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So you think that tip you put down is something extra for good service

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POSTED June 22, 2014 10:30 p.m.

Editor’s note: Dennis Wyatt is on vacation. The following column first ran in June of 2011.

A tip is a gratuity, right?

Guess again.

The National Restaurant Association, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the Council of State Restaurant Associations are suing the Labor department over a ruling that says they must explain the exact amount of tips that will be credited toward their minimum wages or else they will face penalties of $1,000 for each violation.

Not all restaurants force waiters to cough up part of their tip money to cover minimum wage law mandates. Even so, it has got to make you wonder why restaurants are allowed to skirt the minimum wage law by essentially confiscating gifts given to waiters to meet labor law. Tips are gratuities or gifts.

If anything the Labor Department should be sued for perpetuating a double standard. A mom and pop retail store struggling to make ends meet can’t count tips their employees may receive as credit toward their minimum wage pay. Yet if that owner of a mom and pop store goes out to a sit-down restaurant they are expected by “tradition” to tip the waiter and then — unbeknownst to them — the owner of the restaurant is using part of the tip to justify paying workers less than minimum wage.

What makes this all the more perverse is the Internal Revenue Servcie creates models on what a typical waiter at specific sizes and types of restaurants should expect in tips and then uses that to check their 1040 forms to make sure they are reporting within a certain range. The IRS, after all, wants to collect taxes on income. So thanks to the government’s own bipolar rules when it comes to minimum wage waiters are being taxed twice for the same dime.

If a restaurant takes a dollar from tips for every hour a waiter works that means that is a dollar the IRS will tax twice — once as the waiters’ wage and again as the waiter’s tip. That, of course, assumes the waiter reports all tips. But then again the system is already stacked against them.

It’s highly doubtful that the government applies the same bureaucratic water boarding to either corporations or wealthy income earners.

There is a real simple way to clean this up.

First of all, restaurants need to pay minimum wage — period.

That undoubtedly will trigger anguished cries of how tough it is for them to stay afloat in this economy. If they raise the price of their, meals then they will lose customers. That’s understandable. But then let’s level the playing field and make everything as clean as possible. All of the etiquette gurus, restaurant owners or whoever came up with the brilliant idea for a 15 percent tip should lower that standard to 10 percent. Then restaurants should be barred from raiding tips to meet minimum federal wage laws. Everything should be a wash.

And if they continue to commandeer tips using fear or other means of extortion, then when they are caught and convicted the Labor Department should slap them with $10,000 minimum fines for each incident.

Tipping, of course, shouldn’t be mandatory although some restaurants make it that for what should now be obvious reasons. Patrons shouldn’t be guilted into having to pay tips just to make sure the waiter gets paid minimum wage.

Personally, I don’t have a major problem with tipping. if the service is mediocre, I tip 15 percent. If it’s good it is 20 percent plus. I also tip when I get my haircut even though I’m not absolutely sure how that got started. But I do know a pleasant and attentive waiter makes a meal more enjoyable. The same goes for someone who is cutting my hair.

As for the trade groups, they are now whining that it is burdensome regulatory requirement to lay out to employees how much of their wages will be paid out of tips because the amount differs for each employee and the amount of tips an employee collects changes from week to work.

The current system allows employers to fleece both their workers as well as unsuspecting customers.

Instead of defending the lawsuit from trade groups, the Labor Department should just outlaw the entire practice of allowing tip credits to supplant minimum wage laws for restaurants or any other business for that matter.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.

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