The SOMM Journal

August / September 2018

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12 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2018 THE OTHER DAY I visited a good friend who works as a bar tender at a trendy restaurant in West Hollywood. Prior to my visit, I'd asked her how she was enjoying her new gig. The response was lukewarm, mostly based on the fact that the restaurant does not "allow tipping." Instead, they automatically add a "service charge" intended for distribution among the entire staff. My friend, however, has done the math, and she's quite certain she's not actually earning a consistent percentage of that charge based on her sales. Grumblings around the restaurant theorize that the owner is pocketing some of the money to put toward his next restaurant, which, if true, disgusts me to no end. Her fellow bartender quit just the other night, in fact, after several requests to review the num - bers went unanswered. The entire staff is now considering a walkout. The unfortunate truth is that service charges are the property of the employer, and the ownership/management can distribute this money however they see fit. With most people unaware of this, it's im - perative we learn the difference between a service charge and gratuity/tipping. The latter is the property of the employee, but it's worth noting that a mandated tip pool is perfectly legal. Further complicating this matter, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, signed into law by President Trump this spring, enables employers to include back-of-the-house employees in tip pools. When I visited my friend that night, I made sure to leave her an actual cash tip: I trust her to distribute that money in the way she sees fit. When I received my bill this week after lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant, I noticed a 15 percent service charge, so I again left a cash gratuity. I don't always have cash on me, though—and frankly, as a diner, it's frustrat - ing how much the cost of dining out can increase under these circumstances, as I can end up spending 25–30 percent of my bill on tipping and service charges. And that's coming from a former member of the service industry who knows exactly how hard my friends are working for these (hopefully) extra tips. So, how do we fix this broken system? I wish I knew. In the meantime, let's at the very least remember that a service charge is a far cry from a gratuity or tip: The livelihood of thousands of members of the hospitality industry may depend on it. —Jessie Birschbach, Managing Editor { editor's notebook } OMUNGNERO SILVANA VIA ADOBE STOCK Automatic Headache BREAKING DOWN SERVICE CHARGE VS. GRATUITY

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