Former Chili employee criticizes tip-out system for paid workers

An “ex-Chilihead” took to TikTok to complain about Chili’s system of paying employees based on tips and sales, with hashtags highlighting “problems in the restaurant industry” and more generally noting that “capitalism sucks.”

TikTok user Clara B. (@thoseawkmoments) made the video as part of a conversation about tipping at restaurants. In response to a server commenting that he earned $177 in tips but had to pay out $100 to other employees, Clara broke the math. She generated more than 79,000 views in just one day on the platform, explaining that it didn’t seem like a fair shock to any of the Chili employees involved.

“Welcome back to Ex-Chiliheads TikTok where I’m here to remind you that Chiliheads don’t get mad at how much money they make because we make good money,” Clara begins the video. “We’re pissed about where this money has to come from and how much of it we have to give away to other workers who are being paid below minimum wage.”

She then breaks down the viewer’s comment about making a $177 tip but only taking home $77. “She also commented that the food runners will leave before their shift is over and they still have to pay out 4% of total sales even for the sales that happen while the food runner is out of the building, which is the same thing happened to me,” Clara recalls.

@thoseawkmoments In reply to @partygirl3550 it’s still happening 🫠 #chilihead #tipout #waitresstok #servertok #waitresstiktok #chilis #chilistiktok #chilisbirthday #chilislove #chiliheads #wageinequality #wagegap #restaurantindustry #restaurantindustryproblems #eattherich #capitalism #capitalismsucks #essentialworker #essentialworkers #essentialworkersbelike #foodservice #viral #fyp #fypage #fypシ ♬ Original sound – Clara B.

Then comes some math.

“Assuming their tip works the same as mine, this person pays 4% to their food runner and 1% to their bar, so they pay a total of 5% of sales as tips.” She says. “A $100 tip would mean she made $2,000 in sales today. If she had tipped all of her checks 20%, she would have made $400 from that $2,000 in sales. Today, she gave an average tip of 9%. Regardless, 5% of their revenue is owed to their bartender and food runner because they both make $2.13 an hour just like them.”

Though she describes the workers as having “wages below minimum wage,” $2.13 is the federal minimum wage for those who qualify as tipped employees. However, as the Department of Labor notes, some state laws provide for higher rates, and the combined combined minimum wage rate for cash and tips is said to total $7.25 per hour.

Clara notes that the server took home about 4% of her sales and income that day. “Imagine the frustration for a second…” she explains. “Employers pay them $2.13 an hour, but the server pays $100 per shift to supplement these other employees’ income. And imagine if that person didn’t tip at all today. You would be in the minus $100.”

The former Chili employee emphasizes that no matter how much tip a waiter earns, they still have to give a percentage of their total sales to their co-workers.

“It doesn’t matter if you make a $0 tip,” she repeats. “You owe 4% of your sales to the food runner and 1% to the bartender.” She concludes by asking, “See where the frustration is coming from?”

Many commenters understood Clara’s point.

“Oh, I worked a shift and left because I owed a $50 tip to make negative money,” revealed a Chilihead colleague. “A party of 20 left $4 and that was the only table I had that day.”

Another remarked: “This is literally why I left Chili’s. That and the $2 picks at each table because of the 3 for $10,” referring to a special the chain previously offered.

“I don’t understand why the tip is based on sales and not a percentage of the total tip,” wondered one.

“People usually claim it’s because servers lie about their tips,” the creator replied, adding, “which is crazy since most payments are made by card and the system tracks that.”

“I don’t spend anything,” explained one commenter. “It should be exactly like this.”

Clara then elaborated: “They don’t have a choice, it’s automatically deducted before the tips are distributed to their pay slips the next morning.

The Daily Dot reached out to Clara via a TikTok comment and Chili’s via its website form.


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*Initial publication: April 12, 2023 at 9:58 am CDT

Phil West

Phil West is a veteran professional writer and editor and the author of two books on soccer, The United States of Soccer and I Believe That We Will Win, both from The Overlook Press. His work has most recently appeared in The Striker, where he serves as Editor-in-Chief,, Next City and Texas Highways. He lives in Austin and is also an instructor in the Writing Program at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Phil West

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