Hot Tips & Takes: Balancing Tech and Culture w/ Wil Brawley of Schedulefly

How can tech work within an employee-first restaurant culture? Ask Wil Brawley. 

As co-owner and co-founder of Schedulefly, Wil Brawley recognizes the value tech can deliver to restaurants — but he’s also realistic about its limitations. Schedulefly is a simple scheduling and communications tool for restaurants. 

Through his Restaurant Owners Uncorked podcast, Wil keeps his finger on the pulse of the restaurant industry, and he’s keenly aware of how tech can both improve and disrupt the employee experience. We sat down with Wil for some real talk on the upsides and downsides of restaurant tech and how restaurant owners can innovate without taking away from an authentic, human-centered culture. 

How important is the employee culture at a restaurant? Can it affect sales and daily operations? 

I’ve done over 450 episodes of our podcast, Restaurant Owners Uncorked, and worked on two books featuring successful restaurant owners, so I’ve probably interviewed close to a thousand restaurant owners in the past 15 years. 

If there’s one common thread across all those with long-lasting success, it’s culture. That culture might vary from place to place, but it is always centered on caring deeply about the people that work in your restaurants. The employees tend to come first, creating a culture that’s about nurturing and loving the people that work in the restaurant.

When your employees are well taken care of, they treat their customers well too, and then the investors do well, too. That’s been my observation.

How do you define a positive employee culture? What are the steps owners need to take to create that culture? 

For a long time, restaurant culture has been: “If you aren’t willing to work seven days in a row, then we don’t want you here. We want people that are going to show up and bust their ass.” And that’s changed for the better, for everybody. It’s leading to less burnout. It’s leading to less negative behavior outside of work. Substance abuse has been a big issue, and the industry is going through a conversation about mental health and substance abuse.

Yesterday, I interviewed someone for the podcast who started her first restaurant in Denver a couple of years ago. She’s worked in restaurants for 15 years and has worked in places where she actually worked 13 days in a row. Obviously that restaurant doesn’t have a great culture. You’d never have somebody work 13 days in a row if your employees came first. 

She learned from that, and now at her own restaurant, she never schedules anyone for more than four days in a week because she cares very deeply about the mental health and the well-being and the work-life balance of her employees. She knows that if she gives them what they need, then everything else is going to fall into place.

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“When you’re on day 12 of 13 days in a row, are you going to represent that restaurant and that brand well? Of course you’re not. On the flip side, an employee who feels their needs are being met and their work-life balance is respected will actually enjoy what they do and pass on that good, memorable experience to customers.”

With happy customers returning to the restaurant for reliably excellent service, the restaurant thrives and therefore so do owners and investors. 

How can tech be a positive part of your culture? And how can it cause tension? 

It’s quite a balance. There are 300+ restaurant tech companies out there right now, Schedulefly being one of them. People who use our platform tend to manage their folks and their behavior more through engagement and culture than by leaning on technology. What you’re really looking for is technology that will improve on the culture, not enforce it. 

Here’s a specific example. When you schedule someone for 10 am, they’re supposed to be there at 10 am, but you start seeing people clocking in five or 10 minutes early — which costs you money. You’ve created this schedule with a specific budget in mind, and when multiple people add just a few extra minutes a day, it runs through your budget much faster than you planned. 

You have two options to deal with the problem. One is to simply implement tech that systematically prevents people from clocking in early. The other, which I recommend, is building a culture where you can communicate openly with employees. You set the expectation, explain why it’s important, and create trust that everyone will do their part. 

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There’s nothing wrong with using tech, but it creates a different type of culture where you expect tools to influence behavior versus communication. “

You run into similar situations with Schedulefly. If someone offers up a shift and another employee wants it, the manager has to make a decision: is that the right person to pick up that shift?

If it’s not the right person, they’re not going to allow that trade, and then they’ll need to talk to the person to say, “I appreciate that you’re trying to pick up this shift. This is a prime shift and we need one of our veteran servers to pick that shift up. You aren’t quite ready to handle that yet.” It creates an opportunity for engagement. Again, that’s part of a culture of engagement and trust. 

Yeah, it’s easier to use technology than to have these interactions, but to have a robust, thriving, healthy culture, you have to communicate. We really encourage people to use technology where it helps, but it can’t replace engagement and human interaction. 

Do you find that it’s harder to build this culture in larger chain restaurants?

Communication isn’t just for smaller restaurants with only one or two locations. Some people believe that as you grow, you have to become more “corporate” and use lots of technology, but you find that the culture becomes less friendly, less human-oriented. People who loved working there when it was fun and authentic will probably leave for the place down the street that can provide that.  

Big Red F in Boulder, Colorado has 800 employees across over 16 locations, and to this day, culture is king there. They really figured out culture at scale, so it’s definitely possible. They’ve been a customer of ours for 14 of our 16 years at Schedulefly, so I’ve studied them for a long time. They certainly have one of the best cultures I’ve come across. It’s been interesting to see them grow this much without losing their truly authentic, employee-focused culture. 

What should restaurant owners take into consideration when exploring new technology options? 

Some people want a comprehensive, one-size-fits-all solution that manages everything, and there’s certainly a place for that, but I think sometimes you wind up spending as much time managing the technology as you are managing your people. And that’s just a question you have to ask: Which is more important?

You definitely want to consider implementation. Is this something that takes a lot of training and focus, or is it easy-to-use, point-and-click to get started?

Support is another big one that I think may get overlooked sometimes. This tech company may have a great slick software, but do they have great support to back it up? Because your employees have questions, and you’re going to have questions.There will always be problems, like small glitches, so you should find out if the tech company you’re interested in is known for outstanding customer service. 

Finally, you need to marry the need with the priority and timing. We see people sign up for a 30-day free trial of Schedulefly, never use it, and then start the trial again six months later — only to not use it again. Eventually, they do implement and move forward. Talking to people over the years about this, I found that it’s a matter of just prioritizing. Running a restaurant, you’ve always got a long list of things you have to manage, so you have to be able to prioritize and hit the most important one first. So, be realistic about your own time management and top priorities before trying to implement new tech. 

Any final words of wisdom for restaurant owners making decisions about their tech stack? 

With 300+ restaurant tech platforms out there right now, every one of them is hoping to earn your business. It must be overwhelming to sift through all that noise to find the tools that you need.

Start with a focus on employees and trying to give them what they need and deserve to be successful — and again, you want to balance that with not bringing so many tools that there’s no engagement and management. 

As you prioritize which problems you need to resolve within your business, I always encourage people to remember good old-fashioned word of mouth. Call people you know in the industry and find out what they’re using. Ask if it’s solving their problems and if it’s backed by phenomenal customer service. 

And if you’re talking to a salesperson, ask them for a list of their customers in your area and start talking to them. That’s probably one of the most efficient ways to figure out what if a tool will be useful and will contribute to your success in the long run.

Learn more about Schedulefly or catch the latest episode of ROU.

[WEBINAR] A Tip Pooling “Deep Dive” with Restaurant Strategy Podcast Host Chip Klose

Tip pooling can have big benefits for your entire team…but landmines abound.

Don’t just take our word for it: a quick Google News search for “tip pools” will return countless stories detailing costly lawsuits against operators who were — sometimes unknowingly — running illegal tip pools.

Of course, if you’re going to pool or share tips in your restaurant, compliance is only one (albeit very important) consideration.

It’s also critical to choose the best structure for your restaurant based on a variety of factors — including your restaurant type, team size and local market. And then there’s the rollout: Properly communicating the policy to your team and soliciting feedback can go a very long way in ensuring the success of your tip pool.

If you’re considering instituting a tip pool or tip share — or if you want to evaluate your current tip distribution program — check out our recent webinar moderated by Restaurant Strategy Podcast host Chip Klose and featuring Justin Roberts (co-CEO, Kickfin); Larisa Thomas (VP Operations, Kickfin); Beth Schroeder (Partner, Raines Feldman LLP).

Watch the recording below to hear the panelists cover the ins and outs of tip pooling, including:

  • Pros and cons of running a tip pool
  • The most common types of tip pool structures
  • Tip pooling myths and misconceptions
  • Avoiding costly tip pooling compliance mistakes
  • Best practices for launching or updating a tip pool policy

Tipflation: What Are the New Norms Around Tipping?

Look, we’re in favor of tips around here, but we can all probably agree that over the past few years, tipping has gotten…weird. (Are you already picturing the iPad?) 

Most people know and practice proper tipping etiquette at FSRs, bars, and at fast-casual restaurants. But now, you might be prompted to leave a 30% tip at a self-service restaurant. The phenomenon – aptly named “tipflation” – has many of us questioning if we need a $9 chai latte today.

So what’s the new normal? And how should customers respond to rising costs due to the expansion of tipping? 

Why are we expanding tipping? 

It’s not like there was some major event that completely changed how most of the public sees the service industry and tipping as a whole … oh right, Covid. 

In the early days of the pandemic, restaurant workers at QSRs and takeout spots were deemed essential workers, and they were genuinely risking their lives to keep working in person. Since they were at such high risk of getting sick, many of us felt compelled to leave higher tips as a huge thank-you for their work (and for saving us from another night of spaghetti at home). 

Also, the pandemic ramped up cashless and contactless payment options — resulting in the meteoric rise of tablet tip acceptance software. With almost all restaurant operations going digital, restaurant owners opted to streamline their tipping systems as well.

And of course, restaurant owners saw the trend of higher tips as a way to mitigate the effects of the labor shortage. By expanding tips to less-traditional environments, owners could promise higher wages to potential hires — even during a time when business was unpredictable. 

Online Backlash 

As tips continue to creep up, people are taking notice — and sharing their opinions online. Last summer, TikTok creators poked fun at the awkward moment in front of the iPad, while others just shared their genuine frustration with the increasing pressure to tip. Even employees shared their discomfort with the “turning the iPad” situation. 


@maddiemischak It’s funny because I am indeed this employee  #tips #tippingculture #icecream #serviceindustry ♬ original sound – poop

And if you go through the #tippingculture on TikTok, you’ll see a lot of videos discussing whether or not we should be tipping in all of these less-traditional scenarios. In the comments, customers share the most surprising place they’ve ever been asked to tip (like at a self-checkout) as well as past and current service industry employees reminding us that people rely on tips for their livelihoods. 

Tip Etiquette in Our New Normal 

Our main takeaway? Tipflation leaves a bad taste in your customers’ mouths — even if they leave a tip in the moment. But good news: you can implement tipping at your business without offending your guests.

Because really, tipping isn’t the problem — in fact, tipped employees are overwhelmingly in favor of tipping because it significantly increases their take-home pay beyond what normal revenue constraints would allow. (Case in point: Many of the restaurants that have tried out no-tipping policies have reversed course because employees preferred the opportunity to earn more.) Plus: customers like the opportunity to reward great service.

But there’s a way to navigate tipping in a post-pandemic world without the awkward situations and risk of alienating customers. 

Here are a few tips for new-normal tipping:

  • Set the right options on your POS: Most people are happy to leave a tip for great service — but they don’t want to double the cost of their daily coffee. Set realistic tip prompts based on your business. For example, it might make sense for a bartender with many regulars to offer higher tip options of 15%, 20%, and 30%, but at a coffee shop, consider options like $0.50, $1, or rounding up to the nearest dollar. That way, customers don’t feel frozen in their choice between an over-inflated tip amount or no tip at all.
  • Make sure your customer has an option for “custom tips”: On the customer side, we often feel rushed to click on a tip option and move out of the way, completely ignoring the “custom tip” button. But think about it: you leave custom tips all the time at full-service restaurants — what’s the big deal about doing it at a QSR or coffee shop? So if you don’t immediately see a tip amount that feels right to you: stop, take a breath, and remember the custom tip button is there for a reason.
  • Give your guests some space: We all get a little shy when leaving a tip right in front of a server or cashier — and the employee usually feels pretty awkward, too. But you can make the interaction a little more comfortable for everyone involved. Rather than waiting for the customer to fill in their tip, suggest to your employees that they step away for a second. They can go get started on the guest’s order or check in on another table while the customer fills in their tip in private.  
  • Reserve judgment: Tips are great, but they don’t define people’s worth. Rather than viewing the iPad as a barometer for your customers’ morality, see it for what it is: an opportunity for servers to boost their salary and a little incentive to go the extra mile. 

If your restaurant is expanding your gratuity options, don’t make it awkward for your customers (or employees for that matter). Be mindful of the new tipping culture so that your employees can earn more money and your customers won’t leave feeling robbed. 

And of course, make your tip distribution easier with instant digital tip-outs. Request a demo today.

SITCA: How to Navigate the IRS’s New Tip Reporting Program

Three things in life are certain: death, taxes, and confusing updates from the IRS. 

This year, the IRS has rolled out a new tip reporting program that should help restaurant owners use technology to stay in compliance with tax laws — once we’re all on the same page as to how it works. Here’s a quick rundown of the new program and what it means for employers. 

How do employers typically handle taxes on tips? 

Most of the burden of tip reporting falls on the employee. They’re responsible for keeping a daily record of tips, reporting tips to their employers, and reporting their tips on their tax returns. And while tips aren’t wages, employers do still have a hand in reporting tips and withholding taxes

Did you know that even though tips aren’t wages, you still have to pay your share of income taxes on them? That’s why it’s so important to accurately report employees’ tips and keep meticulous records. 

In the past employers have had a few options for how to track and report tips: 

  1. Tip Rate Determination Agreement (TRDA)
  2. Tip Reporting Alternative Commitment (TRAC)
  3. Employer-designed TRAC (EmTRAC)

All of these programs require employers to educate their employees on the importance of properly reporting both cash and credit card tips — with some minor differences regarding how tips are reported to the IRS. 

One key thing to note: the TRDA does not use actual tip revenue to determine tax liability. Instead, employees are expected to report tips at or above an estimated tip rate that is determined by the IRS. If reported tips fall below the established rate, the employer is expected to provide detailed documentation of employees’ names, social security numbers, hours worked, sales, tips reported, and job titles. 

The TRAC and EmTRAC programs do not establish a tip rate, but they do require employers to take on the responsibility of ensuring their employees report their tips. No matter which tip-reporting program you choose, they all generally entail lots of paperwork and vague language — but that might change in the near future. 

What is SITCA? 

Under the new IRS proposal, a new tip reporting program called the Service Industry Tip Compliance Agreement (SITCA) would allow employers to take advantage of their point-of-sale systems and other restaurant tech in order to report their employees’ tips. The IRS created SITCA in order to replace the outdated TRDA, TRAC, and EmTRAC tip reporting programs. 

Most diners are paying with credit cards or digital payment methods these days — so the transaction data is right at your fingertips. And rather than take an educated guess at your average tip rate, the IRS will use actual tip data pulled from your POS to determine tax liability for both employees and employers. They can also easily pull employees’ hours worked and sales information to ensure tips are being properly reported.

This move by the IRS should relieve some of the tax reporting burdens and save time for employers by getting rid of the endless forms and paperwork that were previously necessary for tip reporting. 

What about cash tips? 

As always, employees are required to report their cash tips — which of course can’t be backed up by POS data. The onus is still on the employee to accurately report all tips. If the IRS notices major discrepancies between sales and tips (especially missing cash tips), the employee could be audited. 

What do restaurant owners need to know for the 2023 tax season? 

For now, you don’t need to overhaul your tax practices. You will remain in your current tip reporting program until one of the following occurs:

  • Your restaurant is accepted into the SITCA program 
  • The IRS finds you noncompliant with your current TRDA, TRAC, or EmTRAC program
  • The end of the first full calendar year after the final revenue procedure is published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin

That being said, you should start looking to ensure that your restaurant has everything it needs to succeed under SITCA. Ask yourself: Do you have a POS system that you trust? Do you use a digital tipping solution? With the right technology, your restaurant’s tip reporting and tax liability should run smoother than ever before. 

Interested in the SITCA program? Follow these instructions by May 7, 2023 to enroll.

Hot Tips & Takes: Restaurant Accounting Tips from MarginEdge

How can restaurant operators use tech to stay on top of their accounting? Ask Kevin and Eric. 

At Kickfin, we know the right technology helps restaurants run more efficiently — and makes operators’ jobs easier. But if you know, you know: restaurant accounting can be a beast. So we connected with MarginEdge’s Kevin O’Nell (SVP of Payments and Partnerships) and Eric Jeffay (Senior Partnership Manager) to talk about the specific accounting challenges restaurant owners face, and how tech is solving them.

What makes restaurant accounting different from other businesses? 

Kevin O’Nell: I think two things stand out when it comes to accounting at a high level. First, most restaurants are structured on 4-5-4 accounting, which is unique from other small businesses and not necessarily supported in QuickBooks Desktop as well as restaurant owners would like it to be.

The second thing: A lot of owners own multiple locations, so they probably run accounting across those locations. Perhaps those locations have different ownership groups, so then when they report out earnings and dividends, they have to account for that as well.

What are some common accounting mistakes restaurant owners make? 

Kevin O’Nell: The mistakes someone would make are not unique to the restaurant industry. For example — any growing entrepreneur will see accounting become more and more important as you grow and become profitable.

Sometimes, in the beginning, it’s not always the highest priority. Surely building a business, hiring the right people, putting the right processes in place, and growing sales matters, but as an organization expands and as there are more stakeholders, then all of a sudden accounting really matters.

Many people start off with their accountant as themselves, their spouse, or someone in their family. But at some point, outsourcing or hiring a professional becomes an important piece of growing their business.

Eric Jeffay: Restaurant owners very often are not traditional business people. They don’t have offices and desks, and it’s easy to fall behind on your data entry when you’re doing accounting as a restaurant operator. So they should be aware that accounting is not something that happens on the last day of the period —and certainly not at the end of the year. That’s not the time to do your data entry.

And it’s a fairly common mistake to think accounting is not a daily process. But at the end of the day, somebody has to do the data entry on a somewhat daily basis, whether it’s a software or the restaurant operator themselves.

How does tipping play into restaurant accounting?

Eric Jeffay: I’m sure you guys know this at Kickfin — but tips are liabilities, not assets. It’s important to make sure you have those funds set aside. You’re not realizing those funds, or if you are, you have to be really careful you do pay those out in full. It’s really the same as sales tax. It’s not your money. 

How can tech ease the burden of accounting?

Kevin O’Nell: No one wants to have to stay and do accounting either at two o’clock in the morning after a restaurant closes or all day on Sunday morning instead of spending time with their family.

With technology like MarginEdge, QuickBooks, and Kickfin, we are allowing restaurant owners to easily digitize those transactions and that information in a way that just wasn’t possible five or 10 years ago. And so all of the paper processing that you would have done now is in a digital format that saves people tons and tons of time.

Eric Jeffay: I think Kevin is spot on. You just have to realize a lot of accounting reporting is not meant to be actionable on a day-to-day basis or a week-to-week basis. Tech can really translate a lot of those like end-of-period reports into more flash reporting where you can get more actionable data, so you’re not waiting until the 15th of the month to figure out what happened the previous month or period.

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“Tech can really translate a lot of those like end-of-period reports into more flash reporting where you can get more actionable data, so you’re not waiting until the 15th of the month to figure out what happened the previous month or period.”


Are restaurants automating their accounting? 

Kevin O’Nell: The main way restaurants are automating their accounting is in the data entry. You used to manually enter that data, but now there are a number of tools, including MarginEdge, that do it automatically.

For one, we’re seeing that automation is moving sales from their point of sale system into accounting software. You’re also seeing it in payroll – which is a large expense for restaurants – it can now be pulled into your accounting software on nearly a real-time basis. And, of course, receivables (like food and other orders) can be pulled into their accounting software digitally as well.

Eric Jeffay: Yes and all that data entry is super important. I also want to mention one thing — there’s absolutely a role for an accountant. Tech helps to speed up an accountant’s work to get you more actionable insights faster and to make it more efficient, but there’s 100% still a need for the accountant. Tech is a tool in their belt, but it’s not nearly at the level of replacement.

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“Tech helps to speed up an accountant’s work to get you more actionable insights faster and to make it more efficient, but there’s 100% still a need for the accountant. Tech is a tool in their belt…”


What are the advantages of outsourcing your accounting? 

Eric Jeffay: The advantage of outsourcing your accounting, especially if you’re a smaller restaurant or a small group of restaurants, is that you need the economy of scale to have an in-house staff accountant that you can afford to pay. So if you are smaller, if you’re growing, if you’re in an early stage, then it’s really much more cost-effective to outsource your accounting. But there are disadvantages to that. Oftentimes, I think when you outsource, you fit into that accountant’s processes and their workflow.

As you grow, the advantage to keeping your accounting in-house is you have more autonomy over accounting. That speeds up your reporting very often, and you can better customize your accounting reporting and your accounting processes if you are doing it in-house. You probably have more flexibility on what your period structure is, what your chart of account structure is, what type of flash reporting you get, and what type of tech you use.

I would also say — obviously all restaurants strive for profitability, but they do so to varying degrees and varying levels. So there are operators who have more of an economic focus on their businesses compared to others, and you probably want to shore up your weaknesses.

If you’re a chef-owner who maybe doesn’t have experience in business school – which, quite frankly, that was me – you would want to shore up by having a really strong accountant. Then you might say, “I’m going to outsource my accounting because I’m not an expert on it.” If you can’t manage an accountant or a team of accountants onsite, it might make more sense to go with experts from the outside who are going to manage themselves.

What accounting advice would you give to new restaurant owners? 

Eric Jeffay: Operators often view accounting as almost a dirty word, but accounting can be a really positive thing. It’s much better to know what’s happening in terms of building a sustainable business, taking care of your staff, and making sure you’re efficient with your resources. There’s a real upside to having good accounting practices. 

The other thing I would say is to get an early start on it. Make sure that you spend time on setting up systems, setting up software, and setting up processes early on that will help sustain you because it’s really easy.

Accounting is not the focus of restaurant owners and it shouldn’t be, but you should be able to have the processes on the back burner. That way you can focus on what’s happening in your dining room, what’s happening in your kitchen, and what’s happening with your marketing — the things that are sexier and more fun to spend your time on.

I think that’s where we get back into the discussion of tech being helpful. There are a lot of great programs that can make your life so much easier and more efficient by setting a lot of those things on autopilot for you.

Kevin O’Nell: When set up correctly, accounting can be a tool that allows you to spend more time with your customers and know when you’re making a dollar or losing a dollar. Set up incorrectly, it can be a complete blind spot, so it’s completely worth the time to do upfront. 

Hot Tips & Takes: How Independent Pizza Restaurants Are Using Tech to Take on Big Chains in 2023

How are pizza restaurant operators adapting to new technology and taking their businesses to new heights? Ask Steve Green. 

If you haven’t seen this year’s Pizza Power Report, you’re in for a surprise. Independent pizza restaurants experienced explosive growth, outpacing their big-chain competitors. We sat down with Steve Green, founder and publisher of PMQ magazine, to talk about the reasons behind independents’ success last year — and how they’ll continue to take off in 2023 with the help of new tech. 

Can you define an independent pizza brand and how they differ from a larger chain?

People always ask that and I used to be somewhat uncomfortable with the answer until I just went along with the crowd. According to the companies that do a lot of this research, independent pizza restaurants mean you have fewer than 10 locations. Once you hit 10 stores in a restaurant group, you can define that as a chain.

What kind of challenges are pizza restaurants facing? And how are independents addressing them differently than larger chains?

Labor is the biggest challenge, and of course, adopting technology is a challenge. But there are great solutions coming up, like the evolution of local RDS companies popping up — think: local DoorDash or GrubHub. One way to address the labor problem is by outsourcing delivery to these services. 

I’m a former Domino’s franchisee, and it was pretty easy to just follow the program. But problem-solving as an independent is a really tough job. The thing is, 60% of all pizzerias in the US are owned by an independent, so that’s where most of the people are. Independents have been doing things out of an instinct to survive, so that’s where you see most of the creativity and action. 

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“…Problem-solving as an independent is a really tough job.”

There’s no question about it — things have really changed. Domino’s said they were a technology company eight years ago, and they’ve made it so competitive that our whole industry has become a technology business. I’m pretty optimistic about the independents’ chances, though. I’m surprised by how adaptable they’ve been, and they’ve benefited from the army of technology companies like Kickfin that are helping solve problems. It‘s a great time to be an independent.

Do you believe independents are using tech more creatively than the bigger chains?

Yes, definitely. We’ve been following Andrew Simmons, owner of Mama Ramona’s in Ramona California, and I just love this guy. In the last three months, he’s made a commitment to showing the pizza industry how technology can really make a difference. He decided not to hire any more staff than his current 18 employees, and yet he’s on his way to doubling sales.  

He’s introducing robotics, including robotic vacuum cleaners and a Picnic robotic pizza maker. He also switched from a legacy POS system to something that allows more online ordering and automation. He’s tearing down walls, remodeling his kitchen, and ordering a new Hot Rocks pizza oven. And of course, he’s outsourcing labor. His whole idea is that he can reduce the cost of making pizza and let his customers know that they’re getting real value and more pizza for their money. He’s going for the gold, living the dream.

How else can independents keep up with rising food and labor costs without alienating their customers? 

I’ve seen a lot of people reminding their customers that they’re an independent pizza restaurant. They care about pizza as more than just a commodity but a part of their community. Independents have an obligation to play the personality card, use showmanship and authenticity that a chain can’t offer in their communications and social media. They need to remind customers that they aren’t choosing to raise the price but that prices are rising from the roots.

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“I’ve heard more positive stories than negative ones about customers accepting price increases for pizza that they feel is above average and special.”


How can independents stay competitive in the labor market? 

I know that a lot of independents already pay more than a bigger chain would, but how do they do it? It takes a bit of creativity. 

When I had a Domino’s franchise in Marin County California – the richest county in California during the ‘80s – it was hard to find drivers (and when you did some of them would be driving BMWs). After we were up and running, I ended up spending my marketing dollars on hiring efforts instead of, you know, telling people about how great Domino’s was. I cut radio ads, I did box topping, I did door hanging, and if I was still in it today, I would be using social media. 

My message was that we’re a fun place to work and could use some help. Then I’d introduce you to a driver to tell you what she likes about working at this Domino’s — that she likes to drive and listen to the radio and that it’s about more than the money. This strategy might be something that independents can get away with more so than a chain could these days. 

In spite of rising costs and labor shortages, how did independent pizza restaurants manage to grow so much in 2022? Do you expect the trend to continue in 2023?

Yeah, it’s interesting. Most of the time it’s the chains that have the muscle to keep growing. The pizza industry is a mature industry in that there’s always growth. 

One theory is that the number of new businesses that opened in 2022 outpaced the number of businesses that went under, giving the appearance that independents grew much more. It could be regrowth from the destruction we saw in the past three years of business. But I’ve also heard a number of people say that maybe the independents weren’t necessarily growing extra fast but that the chains are looking at the risky environment and opting not to grow as aggressively. 

On the other hand, you always have new people who want to get into the pizza business who bring new enthusiasm to the industry. It’s like a volcano, always bubbling up with hot, new ideas. And you end up with a steady stream of people coming in to make better pizza and offer a better pizza experience. 

Are there any specific trends we should expect this year from both independent and chain pizza restaurants? 

That’s always the big question. It’s probably going to be working with less on the labor side and leaning into automation. But it’ll also be creating an experience that seems like it’s not automation — keeping the humanity while also becoming more efficient. 

On the consumer side, great pizza at a fair price will just never get old. When you look at the bottom line, that’s always what’s driven the industry. 

Do you have any advice for pizza restaurant owners?

Stay on top of new technology. We’re definitely following this closely in our PMQ Think Tank, which is our online community where people in the pizza industry can ask each other questions. We’ve got 15 years of wisdom and information from our users, and it’s a great place to go when you’re just getting started in the industry.

Also, subscribe to PMQ magazine. It’s not written by us as experts but by our readers who are really connected to the industry. We spy on them through our Think Tank, we talk to them, and we do stories about them. And of course, our editor inserts some wisdom from his interviews with people in the industry. We put a lot of effort into it to show what’s really going on in pizza.

Guide to California Tipping Laws

We’re obviously pro-tipping around here — but even more so, we’re pro-tip-regulation-compliance. With each state having their own unique laws regarding tip pools and minimum wages, it can get confusing. 

For our California restaurant owners, we took a deep dive into your specific tipping regulations that you might not know about. Take a look at how California tip pooling laws differ from federal regulations and how you can stay on the up-and-up. 

What is Tip Pooling?

Tip pooling is when employees who receive tips collect and share their tips with other members of their team. For example, servers can put their tips into a collective “pool” and then divide them among cooks, dishwashers, bussers, bartenders, etc. This practice promotes team spirit and collaboration among staff, as they all rely upon each other for success.

California Tip Pooling Laws Explained

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) allows employers to require non-exempt employees (i.e., those eligible for overtime pay) to participate in tip pools, provided that employers follow strict regulations. 

California takes it a step further to protect employees’ earnings. Here are a few key differences to pay attention to:

Tip Pooling for FOH Staff Only 

Tips must only be shared among front-of-house staff such as servers, bartenders, bussers, and hosts. Back-of-house staff like cooks and dishwashers cannot be included in the pool unless they provide direct table service (so your expo can still earn their share of tips).

Making Tip Pools Fair 

While California does not ban mandatory tip pools, the law requires that pooled tips be distributed in a “fair and reasonable” manner. You must set a formula to determine tip distribution — and it’s up to the California DOL Standards Enforcement to determine what’s fair on a case-by-case basis. 

Say Goodbye to the Tip Credit

Whether you pool tips or not, this is one to pay attention to. California’s legislation no longer makes a distinction between tipped and non-tipped workers — so there is also no tipped minimum wage. Restaurant owners cannot claim a “tip credit” and must pay their servers the full minimum wage of $15.50

California Allows “Double Tipping” 

In California, mandatory service charges do not count as tips, but they can count as wages. The employer has a right to keep service charges and distribute them as they see fit — so they can distribute them to servers if they choose. Often called “double tipping,” this allows the server to earn money from both a mandatory service charge and any tips that customers leave voluntarily.   

In this case, the service fees paid to employees can count toward minimum wage and overtime pay, but employers are required to withhold payroll taxes when distributing service charges to employees. 

What’s at Stake?

California’s DOL Standards Enforcement takes wage theft and illegal tip pooling seriously. Penalties for breaking any state tipping regulations include fines of up to $1,000, paying full restitution to harmed employees, and even 60 days in jail. 

Knowing both state and federal tipping laws protects you and your employees from improper tip pooling practices and potential lawsuits. As always, consult with a lawyer to ensure that you’re in compliance with all federal, state, and local ordinances.

Looking for a partner that will help you comply with California’s tipping regulations? Kickfin’s digital tipping platform puts up guardrails to prevent improper tipping practices — and our digital tipping software is pretty cool, too. Request a demo of Kickfin today.

How to Comply with Tipping Laws in Texas

Like many other Texas restaurant owners, you were probably shocked when a Dallas barbecue joint was ordered to pay their employees nearly $900,000 in stolen tips and overtime. It may have even sparked a bit of anxiety about your own tipping policies and practices.

Illegal and unethical tipping practices not only decimate your restaurant financially, but can also tank your reputation. Avoid losing your business and the community’s trust by freshening up on Texas tipping laws

Who Can Participate in Tip Pools? 

In Texas, mandatory tip pools are perfectly legal, so long as you follow the guidelines laid out by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

For one, only employees who “customarily and regularly receive tips”— namely servers, bartenders, hosts, and expos — can participate in a tip pool, and back-of-house employees cannot. 

Owners, managers and supervisors are also barred from participating in tip pools. Tips belong expressly to the tipped employee, so an owner cannot take a cut of the tip pool, and neither can their agents in the form of managers. If you’re caught distributing tips to owners or managers, it will be considered wage theft, and you will be ordered to pay back the tips and subject to hefty fines by the DOL. 

Learn to Properly Calculate the Tip Credit

The tip credit allows employers to pay tipped employees a lower hourly wage, with the idea that the server will earn at least minimum wage or more in tips. In Texas, employers can take up to $5.12 per hour in tip credit. But if used incorrectly, you could end up owing your employees back pay. 

In order to take the tip credit, your employee’s hourly wages must be greater than or equal to the minimum wage for their hours worked — at least $7.25 per hour in Texas. Employees also must earn more than $30 per month in tips for the tip credit to apply. 

And head’s up — the tip credit can still apply when your employees are earning overtime. Ensure that you’re properly compensating employees when their work hours exceed 40 per week. 

Using the tip credit requires a good bit of math (especially when overtime is involved), and there’s room for human error in your calculations. Check out our primer on calculating the tip credit and then go double-check your math. 

How to Protect Your Business & Employees

You don’t want to jip your employees — nor do you want to risk your entire business. Now that you’re more familiar with Texas tipping laws, here are a few ways you can comply with them. 

Hire an Attorney 

It’s best practice to consult with a lawyer with any legal questions. An attorney can give you detailed, personalized advice about what’s best for your business and how to stay on the right side of the law.

Choose Vendors that Protect You

At Kickfin, we partner with restaurants to revolutionize everything about their gratuity management systems — including setting up guardrails to comply with tipping laws. Request a demo of Kickfin today. 

What You Need to Know About Florida Tip Laws

Filled with tourist destinations and great weather, Florida is the perfect place for restaurants to thrive — as long as they can comply with tipping regulations. Like many other states, Florida has unique state tipping laws that are often in flux.

Whether you own a seafood shack right on the beach or a fine-dining spot in a Miami hotel, you need to know the ins and outs of Florida’s tipping laws. 

Is Tip Pooling Legal in Florida?

Many restaurants implement tip pooling systems to create equitable pay for servers and foster a collaborative work environment, but laws around tip pools can get fuzzy state-by-state.

Florida restaurant owners can breathe a sigh of relief, though — Florida’s tip pooling laws align with the federal regulations laid out by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Florida’s Minimum Wage & Tip Credit

Florida joins the majority of states in allowing employers to take the tip credit — but not quite as much as other states. Federal rules set the minimum wage at $7.25 per hour and allow employers to take up to $5.12 in tip credit. 

At the time of publication, Florida’s minimum wage is $11 per hour, significantly higher than the federal minimum wage. On top of an increased minimum wage, Florida only allows employers to take a tip credit of $3.02 per hour. With these regulations in place, Florida restaurant owners must pay tipped employees at least $7.98 per hour. 

But head’s up — the minimum wage is increasing. As of September 30, 2023, Florida’s minimum wage will increase to $12.00 per hour, and will continue increasing each year until it reaches $15.00 per hour in 2026. Looking ahead, restaurant owners can expect to pay a tipped minimum wage of $11.98 per hour.

Mandatory Service Charges Are Wages in Florida

If you’re charging a mandatory service fee for large parties or to reserve a table, you might hope that will count as a tip for your service staff. 

Mandatory service charges are not considered tips in Florida, but rather are the property of the employer. The employer may choose to distribute the service charge to an employee, but these would count as wages and would be subject to payroll tax withholdings. 

That being said, Florida has not joined other states in requiring employers to make it clear to customers that mandatory service charges are not considered tips.

Tip laws can get tricky, so always consult a lawyer when changing tip policy. 

At Kickfin, we want to help restaurants comply with tipping regulations and save you time and energy. We put up guardrails that prevent improper tipping practices and make it easy to instantly tip out your staff. Request a demo to see for yourself. 

How to Enable Tipping at Quick Service Restaurants Without Alienating Your Customers

Unless you’ve completely sworn off social media at the moment — and if that’s the case, no one would blame you! — you’ve probably heard some chatter around the new tipping model at Starbucks.

Long story short: Everyone has an opinion. 

Some customers (and employees) feel that they’re being put in an awkward position because a tip isn’t warranted when there’s minimal guest-employee interaction. But others are grateful for the opportunity to give a small show of thanks for stretched-thin service providers. Plus, those tips can make a meaningful impact on employees’ take-home pay. 

We’d venture to guess that this little firestorm isn’t just about Starbucks, but part of a much more layered conversation about tipping practices in general: how they’ve evolved in our digital age, and especially how they’re being embraced (or not…) by quick-service restaurants.

Real talk: Here at Kickfin, it’s no secret that we’re a pro-tipping team. We believe whole-heartedly that service industry employees make the world go round, and that tipping often increases their earning potential far beyond what revenue constraints would allow their employers to pay them. And of course, tipping can benefit employers, too.

But we can’t forget about the guest experience. Ultimately, tipping is voluntary and should always, always be at the discretion of the customer. 

While QSRs are wise to keep pace with the times and digitize their tip jars: read on for a few best practices that will ensure your guests embrace the change (no pun intended…) and continue to think of tipping as an option, not a requirement.

But first: Is “Guilt Tipping” Real? 

It happens every day: You place your order at the counter, the cashier turns the iPad around, and you’ve got to choose to leave a 20, 25 or 30% tip for the staff. (It seems like those percentages just keep climbing, right?)

Does a 30-second interaction necessitate a tip? Maybe, maybe not — but you find yourself frantically hitting a button because you don’t want to be the jerk who didn’t leave a tip. 

There’s a name for that: guilt tipping. No one wants to short-change a service industry worker, and many of us even see tipping as some kind of barometer for morality. 

Since tipping has expanded into new areas, there isn’t really a set custom for the “appropriate” amount to tip. Is it 20%, like you would at an FSR? Is it less? This uncertainty often leads people to panic-click on the most reasonable option on the screen out of guilt. Whether real or imagined, feelings of guilt around tipping can lead to major backlash from customers — and displaced anger at employees. 

How to make QSR tips work for everyone

The truth is, most employees enjoy the wage boost that tips provide, and customers want to reward good service, even when they don’t have cash on hand. However, the benefits of credit card tips can be overshadowed by the awkward social customs around tipping. That’s why enabling credit card tips requires a bit of finesse. 

Here are a few suggestions for enabling tipping without offending customers. 

1. Change tip amounts 

Rather than prompting customers to tip based on percentage, think of your credit card tips as a digital tip jar. Make the tip suggestions similar to what people would toss into a tip jar — like 75 cents, a dollar, or even just rounding up to the next dollar. Customers won’t feel the whiplash of their coffee order suddenly costing $3 more than it used to, but they still get the option to reward baristas for good service. 

2. Avoid verbal tipping prompts

Nothing is more awkward – for employees and customers alike – than asking for a tip out loud. Employees don’t want to pressure their customers into leaving a tip, and no one wants to confidently say “no” in front of a line of people. Some customers may also feel uncomfortable stating how much they’d like to leave — as if they’re announcing how “good” of a person they are.

Instead, keep the tip prompts as private as possible. Include the prompts on the POS or credit card reader so your customers can silently decide on their tip amount. 

3. Make it clear that tipping is optional 

In the United States, most customers at FSRs are aware that servers rely on tips to supplement their take-home pay — and that they should tip appropriately for their service. But at a QSR, the lines get a little blurry. Is leaving a tip now an expectation (or even a requirement) for counter service? 

Take the pressure off the customer, and leave no questions unanswered. Make it apparent that employees are paid hourly and that tips are just an optional bonus to their income, not their bread and butter. 

You can also include language in your tip prompts that explicitly reminds customers that tips are optional. That way when the iPad swivels around to the customer, they know it’s not a moral question but rather just an extra thank-you to their regular barista. 

Take digital tipping to the next level 

Of course, now that you’re accepting more credit card tips, you’ll need an easy way to distribute them to staff. And we’ve got a few ideas. With Kickfin, you can instantly transfer tips straight to your employees’ bank accounts — meaning no cash runs and more financial freedom for employees. Request a demo of Kickfin today to learn more.