Coffee Barista's Don't Interact With Customers Enough for Tip Pooling

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on November 12, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded a decision by a Texas federal district court in a case that involved barista tips, Montano v. Montrose Restaurant Assoc.

The legal issue at bar was whether or not "coffeemen" (aka baristas) are lawfully entitled to a percentage customer tips under a restaurant's tip pooling arrangement. It turns out that it has little to with what you call them; it has more to do with the nature of their work.

Tip Pooling Arrangements

In the relevant facts, a group of waiters, busboys, lead waiters, and other servers brought suit against Tony's Restaurant in Houston, Texas. They alleged that Tony's tip pooling agreement violated the Fair labor Standards Act (FLSA) because it included "coffeemen" in the mandatory tip pooling arrangement, even though said coffeemen had no direct interaction with the customers, unlike the servers-plaintiffs. The inclusion of baristas naturally split the percentages shared by the restaurants servers into smaller portions.

District Level

The district court granted Tony's motion for summary judgment and reasoned that in order for the a worker to be eligible for tip sharing, "his work must be important for direct diner service." It found that baristas, even without direct customer interaction, directly supported the waiters and were integral to "diner satisfaction."

Fifth Circuit Disagreed

The Fifth Circuit disagreed and instead found within the guidance of the U.S. Department of Labor rules show a recurring theme: tipped employees must have more than a "de minimus interaction with customers who leave undesignated tips." Under this standard, the Fifth Circuit said, a jury could reasonably find that baristas, who spent most of their time behind the scenes without any customer interaction, did not satisfy the de minimus threshold.

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