What is pooling?
Broadly speaking, it’s combing sales and tips by two or more waiters.
In some restaurants, it’s done globally. Some restaurants require their whole staff to pool their tips. This is pretty rare. It’s done primarily in restaurants with small staffs. More common than global tipping is using the captain system, where the staff is grouped by teams, each team employing a captain, who usually gets a larger proportion of the tips. The captain is the “front-person”, the most visible waiter to the guest. He of she “fronts” the team, supported by the support members who might so everything from taking the actual order and inputting the order to the kitchen, takes drink orders, runs the food, etc. This is fairly “old school”, drawn from the days of head waiters and maitre de’s. It’ still a pretty uncommon situation for most restaurants.
Another form of pooling is in private parties. In most modern restaurants, the captain is still employed to maintain a sense of accountability and a point person, but usually, the captain shares equally in the pool. This is the most common method for private parties. Usually, if there is more than one private party, all parties are pooled together.
The last form of pooling is between two or more sections. Sometimes this is mandated by management in the case of extraordinary situations where non-pooling would result in potentially uneven distribution of tables or in the case of situations where the restaurant might see the addition of additional tables because of some special event happening in the community that will generate more business than usual.
Pooling has advantages and disadvantages.
The major disadvantage is that it can allow sub-standard waiters to ride the coattails of better waiters. Another disadvantage is that is reduces the incentive to be an individual producer.
The major advantage is one of fairness. It allows all participating waiters to have the chance to benefit regardless of the influence of “luck”. All waiters have been in the situation of having their neighbor “luck” into having a better earning situation due to getting a lucky table or being seated more frequently than a neighboring section. It also can be a “hedge” against such a situation.
I’m generally not in favor of global pooling unless the restaurant is so small that there are only a few stations and fair seating can’t be guaranteed. In this situation, it’s imperative that all members of the team are strong and they pull their weight. Underperformers simply can’t be tolerated. They will generate ill-feelings from the stronger members of the team who rightly don’t like having to pull others’ weight.
I think that waiters, used to seeing the disadvantages of pooling, sometimes miss the potential advantages, and this is why I’m writing this post.
If you are a strong waiter, sometimes it’s to your advantage to pool with another strong waiter of your choosing. You might do this in order to hedge your bets. Both waiters go into the shift being subject to luck. By pooling, both waiters can be assured that the “fuzzy end of the lollypop” doesn’t come their way. Also, sometimes it’s good to have a backup in the case of a doubleseat or some other situation where the waiter is stuck doing a task that keeps them out of their section for a prolonged periof of time. Teamed waiters can greet the others’ table or help with drink orders, etc. Perhaps one of the team had a big party that demands a lot of extra attention or required more service than a single waiter can deal with easily. In this case, the other waiter can take care of all of the other tables while offering help at the precise moment that it’s needed.
I think that more waiters should take advantage of this on occasion.
Some ground rules that I think should be followed.
First, pooling should be agreed to before the shift starts. It shouldn’t be done when it becomes clear that luck is running one way or another. for instance, if a waiter gets a goldmine of a table, it’s unseemly for another waiter to offer to pool.
Second, it’s best for the waiters to continue to wait on their own tables in their original section instead of alternating tables. While this can be better in certain situations, it can be confusing. Whose turn is it? Which tables are mine? Also, it scatters the tables out for no good reason. It’s just more to keep up with.
Third, the pool should be 50/50.
Fourth, it must be OK to do this by management. Obviously, you could keep them out of the loop and just keep it private if you want. who’s to know if you are pooling your tips at the end of the night? but it’s better to do this with the blessing of management. You want to think carefully about going around house policies.
Fifth, you should coordinate the “ground rules” with your partner. For instance, you might agree that no matter what, whoever is closest, that waiter will automatically greet a new table regardless of whether it’s in their section or not. Or you might break it down like a captain system and have one person front all of the tables while the other does all of the logistic stuff. Perhaps one member of the team doesn’t mind doing more of the logistic work because they are more confident in the other’s ability to drive sales or be a better “public face”. I don’t particularly recommend this method but if both members are more comfortable with the arrangement, then I say, “Why not?”
Sixth, it’s always better if the sections are adjacent. Try not to pool with someone whose section is across the restaurant. There isn’t much of a logistical advantage to pooling in that situation.
And finally, don’t worry about who actually made more tips. This is counter-productive. It’s almost guaranteed that one person will “make more” than the other. If you do it enough, especially with the same partner, it will even out over time. that’s the “hedge” aspect of it.
Pooling can give you a sense that you aren’t going be screwed by the vagarities of seating rotation. Pooling can give you more confidence that you can provide better service to your guests, especially when it’s done voluntarily and with the partner of your own choosing. Perhaps you have another fellow waiter that you are totally confident in. In this case, why not try it out?
It’s worth thinking about. Even if you’re in a restaurant like Applebee’s where you don’t see private parties or unusual seating rotations, you might think outside the box.