Restaurant servers are frequently victims of wage theft. Federal law, as well as most states’ laws, allow servers to earn a tipped minimum wage that is lower than the standard minimum wage. In Washington D.C., for example, restaurants only have to pay servers $2.77 an hour, rather than the minimum wage of $11.50 per hour, so long as servers make enough in tips to cover the difference.
Restaurants often abuse this system. If you’re a server and a victim of one of these abuses, you could be owed a significant amount in unpaid wages. Here are a few common forms of abuse:
(1) Your restaurant makes you do a substantial amount of “side work” that does not generate tips like rolling silverware, stocking condiments, refilling the soda machine, and cleaning the restaurant. If your restaurant has you spending more than 20 percent of your time on these tasks, then it is no longer allowed to pay you the tipped minimum wage ($2.77) but must pay you the standard minimum wage ($11.50) for each hour you work.
(2) Your restaurant has you pool tips with (or “tip out” to) back of the house employees such as kitchen staff or expediters. Restaurants are only allowed to have you share tips with others who regularly receive tips. If they make you tip out to expediters or other back of the house employees, then they also can no longer pay you the tipped minimum wage ($2.77) but must pay you the standard minimum wage ($11.50) for each hour you work.
If you believe your restaurant may not be paying you correctly, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 202-470-3520, and we will let you know your options.