How the New IRS Rules Regarding Group Gratuities Could Impact Restaurants

For years it has been common practice for restaurants to add a fixed gratuity to parties of five or more. As of the beginning of this year, however, how restaurants handle tips for large parties is going to have to change. The IRS came out with a new ruling this year that draws a more distinct division between what are considered tips and what are considered service charges. From here on out, it will no longer be legal to require a tip and still call it a tip. If it’s a mandatory fee, it is now called a service charge, which changes how restaurants can handle payouts for bonuses.

It used to be that cash tips generally went unreported, though both tips and wages are technically taxable. Those days are mostly gone now, what with credit cards and more stringent reporting and tracking requirements. This change in what constitutes service charges vs. tips comes on the heels of a larger effort by the IRS to crack down on tip reporting in general, though many feel that this added ruling isn’t going to turn up much in terms of unreported income.

What Restaurants Can Call Tips Versus What Can Be Called Service Charges 

In order for something to be considered a tip, it must be voluntary. The customer has to decide who gets the money. It must also be for an amount entirely set by the customer, not dictated by a company policy. If it is a mandatory fee such as a fixed gratuity, it is considered a service charge, not a tip, and therefore must be processed through payroll rather than being paid out to the server that day.

The Biggest Effects of the New IRS Ruling on Restaurant Operations

The biggest effect of the new IRS ruling is that it will complicate payroll accounting. Larger restaurants may already have the infrastructure to deal with the additional accounting, but smaller establishments may not. Employees who are used to cashing out their tips each day will also be affected, since they will now have to wait until payday to get their bonuses for the larger tables they served.

Some restaurants will deal with the additional accounting and maintain their fixed gratuity policy. Others will do away with a fixed gratuity entirely in favor of a gentle reminder encouraging patrons to tip by putting a “suggested amount” for the tip on the receipt instead.

How Restaurant Operators Should Handle the Policy Change

The best thing you can do to handle this new IRS ruling is to simply talk to your employees. Let them know about the details of the new rule and that it’s coming from the government, not you. Ask for their feedback about what might be the best way to handle gratuities for large parties, now that fixed gratuities are no longer allowed to be considered tips. The choices are to either keep letting servers take home large party tips that same night (but let them risk getting under-tipped), or to keep the fixed gratuity as a service charge that then doesn’t allow employees to take home the bonuses until their next paychecks. Talk over the options with your staff and see how they feel about both choices before making a decision.

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2 Responses to “How the New IRS Rules Regarding Group Gratuities Could Impact Restaurants”

  1. conhippy Says:

    Reblogged this on Service is The Product and commented:
    It seems there is no refuge. The IRS will make keeping your own money a crime.

  2. lyndaybaker Says:

    Reblogged this on lyndaybaker and commented:
    The latest Jim Balis Blog.

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