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Friday, December 9, 2016

Yesterday, while attending a luncheon at a Cleveland party center, I stopped by the bar to ask about tipping policies.

I do this because I learned a decade ago that sticking a tip into a jar does not necessarily mean the gratuity goes to the person who is serving you.

This is true where you live, too. I’ve learned that from experience, too. Regardless of what city I’m visiting, it’s a fair bet that I will find yet another story about yet another restaurant or banquet hall that skims — no, let’s call it what it is: steals — tips from servers, valets and bartenders. Most of them are hourly wage earners who depend on tips to make minimum wage.

Businesses get away with this egregious practice because most patrons never think to ask, especially when the jar on the counter says “tips.” Never trust that little sign, by the way. My first column on this issue, in 2004, was about a large jar marked “tips” at a coat check in Cleveland. After making small talk with the weary clerk behind the counter, I discovered that not a cent of the jar brimming with bills went to her or her co-workers.

When I called the party center the next week to ask how that could be, three different managers told me, “Nobody cares who keeps the tips.”

Boy, were they wrong.

This week, sure enough, the bartender had a similar story. In this case, she was allowed to keep cash tips. She wanted me to know, however, that tips left on charge cards never found their way to her or other servers.

All too common practice: Customers mistakenly think that mandatory “service charge” is the tip, or they leave the gratuity on the charge card but don’t make clear that it’s intended for the men and women who waited on them.

Yes, I know. You would think that if you write the gratuity next to the word “tip,” everyone would agree on who’s getting that money. The only way to be sure it goes to the service employees is to insist.

Better yet, check on the policy before you book your event — and spread the word if you find out they don’t treat their servers fairly. Nothing changes bad business practices faster than a bunch of potential customers making clear why they’re taking their business elsewhere.

Something else you should know about tips left on charge cards: In many restaurants, managers deduct from tips the service charge they must pay credit card companies.

That’s why, whenever possible, you should tip in cash.