Some time back a friend who runs several restaurants explained how he collects a large chunk of tips given to his coat checkers. He said the coat check person at some of his units can get tips in excess of $160 on a weekend night, and the job doesn't warrant that level of pay. Instead, his coat checkers are paid an hourly fee ($10) from the tips and management gets the rest.
I was reminded of this policy after recently reading that a settlement of $3.9 million had been reached over a number of wage and hour violations involving a New York restaurant group. Apparently there was a wave of litigation involving dozens of Manhattan restaurants where management insisted on sharing tips. Fireman Hospitality Group, which operates several restaurants including Trattoria Dell'Arte, was accused of a number of blatant workers' rights violations, such as not paying minimum wage and overtime, but the alleged tip violations were not as clear cut.
Carolyn Richmond, a lawyer who represented many restaurants in the suit, said the ruling is unclear about who can share in the tips and who can't. The New York State Legislature may be called on in the future to provide a better definition of who is a manager.
Be that as it may, it behooves you to examine your own state laws when it comes to sharing tips. Also consider the public relations backlash that might arise if you are painted as a big, bad wolf who takes advantage of employees.
I'd be interested to know about your tip policy and how it works for you or, even on the downside, how it has backfired. I'll share your advice on a future Letters page.
A Concealed Weapon? Another friend in the business told me how a customer of his was rushed to the hospital after eating shellfish. He was as befuddled as he was freaked out by the incident. “I don't get it,” he told me, “the menu item clearly mentions there is crab in the dish.”
A nearly similar incident happened at a unit of Ruby Tuesday, but with much dire circumstances. A customer with a shellfish allergy died from anaphylactic shock after eating Chicken Oscar. The customer's wife said the dish was served to him by mistake, though the chain said it investigated and found he did order the dish.
A company spokesman described the situation as “tragic” and expressed its sympathy, but pointed out that the menu clearly describes the item as having crab, which is served on top of the chicken. Nevertheless, Ruby Tuesday is taking heat in the blogosphere. “They've now turned an honest mistake into an ugly ‘he said, she said’ dispute,” wrote one blogger.
“Victim-blaming is a dangerous business,” said crisis-management expert Eric Dezenhall. “No matter what a company does, the reports are always that they mishandled it.”
If this happens to you, carefully consider a public statement. Better yet, hire a crisis expert.