FSTEC Recap: Tip Management 101 Forum

Restaurant operators and tech companies descended on Dallas to meet at FSTEC, the premier conference to learn about exciting new solutions for the quickly-automating restaurant industry. 

Our very own Brian Hassan, co-founder and co-CEO of Kickfin, joined a panel to talk about everything tip management — including employee buy-in, legal compliance, and profit growth. Brian discussed the importance of creating a tip management strategy and how to execute on it alongside Mike Manley (Senior IT Director, Dave & Busters), Ken McGarrie (Founder, Korgen Hospitality), and James Fessenden (Partner, Fisher Phillips). 

Watch the full video or check out our key takeaways from Brian’s conversation. 

Building a Tip Management Strategy

Things are changing in the restaurant industry — and fast. A unified tip management strategy should be a key component of your restaurant’s operations. 

Why?

  • Fewer cash transactions at restaurants 
  • Servers still want daily tip payouts 
  • Changing IRS policies for claiming tips 
  • Competition in the labor force 

Forward-thinking restaurateurs are already investing in tech to automate many aspects of their business, so your tip management strategy shouldn’t be left in the past. 

For restaurants looking to scale, having a single strategy across all your locations is the best way to simplify operations, ensure compliance with tip pooling laws, and prevent theft. You’re going to have growing pains, but paying employees efficiently should be priority number one.

So how do you create a tip management strategy? 

  1. Choose a tip pooling system 
  2. Decide how you’d like to pay out tips to employees 
  3. Monitor for compliance with tipping laws 

Tip Distribution Models

85% of our customers are currently sharing tips, one way or another, but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all tip distribution model. 

For QSRs, it’s pretty simple: pool tips and divide them by hours worked. At QSRs, you’re all working as a team to serve customers quickly, whether you’re running the cash register or manning the drive-thru window. It feels fair for employees to share tips based on how long each team member’s shift is.

Things start to get tricky when splitting tips at FSRs, especially in fine dining. Servers provide the majority of direct service to guests, but there are a lot of key people involved in the entire dining experience (hosts, runners, bartenders, and bussers). 

Many FSRs will use a “points” system to assign a share of the night’s tips based on their role, or servers will “tip out” the other supporting staff members based on a percentage of their sales. Beware: splitting by percentages can often veer into non-compliance without proper management. 

>> Learn more about tip distribution models here

Once you’ve chosen the right tip distribution model for your business, communication is key. Employees should be notified in writing about the tip pooling policy, but you should also be talking to them about why you have this policy and how it will work. 

Pay-out Methods

Once you’ve split up the tips, how are you going to pay them out to employees? 

Cash

Cash has ruled the restaurant industry for decades, and most servers have come to expect an envelope of dollar bills at the end of every shift. But does it still make sense?

While 90% of hospitality outlets are still paying out in cash, some restaurants are seeing as low as 1% of transactions paid in cash. This creates a logistical problem for restaurants who have to order cash deliveries or send a manager out to withdraw thousands of dollars just to pay servers. 

Cash also opens the door for theft. Servers leaving work with a wad of cash in their aprons are easy targets, putting their physical and financial safety at risk. Owners also run the risk of employee theft. Since cash isn’t traceable, that money is gone

Now that the IRS is planning to use POS data to estimate tips, cash could also cause major issues for servers at tax time. The POS data might show that a server likely earned $200 in tips (claimed or not), but it doesn’t account for how much a server had to tip out. If you’re only left with $150 after tip out, why would you want to be taxed on $200? 

Payroll

Putting tips on payroll is probably the easiest option for restaurant managers. It makes for straightforward compliance and takes much less time than counting cash. 

But (and it’s a big but), servers are used to an influx of cash on the daily — not every two weeks. You run a big risk of losing veteran servers and struggling to hire new staff when you move their tips onto payroll. 

Digital Tipping 

The innovative tech we mentioned earlier? This is it. Rather than cash or payroll, you can look into digital options that will free you from cash without alienating employees. 

But there are still options in the world of digital tip outs: Prepaid cards and instant, direct payouts. Prepaid cards were the earliest iteration of digital tip outs, offering employees their tips instantly on a card provided by their employer. They come with some major drawbacks though, including fees, restrictive ATM networks, and questionable legality. 

Direct digital payments send the tip right into employees’ bank accounts. No one needs to add another card to their wallet or spend time transferring funds from a prepaid card to their normal bank account. 

The Digital Tipping Landscape 

Ready to try digital tip outs? You have a lot of options — including Kickfin

When choosing a digital tipping partner, you have some things to consider. First and foremost, solve problems one at a time, in order of importance. Seek a solution that best fits your pain points without overcomplicating things. 

Here are some things to consider when choosing a digital tipping solution 

  • Does it send payment instantly? 
  • Does it have a payroll option for unbanked employees? 
  • What does the implementation and onboarding look like? 
  • Can it integrate with your POS? 
  • Does it manage compliance? 
  • Will it make employees’ experience better? 

If you choose wisely, the impact of your tip management system will go far beyond paying employees. For one, your employees will stick around for longer. Our survey found that Kickfin was the top reason that servers decided to stay at their current restaurant. And with more time on their hands, managers can do their most important job — creating more profitability for your restaurant. 

Compliance 

Remember: tipping laws are no joke. Here’s a quick refresher (but always ask an attorney for personalized legal advice). 

The Tip Credit

If your employees are earning more than $30 every month in tips, you are allowed to take the tip credit. According to federal law, you can pay employees $5.13 less than the state’s minimum wage per hour, as long as the employee is making up the difference in their tipped earnings. This only applies in states where the tip credit is legal (sorry, California restaurant owners). 

Tip Pooling 

As we mentioned before, tip pools are a great way to reward FOH staff for their part in creating excellent guest experiences. But, when not carefully monitored, tip pools are one of the easiest ways to get in legal trouble for wage theft. 

Depending on your state, mandatory tip pools may not be legal, but employees are always welcome to create a voluntary tip pool. Where mandatory pools are legal, BOH employees and managers are not allowed to participate in the pool. 

As a general rule of thumb, California is leading the charge as tipping laws evolve. Look to their current laws as a blueprint for what other states will be putting in place in the near future. 

Tip Management Best Practices

As you’re creating (or recreating) your tip management system, follow these tips from the panelists. 

Keep It Simple 

There’s no need to have a complex tipping system if you don’t need it. Come up with a single system that will work at all of your locations. Same goes for your tech stack — don’t add tools that you don’t need. Only bring in technology that makes your life easier without overcomplicating it. 

Be Transparent 

You’re making changes to your employees’ livelihoods, so keep them in the loop. As you develop your tip management strategy, have an open-door policy where employees can come to you with concerns or with pain points they’d like a solution to. 

Also, always give written notice of your tip policy to your employees and have them sign it. This goes for changes to your use of the tip credit or for tip pooling. 

Know Your Market 

To retain staff as you make these changes, you need to know what other restaurants in your area are doing. If it’s common practice to pay tips on payroll (as it is in New York City), then you may not need to worry about losing employees to daily pay restaurants. But if your competitors are handing out cash daily, make sure you have a solution that is just as enticing for servers.

Thanks to FSTEC for giving us this opportunity — we can’t wait to see you all again there next year. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a first step to overhauling your tip management strategy, check out our FREE tip pooling templates.

You might also be interested in

We know how important same-day payments are for veterans of the service industry who are accustomed to quick cash — and we’re now seeing that same demand expand into other industries as well. 

Kickfin co-founder Justin Roberts joined MasterCard’s InConversation Webinar series to discuss why immediate payment disbursal is key for the restaurant industry and the gig economy as a whole.

Watch the webinar here or read our recap for the highlights: 

People live paycheck-to-paycheck

Not just some people are living paycheck to paycheck. Most people are. 

That’s right: around 64% of U.S. consumers are just getting by. Even more shocking, 51% of consumers who earn over six figures are still living paycheck to paycheck, despite their higher tax bracket. 

It’s a major reason why employees need access to their earnings sooner rather than later. The pressure of watching your bank account slowly drain in the two weeks between payday is putting a lot of pressure on people, leading to a much greater demand for instant payments than ever before. 

Instant payouts are now table stakes

A PYMNTS study found that people of all ages prefer to be paid out immediately, as well as some other interesting statistics:

  • When given the choice, 68% of respondents said they would opt for an instant pay out
  • 40% of gig workers surveyed were willing to pay a fee for an instant disbursement
  • 81% of respondents were willing to switch jobs to an employer that offers instant access to earned wages and tips

It’s safe to say instant payouts are becoming the expectation for today’s modern workforce. But not all instant payouts are created equal.

Consumers are much more likely to engage with an instant payout system if they aren’t required to share their bank account and routing numbers and can access funds with just their debit card credentials. Why? It’s faster, more convenient, and feels more secure. 

Instant payouts and tip management: a perfect use case.

Instant payout innovation has come at the perfect time for the restaurant industry, which is struggling more than ever with the hassles and cost of cash.

If you’re in the restaurant biz, then you know: Most consumers pay with credit cards these days, not cash. That means there’s rarely enough cash on hand to pay out tips at the end of a shift. But employees still want and need instant access to their tip earnings.

Enter: instant payouts. Offering employees the option to receive their tip earnings directly to their bank of choice, the second their shift ends, can go a long way in improving employee satisfaction and ensuring their financial security.

But instant payouts are more than a work perk for employees. The operational benefits for employers range from reduced administrative burden and significant time savings to stronger compliance and streamlined reporting.

Modernizing your tip management strategy: 5 best practices 

There are three key components to your tip management strategy: 

  • Tip pool policy: How are you divvying up tips among your staff? 
  • The payout method: How are you distributing those payments?
  • The systems and tech: What are you using to facilitate those payments?

Under the current circumstances, restaurant operators are under immense pressure to bring their tip management into the future. 

5 best practices for tip management 

Based on our experience working with restaurant operators across the country, we’ve found that these five practices are the perfect recipe for building a successful tip management system.  

  1. Determine the right model and method for your restaurant, based on your location and tech stack
  2. Get a written tip policy (and get it legally approved
  3. Solicit employee feedback in a structured way
  4. Leverage technology for efficiency, accuracy, and compliance
  5. Don’t over-complicate (but do over-communicate!)

Tip management solution must-haves

When seeking a new tip management solution, make sure you carefully vet each system to see if it really meets your needs, or if it’ll be just as frustrating as cash. Here are a few suggestions for what should be on your checklist: 

  • Instant payouts
  • Direct to bank of choice
  • Availability of employee funds
  • Payroll option 
  • Integrations 
  • Simple implementation + onboarding process 
  • Around-the-clock customer service 

Big emphasis on strong customer support teams. Restaurants and bars don’t have “typical” business hours, so neither should your tech support.

Bar Louie automates payouts with Kickfin 

In a recent case study, we took a deep dive into our partnership with Bar Louie, a chain with over 60 locations that took advantage of our new integration with Toast. They made the switch from cash payouts to Kickfin’s instant, direct-to-bank payouts and haven’t looked back.  

Two-minute tip-outs

Before Kickfin, managers spent an average of 45 minutes per shift working through Bar Louie’s complex tip out policy and counting cash. The tip pooling rules were important to them — it’s what makes the entire staff feel like they’re getting their fair share. 

Using the Kickfin0Toast integration, Bar Louie was able to automate the tip pool calculation process and send tips straight to employees in under two minutes – a potential annual savings of 15,000 labor hours across all locations.

>> See more customer success stories 

Do you want to see these kinds of cost-saving results at your business? Let’s talk. Get a demo of Kickfin and see why restaurant owners and employees alike trust us to manage their tips.

Kickfin’s best-in-class tip calculation tool has some exciting new bells and whistles.

If you’re already using Kickfin’s tip pool calculator, then you know how much time and hassle you’re saving by automating everything. (And if you’re not? Head over to our tip pooling software page to see how it works!)

As we partner with more restaurants to bring their tip management into the future, we’re continuing to innovate our product so we can address their biggest pain points.

In this case, that means enhancing our tip pooling features so you can auto-calculate tip amounts even for the most complex or unique tip pool or share policies.

Check out a few of our latest features that will make tip calculations easier than ever.

New Release: Splitting Large Party Tips 

If your restaurant often hosts large parties, you know that the tip share can get confusing. Say one server is taking care of a party of 40 with a bartender assigned to only make drinks for that party. Meanwhile, the server has a few other two-top tables that are getting drinks from the main service bar. At the end of the night, how do you ensure that the large-party bartender gets their fair share of the tip out (without spending an hour on your phone calculator)? 

Kickfin can now automate that process for you, alleviating questions from your event bartender and saving time and effort on the part of your managers. 

Seamless Integrations 

Kickfin is partnering with your POS system to integrate seamlessly with your existing restaurant tech. Already, we’re serving Toast customers through our integration — and your POS just might be up next. 

Kickfin integration users get access to new product features first, like our new tip-out transparency tool. Your employees can log into their Kickfin accounts and see exactly how their tips have been split between team members, offering them full transparency into your tip policy in action.

Manager Tips 

We’re always listening to feedback to improve the Kickfin experience, and this one goes out to all of our restaurant partners who asked us to streamline the manager tip reallocation process.

>>Learn more about managers & tipping laws

In most cases, managers are not allowed to earn tips since they are salaried employees. But we all know that managers often step in and take care of tables to help servers get out of the weeds. Well-meaning guests will most likely leave a tip, not knowing that the manager technically can’t accept them — so where does that money go?

Kickfin now features a default pool, where tips “paid” to a manager are automatically redistributed to tipped staff based on your restaurant’s tip policy. 

Improved Labor Data Accuracy

We all know how easy it is for an employee to forget to clock out after a long shift. And sure, they aren’t going to get paid for a 16-hour overnight shift, but when payday comes around, those extra hours create a nightmare for your payroll team. 

With Kickfin, all employees are required to be clocked out in order to finalize payments — so you’ll catch the labor data mistake long before your payroll team has to sort it out. 

Even Better Security 

We’re committed to protecting you and your employees’ hard-earned money, so we’re adding an extra layer of security for certain transactions. You can now enable double approval of payments that meet certain conditions:

  • First payment for new employees
  • Employees getting their first payout in X number of days
  • Employees receiving more than X payouts in a 24-hour period. 

With these extra guardrails in place, you can always be sure that the right money is going to the right person. Reach out to our support team to configure your custom security measures.

Using Kickfin is a win-win for operators, managers, and employees alike. Restaurateurs save on cash delivery and labor costs, managers shave hours off their workload, and servers have the same instant payment that they’re used to — without the hassle and uncertainty of cash. 

Want to learn more about Kickfin? Let us show you the ropes with a demo

You heard it here first: 2024 is the year of integrations. 

In an effort to make Kickfin even more user-friendly and adaptable for our partners, we’re working with restaurant tech leaders to integrate our tip management solution with their existing systems. 

First up — Toast! A trailblazer for cloud-based restaurant management technology, Toast is a favorite POS system for restaurants, food trucks, and bars. You probably know them best for being the first to create handheld POS devices, drastically changing the entire restaurant ecosystem. To make life easier for their customers, Toast partnered with Kickfin to create an integration that makes tip pooling, tip distribution, and calculation smoother. 

As restaurant tech innovators ourselves, this partnership is the perfect fit for Kickfin. 

Our goal at Kickfin is always to save time for managers, prevent loss for operators, and create more financial freedom for hospitality employees through pioneering technology that digitizes many of the analog processes that the restaurant industry is built on. 

As a member of the Toast Partner Ecosystem, we’ll be able to deliver our product to Toast customers and modernize their tip management systems with ease. Using technology that they’re already familiar with, Toast customers can reap the benefits of Kickfin with minimal ramp-up upon implementation.

“No two restaurants split tips the same way, but invariably, it takes too long and involves too much risk,”  said Justin Roberts, the co-CEO of Kickfin. “This integration allows for the utmost customization with a near-zero learning curve — truly the best of both worlds for restaurants that want to save time, reduce labor costs and make life easier for their team.”

And one of their partners is already enjoying the ROI with Kickfin. Bar Louie takes great pride in making tip distribution equitable for all of their employees, so they rely on a complex tip pooling system to ensure fair pay. Prior to using Kickfin, managers at each of their 60 locations spent 45 minutes at the end of every shift to make calculations and divvy out funds to all of their servers. Now, they’ve streamlined their tip-out process with Kickfin — and managers are doing the same work in less than a minute! That’s an annual average of 15,000 hours saved across their entire chain. 

>> Hear more Kickfin success stories

After implementing Kickfin, managers can spend their time on what matters most: delivering excellent customer service. That means more table touches, more support for your staff, and more time to focus on server training. 

With managers spending more time on the floor (instead of counting cash in the back), you’ll see better customer reviews, better service, and increased sales — all from digitizing your tip-outs with Kickfin.

We’re excited about our new partnership with Toast and the opportunity to make digital tipping a reality for their customers. For restaurants who aren’t using Toast, don’t worry! We look forward to providing similar integrations across the restaurant tech industry.  

Want to see these results for yourself? Find out how to become a Kickfin integration partner or check out a demo of our platform.

No growing pains here! 

We’re thrilled to announce that Inc. listed Kickfin in their list of the top 10 fastest growing companies in the Southwest. (In fact, we earned the #1 spot in the software category and were listed as #9 overall!) We’re honored to be included alongside innovative companies that are making a big difference in our region. 

Inc. measured Kickfin’s growth from 2020 to 2022 — which wasn’t an easy time for the restaurant industry, to say the least. In spite of the challenges posed by the pandemic, restaurant concepts across the country embraced Kickfin’s technology. 

As a group, the 2024 Inc. honorees averaged 136% growth and created 17,606 new jobs over a two-year period. Individually, Kickfin grew by a whopping 1,304% (yes, really!).

We want to recognize and thank both our amazing customers and the Kickfin team for being part of our success story and allowing us to be a part of theirs. 

Our Customers

For years, restaurants manually calculated and paid out cash tips — despite the increasing hassle and liability those old-school methods entail. It’s not because operators are tech-averse; there simply wasn’t a good way to automate the process that didn’t create new friction or require new workarounds. 

That’s precisely why we developed Kickfin. Of course, we’re proud of what we built and the team behind it (more on that below). But we owe a great deal of our success to the customers who trusted us enough to give Kickfin a shot — especially those early adopters who are now some of our longest-standing customers.

There’s a leap of faith involved when you partner with a vendor and layer in new technology, particularly when it impacts something as important and sensitive as how you pay your people.  We don’t take that lightly, and we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve each and every customer who’s been on this journey with us.

>> Hear from our customers about their experiences with Kickfin

Our Team 

Every person on our team wholeheartedly believes in our mission and vision for the future. In short: we’re here to make the tip management process insanely easy for everyone so that paying out your people is (almost!) as great as getting paid. 

As backstory: Our co-founders, Brian and Justin, came up with the idea for Kickfin while dining out together and noticing that an armored car was dropping off cash. They asked why a restaurant would need a cash delivery when most patrons pay by card; the manager explained the cash was needed to pay out tips at the end of the shift. The inefficiency (and expense, and risk…) of that process was a lightbulb moment for Brian and Justin.

They set out to build a team who not only understood the problem, but could think critically and creatively about a solution — and bring it to life. 

From sales and marketing to product and support, every Kickfin employee has had a hand in the growth and success of our company, thanks to their passion for our purpose and their commitment to being best in class.

We’re proud of what we’ve achieved thus far, and we’re excited to continue collaborating with our customers, innovating on their behalf, and taking Kickfin to the next level together. Onward and upward!

See Kickfin in action!