Local Restaurant Suspected of Illegal Tip Pooling

For many a waitress and waiter, a hard day’s work pays in tips. Given to the server from the customer, this money often makes up the majority of a wait staff’s income.

“Our paycheck are not what pay our bills,” said Katy Mahoney, a server at Big R’s BBQ in Joplin. “Our tips are what pay our bills.”

Mahoney is considered a tipped employee, meaning she customarily and regularly receives more than 30 dollars per month in tips. Employees must earn minimum wage, and restaurants can pay tipped employees less than the minimum wage only if they are allowed to keep all their tips.

Within these mandates, some wrongful play has taken place called illegal tip pooling, when restaurant management or ownership requires a server to share their tips with those who are already receiving minimum wage.

“It comes down to whether they are people who are traditionally tipped or not,” said attorney John Holleman of Holleman & Associates in Little Rock, AK. Think about it in terms of when you go to a restaurant, you may tip the bartender, you may tip your waitress or server, you don’t go back into the kitchen to tip the kitchen help.”

Attorneys Holleman and Tim Steadman responded to this issue when they were contacted by Jacqueline Conners, a former employee of Gusano’s Pizzeria, a restaurant group that has seven locations, including one in Joplin. Conners claims that Gusano’s required her to sign a tip pooling agreement.

Very clearly says that the employees are tipping out a percentage of their sales to the kitchen to non-tipped employees,” said Steadman.

“That absolutely, unequivocally violates the law,” said Holleman.

According to the two attorneys, the incentive to break the law is clear.

“There is kind of a drive to take a little bit from the restaurant servers and give to the kitchen staff so that the restaurant’s labor cost goes down,” said Steadman.

For Katy Mahoney, keeping the money she rightfully earned is the only option.

“I would be pretty upset if I had to split them with multiple people after I worked all night.”