for RA, they like to push the envelope.It depends what you are calling tips? it a gratuity or a service charge?????
If you make more then the minimum wage hourly, I believe, not positive they can pocket the service charge, the gratuity I am not clear on.

By George (George) on Friday, February 11, 2005 - 09:10 am: Edit

Three things,

Normally tiped employes are paid less than mininum wage, not $19 an hour.

Most likely RA includes a service charge in the bill, it is not a gratuity which is optional. They are not reqiured to pass on a service charge. Infact I assume that you are totally "on the books" so you are most likely costing them at least $25 an hour after taxes and insurance costs.

What the heck is a buttler and what is the difference between that position and a server? I always thought of a buttler as a individual in personal service to an individual or a family, with an annual salary, not a catering type position.


By Chewablec (Chewablec) on Sunday, February 13, 2005 - 02:53 am: Edit

What I mean is that RA does not give the tips intended for the servers ("butlers", as we are called on RA jobs) to the servers. For example, I just worked tonight for a different caterer and was given $40 in cash as a tip from the client (on top of my $20/hr. pay), distributed through my boss/captain. I have never received such tips when working with RA, even on events such as weddings, house parties, Christmas parties and bar/bat mitzvahs, where tipping by the client is common.

By Catergreat (Catergreat) on Sunday, February 13, 2005 - 10:55 am: Edit

More than likely the last "Tip" you received was a rare occurence. RA charges a hefty "service charge" to their clients.

Clients think in their minds that you are being well taken care of. ( at 19.00 per hour, you are )
The client may even think of it AS the Gratuity.

Rule of thumb. If it is called a "Gratuity", it must be distributed to the staff. (which could include chefs, etc)

If it is called a "Service Charge", it is a FEE and is NOT distributed. (except in cases of small businesses who don't know the difference and just accidently call a "Gratuity" a "Service Charge".

Have you ever seen a bill from RA? Does it say "gratuity" or "service charge"?

My bet is SC!

By Chefmanny (Chefmanny) on Sunday, February 13, 2005 - 12:01 pm: Edit

$20 an hour is "relatively" good, in NY it's like minimum wage I would imagine (the city)

By George (George) on Sunday, February 13, 2005 - 12:27 pm: Edit

Out here on LI Catering wait staff costs around $25 an hour. Most of the time there is an additional tip as well. It might even be more expensive out here because of the VERY limited talent pool.

In the City you have all the college students and wanna be actors and actresses so you have a much larger pool to get staff from.

The Island is so bad that when I was at the CIA one of my classmates ran a staffing business. He would bring down students to work wedding and events on the weekends. He only had one customer so it was easy and he made a killing and all the kids made well over $200 a day, that was back in '88.


By Foodpump (Foodpump) on Sunday, February 13, 2005 - 10:55 pm: Edit

Gotta agree with Catergreat. I co-own a catering business and with catered events, tips are a rare occurance, maybe 10% of the time. In this case we split the tip between all employees for that event, waiters, bar staff, cooks, evenly. For us, the owners, our tip is the fact that we have a genuinely happy customer.

By Chefjoannam (Chefjoannam) on Monday, February 14, 2005 - 06:00 am: Edit

I cut all my employees in on a tip: kitchen staff AND servers. I let everyone know in the first interview that they earn their tip from ME. I have a "boutique" (that means "very small") catering business where I refuse parties of over 200 guests. I never have more than 8 people on staff: I know what each of my employees are doing every moment. If everyone's working as a team, then they should all be tipped out, but if someone's doing your work, then they should get your tip, too. Yes, I get the lion's share of that charge, but I'm also paying for advertising, insurance, and all those other little hidden expenses that keep my business legal and open. (it's factored in, as a "service charge" of 17-20% depending on how demanding the client is. Catergreat, in my case, it's not called a gratuity because a client can legally refuse to pay a gratuity but not a service charge.)

By Chewablec (Chewablec) on Tuesday, February 15, 2005 - 01:50 am: Edit

I suppose there is some confusion here, due to my terminology. Simply put, I am just annoyed that RA does not pass on tips intended for servers to its servers. Yes, maybe only 10% of parties tip, but I have received $50 - $120 CASH tips working with other companies, always for doing far less work than RA demands of me. This does make a difference.
On top of this, RA also prohibits employees from accepting random, on-the-job tips when working at a bar or coat check (either of which, depending on crowd, can bring you a nice chunk of cash for the night), often threatening to fire employees if they are caught accepting tips from partygoers. Coincidentally, I happened to witness my RA captain tonight being tipped in cash by the client at a Carnegie Hall party: he was caught off guard, but did not refuse, probably assuming I did not hear the whole exchange. I also worked a wedding where the BRIDE asked a group of us servers directly how she could make sure we got a tip, at which time the account rep., Martha(name changed to protect the guilty) from the Museum of Natural History, butted-in, saying, "Don't worry, it will be taken care of." We never received a dime.
I only want to know if this is legal and to question this practice on ethical grounds as well. I know the best solution is to not work for RA, but I cannot help blowing the whistle on this dishonest practice.

By Chefjoannam (Chefjoannam) on Tuesday, February 15, 2005 - 02:51 am: Edit

The fact that you're naming names in a public forum is not cool. It's a small world, darlin' and you should be conscious of how many people could be reading what you're writing here. If what you want to do is blow the whistle, then blow it, through the proper channels. Don't badmouth people publicly, its in very poor taste.

By Jonesg (Jonesg) on Tuesday, February 15, 2005 - 05:00 am: Edit

It sounds like its time to move to another job.

By George (George) on Tuesday, February 15, 2005 - 09:18 am: Edit

I think the Channel 2 people that do the Shame on Youthing would love this story.

As long as they did the "man in the shadows" type of interview with you and didn't use your name you probally would have no problem finding other employment.

Also be sure that if they take the story you demand that they mention in the spot. ;<)

By Foodpump (Foodpump) on Tuesday, February 15, 2005 - 06:50 pm: Edit

I'm not liking what I'm reading, Chewablec. Your posts sound like you have a genuine complaint, but rather than taking it to the Labour Board (or some derivative of) you choose to post it on a chatroom for Chefs...

My advice? Take the $4.00 insurance. I've done the $4.00 insurance many times and it has sometimes won me back my hard earned salary, sometimes provided me with "amunition" to take my employer into legal hell, and on one occassion that I'd like to forget, saved me from excruciating embarassment that would have prevented me from ever working in this town again...

Here's how it works: Write a letter to your employer confronting him with the information that you thoughtfully posted on this site and ask for his opinion. Include something to the effect that if he doesn't reply within 7 working days, you will take further action. Now mail it "registered post" which does cost a few bucks, but is worth it.

If you're new to this site you can find out alot about other contributers by clicking on the blue box that highlights their name. As Chefjoannam says, "it's a small world"...

By Chefmanny (Chefmanny) on Tuesday, February 15, 2005 - 07:33 pm: Edit

Simply, find out the laws in NY dude, if they are breaking the law it will be clear!...if they are screwing you, you will know.
I suggest you "not" do what Edward said above about confronting the employer, unless you want to be unemployed the same day.

By Foodpump (Foodpump) on Tuesday, February 15, 2005 - 09:33 pm: Edit

Aww,Manny, the guy already lost his job when he gave out the particulars of the events he worked, worked with, and worked for, and posted it on the 'Web. Probably his job was already lost on his first posting when he openly accused his employer of withholding tips. Maybe they did, and maybe they didn't, nobody knows untill someone gets the employer's version of events.

So if Chewablec claims he's owed tip money either he, or someone acting on his behalf will have to contact the employer--O.K. so "confront" sounds a little harsh, but basically it's contacting the employer and getting their version of what went on.

By Coolbanana (Coolbanana) on Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - 12:24 am: Edit

"Simply put, I am just annoyed that RA does not pass on tips intended for servers to its servers."

I believe this person just wants to blow off a little steam in this forum, by exposing what some large catering services do from time to time. As chefs, I am sure we would be a little dissapointed if a customer or client wanted to do an article about the person who cooked thier dinner. ( I can't use a monetary donation example for us, lord knows we are not in this for the money! ) And instead of the chef getting the accolades, A front house person takes the credit for menu developement, quality of ingredients...and so on. I believe most all of us would be pretty peeved. Maybe this isn't a good example, but I think you'll get where I'm coming from. In most states, as others have posted, there is a rather large difference in language between "service charge" and "gratuity" Companies are not required to distribute any portion of a "service charge" to the service staff. IMO I would let it go, and find other avenue's of work.

By Chewablec (Chewablec) on Thursday, February 17, 2005 - 12:24 am: Edit

Thank you all for your thoughts. I apologize for my inappropriate disclosures of names, times and places; that was in bad taste (thank you, editor, for changing names). It is the employer's right to determine how tips/gratuities/service charges get distributed, and I essentially support this arrangement when I continue to accept work from the employer.
While I still take issue with this practice, this forum is not the most appropriate place for my complaints. Please excuse my whining!

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