Understanding Your Rights: Is it Legal for an Eatery to Keep Tips from Servers/FOH/BOH?

Working in the service industry can be a challenging job, especially when it comes to understanding your rights regarding tips. Many servers, front of house (FOH) and back of house (BOH) staff rely on tips as a significant part of their income. However, there are instances where eateries may keep the tips instead of distributing them to the staff. This raises the question: Is it legal for an eatery to keep tips from servers, FOH, and BOH? Let’s delve into this issue and understand the legalities involved.

Understanding the Law

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in the United States stipulates that tips belong to the employee who received them. Employers are prohibited from using an employee’s tips for any reason other than as a credit against its minimum wage obligation to the employee or in furtherance of a valid tip pool. This means that it is generally illegal for an eatery to keep tips intended for servers, FOH, and BOH.

Exceptions to the Rule

There are, however, exceptions to this rule. For instance, if an eatery has established a valid tip pooling arrangement, tips can be shared among employees who customarily and regularly receive tips, such as servers, bartenders, and busboys. However, the FLSA prohibits any arrangement that includes employees who do not customarily and regularly receive tips, such as dishwashers, cooks, chefs, and janitors.

What to Do If Your Tips Are Being Kept

If you suspect that your employer is illegally keeping your tips, there are several steps you can take. First, document everything. Keep track of the tips you earn, the hours you work, and any conversations or actions related to your tips. Next, consult with a labor attorney or contact your local Department of Labor office. They can provide guidance on your rights and the best course of action.


Understanding your rights as a server, FOH, or BOH staff member is crucial to ensuring you are treated fairly and legally in the workplace. While there are exceptions to the rule, it is generally illegal for an eatery to keep tips from these employees. If you believe your rights are being violated, don’t hesitate to seek legal advice and take action.

Remember, tips are more than just a reward for good service; they are a significant part of your income and you have a right to them. Stay informed, know your rights, and don’t be afraid to stand up for them.