Pooling gratuities is a subcategory of the never-tiresome, all-things-tips-related conversation. And, like many core hospitality conundrums, it is revisited often.

Sometimes, I am enlightened with an epiphany, or hear of new scenarios that question if pooling tips is the right or wrong thing to do. Other times, I experience my own tip-pooling situation when I clock out feeling so ripped off I vow to never do it again. And sometimes, someone in a management role confides a compelling employee-relations war story of greed, deception and drama.

This is not one of those times.

Instead, this is a condensed answer to an email inquiry, and most appropriate for the height of tourist season.

Too long to share in print, the question came from a newbie server who works at an inn where breakfast gratuity is included in the price of the stay. Receiving tips only in her weekly paycheck, she barely mentioned pooling was involved, and instead questioned the formula used to determine her cut.

Even taking her novice situation into account, I question her common sense.

While still full of uncertainties, breakfast tip pooling at a B&B isn’t as complicated as a full-service job. But regardless of the venue, ask the necessary questions.

Who am I pooling with? How is the cut determined from week to week? Is it a percentage based on hours? Position? Seniority? What about a base rate and the taxes associated with the tip percentage? What if you get cut from the shift early, but did the brunt of setting up, or icky side work? And most egotistically, what if you’re a better, more experienced server than the people you’re pooling with?

There is no doubt that waiting tables is often the luck of the draw. There will always be those nights when the heavy-hitting tippers sit in someone else’s section and you’re inundated with teetotaling Early Birds or folks with lots of kids. On the flip side, there will always be those nights when you make oodles of cash, and everyone else makes squat.

The best pooling comes from working with other people who try as hard as you do. People who will mop if you sweep and will bus while you schmooze. At the very least, people who compliment your style.

So, poolers beware. Ask management questions as they come up because I assure you, circumstances will change. And remember, it isn’t pushy or greedy to want to know where your money comes from, and how you’ll receive it.

We all have choices. Just make sure you know what your’s are before you cry foul.

Peas & Q’s

During the evenings when I worked my part-time restaurant job, a middle-aged dish dog would walk me to my car without fail, brushing off the snow when necessary. After ensuring my safety, he returned to the overflowing last-call sink full of saute pans, glasses and bar paraphernalia.

Referring to him only as Spike, the guy was quiet and unassuming. We didn’t talk much (he was never without earbuds cranking heavy metal) and I’m saddened to admit I didn’t really know him. But he was my guardian angel during those fearful months and I’ll never forget it.

I recently ran into a work acquaintance from that era, and learned that Spike had been homeless all that time. He couch-surfed, slept in a tent and was no stranger to the Preble Street Resource Center. And, like myself, the acquaintance hadn’t seen him since we worked together and he fell off the radar.

Then, just two days later, I saw Spike panhandling in town, with the same earbuds and nonchalant look. I pulled over, yanked out all my cash tips from the week and walked across the intersection. Recognizing me instantly, he was beyond grateful. Per usual, few words were spoken as I quickly returned to my illegally parked car.

Sure, I needed the money. As hard as she works, Carlykardashian returns to college in a month and unforeseen expenses will accompany her senior year.

But I have a roof over my head, two good jobs and people who care about me. So, what price do you put on a near-stranger turned hero?

Especially one with wings.

Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to [email protected], and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @Nhladd.

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