Cashless Tipping: (Literally) Everything You Need To Know

The demand for cashless tipping has reached an all-time high. And for good reason: When was the last time you paid for something in cash? 

Or perhaps a better question: When was the last time a valet assistant pulled your car around, and you experienced that all-too-familiar moment of panic when you realized you had zero cash for a tip? 

According to the Federal Reserve’s 2021 report, cash accounted for only 19 percent of all transactions in 2020, down seven percentage points from 2019 — and we expect that decline to continue. By and large, consumers now pay for purchases with their debit cards, credit cards or using digital options like ApplePay or PayPal.

To further complicate the cash tip conundrum: When people do carry cash, they often are not carrying small bills used for tips, since most bank ATMs generate $20 bills as a minimum. 

There are certainly perks to this cashless trend. And for many restaurant workers, it’s a non-issue because guests can easily leave credit card or digital tips when they pay their bill. But for workers who have always relied on cash tips as a significant portion of their take-home pay — like valet parking assistants, bellhops, hotel maids, airport skycaps — it’s a big problem. 

But it’s one that can be solved, thanks to cashless tipping technology. Long story short: cashless tipping gives your customers an opportunity to show their appreciation for your employees, no cash required. Here’s everything you need to know about cashless tipping…

What is cashless tipping?

Cashless tipping, sometimes known as digital tipping, delivers tips from one party to another online via:

  • tip acceptance software: allows a diner or guest to tip a service provider digitally/without cash
  • tip distribution software:allows an employer to digitally/instantly pay out tips to an employee at the end of a shift.

Why is it important to offer cashless tipping options? 

Cashless tipping options ensure that tipped employees can continue to maximize their tip earnings and access them in a timely manner. They can also make it easier for employees to accurately track and report on their tip earnings for tax purposes (which, in turn, ensures they can qualify for unemployment, loans, mortgages, credit cards, etc.).

On the employer side, introducing cashless tipping into your operations gives you a more seamless way to facilitate tipping across your team, building more transparency, trust, and employee loyalty. Cashless tipping also allows you to track tips more carefully, both for reporting to the IRS and so you can better understand employee performance.

What are the benefits of cashless tipping for restaurants?

Most U.S. restaurants already accept cashless tips via credit cards or at your point-of-sale system (POS). That means consumers can easily tip, even if they’re not carrying cash. 

But paying out those cashless tips at the end of a shift becomes a problem. As a result, cashless tip distribution software has become a must-have tool for restaurants, especially those where the majority of tips are paid by consumers on credit cards, debit cards, or your POS. 

Cashless tip distribution software, A.K.A. digital or automated tip distribution software, delivers a number of benefits to both employers and employees:

Time and cost savings

Bottom line: employees want instant access to their tips. But when tips aren’t left in cash? Restaurant managers are left scrambling at the end of the night, often making bank runs, counting out cash, and creating a whole lot of opportunity for theft and human error. 

Sometimes, restaurants will end up putting tips on payroll, but that’s not a great solution for workers who want and need immediate access to their earnings. By digitizing tip payouts, restaurants can streamline the payment process. That eliminates bank runs and tedious cash counting (saving managers hours every week), while also reducing the opportunity for skimming and rounding up to the nearest dollar, shift after shift (after shift).

More effective recruiting

OK, one more time for the people in the back: employees want instant access to their tips. So when restaurants can offer real-time, digital tip payouts, that becomes a great recruiting tool. It keeps hospitality employers competitive with other gig-economy jobs that offer instant, daily pay — and more importantly, it shows you care about the financial wellbeing of your workforce.

Employee retention

Turnover costs restaurants more than $1,800 for general employees, and up to $8,000 per manager. It’s more important than ever to give your employees reasons to stay with your restaurant over the next one down the street. 

You can offer all the fun employee perks in the world, but if you aren’t ensuring that your employees are getting instant access to their earnings, and maximizing their earning potential, then those short-term gimmicks (think: hiring bonuses) will only go so far, and your employees will be bouncing from one job to the next. Cashless tip distribution is a sustainable, cost-effective way to reduce employee turnover. 

Compliance with labor and tipping laws

Hospitality employers must pay at least the federal minimum wage, which comes to $7.25. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), however, restaurants are eligible for a tip credit, which allows them to drop that number to as low as $2.13 an hour (depending on the state in which your business operates), relying on tips to make up the difference. This puts the onus on the employer to ensure ensure their employees are receiving enough tips to get them to minimum wage. Digitizing tip-outs makes it easy to easy to track and report tips — giving you, your employees, and your accounting team 100% visibility.

Also worth noting: Tip pooling laws are complicated and can vary greatly from one state to the next. Cashless tip distribution software helps restaurants maintain compliance, ensuring your employees are being treated fairly and keeping your restaurant out of legal hot water. 

What are the benefits of cashless tipping in hotels and airports? 

Hotel and airport employees have been among the hardest-hit tipped workers when it comes to this movement toward a cashless society. 

Think about it: there’s no immediate bill attached to many of these services, and no POS interaction — like when a valet assistant parks your car, a bellhop delivers bags to your room, a hotel maid makes your bed, a skycap handles your luggage, etc.

Sure, some folks might sprint to the ATM — but for the most part, if consumers don’t have cash on the spot, their service providers will lose out on a tip.

That’s why hotels, airports, and other service industry employers are enabling the acceptance of cashless tips. Two key benefits of cashless tipping for hotels and airports:

  • A more seamless experience for consumers. The option to tip digitally allows hotel guests and travelers to easily tip when they want to, where they want to.
  • Increased employee earnings. Cashless tip acceptance boosts your employees’ take-home pay — so they don’t have to suffer just because no one is carrying cash these days.
  • Stronger employee performance. With the option to tip digitally, consumers aren’t limited by how much cash they have in their pockets. That means employees have the opportunity to earn larger tips, incentivizing them to provide top-notch service.
  • Improved recruiting and retention. When your employees are fairly compensated — and have higher earning potential — it gives them a reason to stay with their current employer versus jumping around. Plus: they tend to be happier and feel respected by their employer, making for a stronger workplace culture. 

What are the downsides of cashless tipping? 

As mentioned above — one of the biggest hiccups that comes with the switch to cashless tipping is the tip payout process. When employers enable cashless tip acceptance, that means there’s essentially no cash on hand to pay out tips at the end of a shift.

Yes, cashless tipping is great for all of the reasons outlined above. But at the end of the day (literally), hospitality workers want instant access to their earnings. And you can’t put digital, cashless tips in your pocket. 

Some employers might put tips on payroll (making their people wait days or weeks for their earnings). Or they’ll consider pay cards — which unfortunately charge hidden fees or service charges that further reduce available tips for your staff. 

That’s why it’s critical that employers who enable cashless tipping also take take advantage of real-time digital tip payout software.

According to a recent survey, 83% of workers want access to earnings after every shift, and 80% prefer those funds get automatically streamed to their bank accounts. Instant, cashless tip payouts gives employers the ability to meet those demands.

Implementing cashless tip payout software

Kickfin is the largest enabler of real-time, cashless tip payouts. It can be used as a standalone software, or it can integrate with the rest of your hospitality tech stack — POS system, payroll software, etc.

Employers can get Kickfin up and running in one day. Once your restaurant or hotel signs up:

  • Employees create an account and connect it to their existing bank account.
  • Managers input the total tips at the end of a shift and automatically distribute them. 
  • Funds appear in employee bank accounts immediately and are ready to use.

Kickfin makes tip distribution safe, seamless (and trackable!), whether you’re enabling tipping through your mobile app, your POS, or both.

Learn more about how Kickfin can help your restaurant, bar or hotel business — schedule a demo today!

You might also be interested in

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!

It’s no secret that tax season is confusing and stressful, especially when you work in the hospitality industry. Many restaurant employees — whether they’re newbies or seasoned pros — aren’t exactly sure what’s required when it comes to reporting their income and filing taxes. There tends to be a lot of misconceptions particularly when it comes to reporting on tips received.

Maybe your employees are asking questions, or maybe you have a hunch that they should be asking questions. If that’s the case, we’ve taken the liberty of answering a few FAQs that your staff might find helpful. (Obligatory disclaimer: Of course, this is not intended to be tax, legal or accounting advice, and it’s always best to point them in the direction of a certified tax pro if they need help!). 

1. Do I have to report my tips to the IRS? 

Short answer: yes. 

Employees are required to report all income, including tips received while working at a restaurant, on their tax returns. This includes cash tips, credit card tips, and tips received via electronic payment platforms. 

Accurately reporting your income, including the tips you’ve earned, ensures that you avoid penalties and legal issues. But it’s not just about ensuring “Uncle Sam” gets his due; it also behooves you to avoid underreporting your earnings. More on that in a minute…

To make things easier, it’s advisable to keep detailed records of your tips to ensure accurate reporting come tax time. (If you’re a Kickfin user, of course, that’s easy to do!)

These days, you probably receive tips from customers in one of two ways: either they add a tip via credit card when they pay the bill, or they’ll leave a cash tip. Here’s what to know about reporting credit card tips and cash tips to the IRS

Reporting credit card tips

Most restaurants use POS systems to run their front-of-house operations. When customers leave tips on credit cards, they’re getting tracked in the POS and reported to the IRS by your employer. As a result, those tips are going to be included on the W-2 or 1099 that your employer gives you.

That’s because your employer is responsible for paying taxes on your tip earnings, too. In addition to paying payroll taxes, employers are required to withhold income taxes, Social Security taxes, and Medicare taxes on those employee tips, just as they would on other forms of employee compensation. They must keep accurate records of all tips reported by employees and include those amounts when filing employment tax returns.

(Keep in mind: this is the case for all tips left on credit cards, no matter how your employer is paying out those tips — cash, digitally, paycard or payroll. In other words, even if you’re leaving your shift with a wad of cash in your wallet, the IRS is well aware that you earned those tips, assuming your customers are primarily paying with credit cards.)

What’s more: because cash tips are less common and POS data is readily available, the IRS collects income information based on the credit card tips you input through their SITCA program. So, there’s really no way around reporting credit card tips to the IRS, and you’ll be liable for income tax on those tips. 

>> Learn more about SITCA and tip reporting

Reporting cash tips

This is where things can get a little muddy. 

It’s been common practice in the restaurant industry to under-report cash tips (or not report them at all). Technically, this is illegal. 

Bottom line: Employees are required to report all tips received when you file your taxes, including cash tips that were not run through your restaurant’s POS. Again, if you don’t accurately report your tip earnings, you could face financial and/or legal penalties. 

2. Does it affect my employer (and will they care?) if I under report my cash tips? 

Most restaurants are using the tip credit to decrease their monthly labor costs — so under reported tips could cause them some problems. 

Your employer’s biggest concern here is making sure that you earn at least minimum wage with the addition of your tips. If the majority of your tips are coming from credit cards, those are already automatically reported through your POS system, and your employer can track them for compliance purposes. But if you’re the rare server who earns more cash these days, then under reporting tips could cause a big spike in labor costs for your employer. 

In short, your employer probably won’t care if you don’t report all of your cash tips, but there are some serious reasons why you should…

3. What happens to me if I under report my cash tips? 

Leaving those cash tips untaxed might give you more freedom in the short run, but it could affect your future financial security. 

  1. You run the risk of being audited. No, it’s not super likely, but there’s always a chance that the IRS may be suspicious of your reported sales compared to your reported tips. This discrepancy could cost you in the long run.

  2. Unemployment and disability payments are based on wages. If you’re under-reporting your tips, it could hurt you if you ever need to rely on unemployment or disability (which many restaurant employees had to do during the pandemic). With your income artificially decreased, you’ll have to live off of much less than you’re actually owed.

  3. It may be harder to make investments in your future. We know great servers who are raking in the cash… but when you’re ready to make a major financial move, you might not have the documentation to back it up. For example, you might love a house that is technically in your budget, but without proof of your entire income, you might not qualify for a sizable enough home loan or be able to prove that you make three times the rent.

4. How does my tip reporting affect my taxes? 

Ultimately, how much you report in tips will determine how much you owe in taxes — that’s kind of the whole point of reporting your income. The more you report, the higher your tax liability. 

5. Why do I owe taxes every year? Aren’t they supposed to be withheld from my pay? 

They are — but your hourly wage probably isn’t enough to cover your entire tax responsibilities. You might remember picking up several $0 paychecks throughout the year. 

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: many financial experts say that it’s actually better to owe taxes when you file. That means you had more freedom to invest throughout the year, and that you weren’t offering the government a loan that they have to pay back in April. 

But we get it. That big tax refund is way more fun to see hit your bank account, and you might not be prepared to pay up if you owe. If you’re afraid that you’ll owe taxes (or panicking about where you’re going to get the money to pay them), here’s what you can do to ease your burden. 

  • Set taxes aside each week. Even though you’re walking out with tips in hand (or in your bank account), that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to be taxed eventually. Each week, count up your tips and set 10-15% aside to save for tax season. If you have extra money leftover — take a vacation!

  • Explore write offs and deductions. Did you pay for your own uniform? Or for a safe alcohol service course? Are credit card fees taken out of your tips? All of these are deductions that you can use to reduce how much you owe.

  • Keep precise records. You’ll need to know how much you spent on work-related expenses and will need to back it up with documentation. If your employer is using Kickfin, your account is a great source of truth for all of your tip payout information. 

All of this reporting and recordkeeping can feel overwhelming — especially for servers who can’t remember how much cash they left with last night, let alone a year ago. Make sure your employees have all the tools they need to make smart financial decisions. Check out how Kickfin’s reporting can make life easier for managers and servers alike.

See Kickfin in action!