Sushi Chefs CAN Participate in Tip Pools
Section 3(t) of the FLSA defines tipped employees as “any employee engaged in an occupation in which he/she customarily and regularly receives more than $30 a month in tips.” 29 U.S.C. § 203(t). Section 3(m) allows tip-pooling among employees who customarily and regularly receives tips. 29 U.S.C. § 203(m); see also 29 C.F.R. § 531.54.
Itamae-sushi chefs and teppanyaki chefs have direct contact with customers, at the bar counter area (itamae-sushi chefs) and at customer tables (teppanyaki chefs). In support of its opinion, the DOL cited its “longstanding position that counter persons who serve customers may participate in tip pools. Citing FLSA Field Operations Handbook § 30d04(a); Wage and Hour Opinion Letter 1/25/83 (waiter chef who brings food order from kitchen to table and cooks it on hibachi grill in front of customers may share in tip pooling).
Employers should note that not all chefs and cooks may participate in tip-pooling arrangements. Only those who have regular customer contact may do so. Similarly, servers, bellhops, bus persons, counter persons and service bartenders may participate in tip-pooling arrangements. Dishwashers, for example, cannot participate in tip pools. Employers also should note the variations in state laws regulating tip-pooling arrangements. See, e.g., California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement Opinion Letter dated 9/8/05 (tip pool should include only “those employees who contribute in the chain of the service bargained by the patron,” and should exclude any supervisory employee “with the authority to hire or discharge any employee or supervise, direct, or control the acts of employees”).