The ruling stems from a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of California baristas who claim Starbucks unfairly and illegally forced them to share their tips with “shift supervisors.” According to the lawsuit, rather than pay their shift supervisors more out of the corporate coffers, the company used tips as a means of subsidizing the supervisors’ income. The complaintants say shift supervisors are managers and managers in the service industry are not to a share of the tips.
This is true. In restaurants, bars and coffee houses, managers are not tipped employees. When tips are combined and then split among servers, as with Starbuck’s tip pool, or when one tipped employee shares a portion of tips with another employee, like when a waitress “tips out” a busser, managers receive no cut of the tips. Many states specifically prohibit employers from forcing tipped employees to share tips with traditionally non-tipped employees.
The real question, though, is what is the role of the shift supervisor? Is the shift supervisor an actual member of the management team?
In the service industry it’s not unusual to have a “head bartender,” a “head waitress” or a “head barista.” These people aren’t managers in the traditional sense. Usually they’re the most senior members of the service staff, trusted by management, and assigned duties like organizing the other servers on the shift and taking care of many of the little things necessary to making a place run - like getting change from the safe or taking a charge off of a check. They’re also the person management and ownership question, even blame, when something goes wrong on a shift. For this, they might, if they’re lucky, be paid slightly more than their co-workers.
I’ve been in this position plenty of times. I’ve been the head waiter who trains the rest of the staff, tells them what section they’ll be working in, fixes their checks when something is ordered incorrectly and tells them when they can checkout and go home. I’ve been the head bartender, often called the “bar manager,” who makes the schedules for all the bartenders and supervises their work. Often being the head bartender or bar manager involves hiring and firing bartenders, ordering liquor, doing inventory and counting the money at the end of the night - all the jobs actual managers hate doing. Always it includes taking the heat when a bartender insults a customer or drinks too much on the job.
But, I was always tipped. Why? Because despite the extra duties I took on, despite the title of “head waiter” or “bar manager,” my main job was to serve customers. As a waiter, I had my own section of tables. As a bartender, I stood behind the bar slinging drinks all night. I agreed to take on the extra duties for one reason only - I got to make my own schedule. That’s it. The one real perk I demanded whenever asked to be any kind of supervisor. To a waiter/bartender, making your own schedule is the best perk possible.
I wondered if the role of a Starbuck’s shift supervisor is more similar to a restaurant manager who jumps in to help others serve customers when things get busy or when someone needs a break, or if the role is more similar to that of a head waiter or bar manager.
So, I went to my favorite Starbucks, (yes, I have a favorite Starbucks…the staff there is very cool) and asked one of my regular baristas about the role of the shift supervisor. As luck would have it, he was a shift supervisor. I never would have guessed he was any different than the other baristas there…because he’s been making my drinks for at least a couple of years now.
“It’s frightening,” he said of the lawsuit, even though we’re in Illinois and the original suit was in California with similar suits now filed in Minnesota and Massachusetts. “I’m going to lose a few dollars an hour if I don’t share in the tips.”
I’ve seen this guy work. He does everything all the other baristas do, from making drinks, to preparing food to straightening up the store.
He pulled out two sets of keys. “These are the keys to the store and these are the keys to the safe. That’s the extent of my management power here.” Locking and unlocking the doors and making change from the safe.
“I’m not a manager,” he says, “I’m a barista-plus.”
Brarista-plus. That’s it in a nutshell. Barista-plus, waiter-plus, bartender-plus. Not management.
The finding in the lawsuit is wrong and Starbucks is appealing the ruling. Obviously the judge has never worked in a restaurant, bar or coffee house.
One more reason why I truly believe that at some point in everyone’s life, they should have to work in the service industry.