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Waiters in Tip Flap With Restaurants

March 8, 2002

BOSTON (AP) _ Waiters at some of the city’s fanciest restaurants say the eateries are tapping into their tips, skimming money off the top to cover managers’ salaries.

``It’s the industry’s dirty little secret,″ said Samantha Smith, one of five former servers suing Locke-Ober, alleging it made its waitstaff kick back a portion of its tips to management.

They were fired after complaining, according to their Superior Court lawsuit, filed this week.

``People think they are leaving money for their server and we’re not seeing half of it,″ Smith told The Boston Globe in Friday editions.

Lawsuits have also been filed against L’Espalier and The Bay Tower Room’s banquet room. And another suit is expected to be filed against Morton’s by 15 former servers.

According to the waiters, tips left in cash or on credit cards are pooled and divided among servers, bartenders, busboys, food runners _ and some managers, whose cut can run as high as 25 percent. The waiters claim the practice breaks state labor laws.

Skimming allows restaurant owners to pay managers less because the tips make up the difference, said Dan Field, an assistant state attorney general. The attorney general’s office is backing legislation that would make it easier to penalize offending restaurants.

Peter Christie, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, conceded there were ``gray areas″ on who is part of the waitstaff, but dismissed the complaining servers as ``probably just disgruntled former employees.″

At Legal Seafood, servers tip busboys and bartenders and keep about 80 percent of their tips, insisted restaurant manager Andrew Bluestein. A spokesman for Morton’s said tip-sharing is voluntary.

The class action suit against The Bay Tower says a quarter of the mandatory 18 percent gratuity was diverted from the waitstaff. The restaurant has changed its policy and is willing to settle out of court, the Globe reported.

Officials at Locke-Ober wouldn’t comment. A spokesman for L’Espalier didn’t return calls.

Joe Lichtblau, the attorney for the class-action lawsuit against Locke-Ober, said servers are seeking 4.5 percent of nearly a decade’s worth of banquet bills, which frequently top $10,000.

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