Serving staff at an Ontario restaurant are speaking out against their boss, who they say is taking a portion of their tips – and wanted an even bigger cut.
In an emotional video posted online, Cayley Pozza said she worked at The Buccaneer in Port Stanley for three years but quit on Saturday after feeling “forced out” over her refusal to sign off on an increase in “tip outs” to her boss from 1.5 to two per cent.
She shared an image of a notice posted in the restaurant last week that says: “STARTING FRIDAY FEB. 9, 2018, TIPOUT TO CHRIS WILL BE 2%. PLEASE READ AND INITIAL. THANK YOU.”
Pozza said she wrote and dropped off a letter to Chris Georgeopolous on behalf of her co-workers outlining their collective response. The letter says that staff were “deeply saddened and disgusted by the most recent policy change, in regards to increasing an already illegal tip out to yourself.”
Pozza said she was called out by Georgeopolous after her shift on Saturday and ended up resigning.
She said the tip out amounts are based on the restaurant's sales. On a normal night of $1,500 in pre-tax sales, a server would be required under the new policy to pay $30 to Georgeopolous, plus smaller amounts to hosts, bartenders and managers on duty, according to Pozza. Georgeopolous would be getting $7.50 more per shift.
Pozza said that the increase might not seem like much to the restaurant owner or others but that it’s a “huge amount of money that someone like me with little kids…I see that hit and it affects me.”
“None of us servers agreed to sign his new policy change because we make under poverty level, realistically, and I don’t believe because minimum wage went up he should be paying for that increase by deducting our tips,” Pozza added.
Law passed by Ontario’s government in June 2016 made it illegal for employers to take tips from staff to pay for things like spilled food or drinks, broken dishes, or dine and dash customers.
The Protecting Employees’ Tips Act does allow for tip pools to be redistributed to hosts, kitchen staff or bartenders who wouldn’t be tipped directly by patrons, and employers can participate if they are a sole proprietor, partner or shareholder and “regularly spend most of their time doing the same work as the employees who share in the tip pool, or other employees in the same industry that would normally receive or share tips.”
Pozza told CTVNews.ca that her boss gets his tip out share whether he is in the restaurant or not and that he typically does not do the work of employees, except occasionally helping out in the kitchen.
The Buccaneer’s kitchen staff does not get to share in the tip pool, according to Pozza. She said she wouldn’t have minded sharing with them.
Taylor Guyett, a college student who works part-time as a server at The Buccaneer, shared similar sentiments with CTVNews.ca.
Guyett said that servers “are completely fine with tipping out the bartenders or hostess and the general manager because they all do a quite large job” and “participate in the experience we offer.”
“The thing with Chris though is that he doesn’t participate in the tasks that we do,” Guyett said. “If Chris comes in, it’s to order the kitchen staff around.”
She said Georgeopolous might help out in the kitchen once or twice a week, but not for long. Like Pozza, she said she’d rather tip out the kitchen staff than the boss.
Guyett said that staff weren’t 100 per cent sure whether Georgeopolous was the sole owner of the restaurant, but they believed him to be at least a partial owner.
Georgeopolous’ lawyer, Gene Chiarello, told CTV London that Georgeopolous “does not own The Buccaneer restaurant,” but is instead a manager.
“Managers are entitled to participate in pooling of tips and taking from that pool, as are hosts and hostesses, and bartenders and whoever else management includes in that tipping pool,” Chiarello said.
Chiarello said he believes that Ontario’s Ministry of Labour went to the restaurant on Monday to interview staff after Pozza’s video spread online, but “most of the staff said everything there is being done legally.”
“Nobody is getting paid below minimum wage, nobody is asked to contribute to a tip pool that shouldn’t, and nobody is taking from that tip pool who shouldn’t be,” he said.
“If all that is the case, I doubt that the Ministry of Labour will find anything running afoul,” Chiarello added. He also said that Georgeopolous would no longer be asking for a two-per cent “tip out” in light of the backlash. He also indicated that an envelope presented to Pozza was not a termination notice, but she did not open the envelope.
Guyett said she plans to continue working at The Buccaneer, but will not pay the tip out, even if it means risking her job.
“I’d rather lose my job over something like this, because I think it will make a difference to not just myself and my co-workers, but other people who work in restaurants,” she said.
Pozza said she’s overwhelmed by the attention and support her post has received and hopes others in the industry will share their stories.
“I'm not looking for my job back, pity, lost wages or notoriety, but rather (to) create awareness,” she said.
With files from CTV London