Table of contents
  1. The Basics of Tip Credit
  2. How Tip Credit Calculations Work
  3. What Employers Need to Know About Tip Credits
  4. Who Is Eligible for Tip Credit?
  5. Impact of Tip Credit on Overtime Pay
  6. How Does Tip Pooling Affect Tip Credit?
  7. Maximizing the FICA Tip Tax Credit for Employers
  8. Managing Payroll Compliance with Tip Credit Regulations
  9. Conclusion
  10. FAQ

As you navigate the landscape of restaurant employee compensation in the United States, it’s essential to understand the function of a tip credit.

This monetary concept directly impacts the livelihood of tipped workers—those who serve us at restaurants and rely significantly on gratuities.

At the heart of this system is the federal minimum wage, a benchmark set by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that affirms every worker’s right to a basic level of pay.

The tip credit plays a pivotal role in upholding this standard, while also acknowledging the unique income structure within the service industry.

But how exactly does a tip credit work, and why is it relevant to both employers and employees?

Keep reading to learn all their is about tip credit, how to calculate it correctly, and the most important regulations you must know as an employer.

Key Takeaways

  • The tip credit is an FLSA provision that incorporates tips into hourly wage calculations for tipped workers.
  • Employers in the service industry can use tip credits to help meet their federal minimum wage obligations.
  • If tips and direct wages do not add up to the federal minimum wage, employers must cover the difference.
  • Tip credits provide a framework for compensating service employees while managing restaurant labor costs.
  • Proper understanding of tip credit is vital to ensure legal compliance and fair employee payment.
  • State laws may significantly affect the application of tip credits, with some states having unique requirements.

The Basics of Tip Credit

As a restaurant owner or a tipped employee, it’s important to comprehend how tip credits impact cash wage and the overall compensation structure.

Let’s break down what this means for you during tax season and throughout the fiscal year.

  • Tip Credit Calculation: Think of tip credit as a tool enabling you to count a portion of your employees’ earned tips towards meeting the minimum wage obligation. This ensures that their hourly earnings, a combination of direct wages plus tips, never fall below the mandated minimum wage.
  • Direct Cash Wage: This is the hourly cash amount your employees receive from you. Even with tip credit in place, they must still receive the required base cash wage, which can be no less than $2.13 federally, contributing to their guaranteed minimum hourly earnings.
  • Meeting Minimum Wage Requirements: It’s a common misconception that tip credits allow an employer to pay less than the minimum wage. In reality, they are simply a mechanism for including tips in the wage calculation to ensure that all your hard-earned compensation meets or exceeds minimum wage standards.
  • Preparing for Tax Season: As tax season approaches, accurate tip reporting is key. It is beneficial for both employer tax filings and ensuring that you as an employee receive all your rightly due earnings.
  • Employee Retention: Employers often use tip credits as a strategy for employee retention. By helping to stabilize income, especially in roles with variable tips, staff may experience a more reliable paycheck, fostering a more committed workforce.

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Tip credits serve as a bridge to assist in balancing employee income and employer wage taxes, ultimately playing a pivotal role in the economic health of service-focused businesses.

How Tip Credit Calculations Work

A typical tip credit calculation factors in two critical components:

  • The cash wage paid to the employee by the employer.
  • The tips earned by the employee during their shift.

Under the FLSA, the minimum cash wage an employer can pay is $2.13 per hour.

However, let’s not forget that the sum of this cash wage plus the tips earned must meet or surpass the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

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When Employers Must Make Up the Difference

During each pay period, if the sum of direct wages and the tips your employees earn falls short of the federal minimum wage, you are legally bound to pay the difference.

This ensures that all your tipped workers make at least the minimum wage for the entirety of their worked hours.

Tracking earnings over pay periods is essential to fulfill minimum wage laws and to avoid any legal setbacks that may arise from underpayment.

💡 Pro Tip:

Use a dedicated employee time clock app to fully track your employee’s schedules and time worked and ensure you remain compliant with labor laws.

Connecteam not only lets you easily build employee schedules and track time worked, it also makes payroll a breeze thanks to our direct integration with many of the most popular payroll tools, such as Gusto, QuickBooks, Xero, or Paychex.

Example of Calculating Tip Credits

Now, imagine you’re calculating tip credits for a typical workday. Let’s say an employee works an 8-hour shift:

  1. Start with the employee’s cash wage: 8 hours x $2.13/hour = $17.04
  2. Add the tips earned by the employee for that shift: let’s assume $48.
  3. Combine cash wage and tips: $17.04 (cash wage) + $48 (tips earned) = $65.04.
  4. Finally, find the total hourly earnings: $65.04/8 hours = $8.13/hour.

In this example, the hourly earnings exceed the federal minimum wage, so you’ve successfully met your employer’s minimum wage obligation.

But remember, this is a simplified scenario.

Real-life situations could be more complex, and tips can vary day to day.

Always be prepared to adjust and calculate tip credits accordingly to stay compliant with the FLSA.

🧠 Did You Know?

It’s good practice to stay updated with both federal and state laws as they can affect calculations like the one above.

This knowledge will empower you to ensure your business operations align fully with legal standards while also supporting your staff’s financial well-being.

What Employers Need to Know About Tip Credits

As mentioned before, your primary obligation is to guarantee that your employees receive at least the federal minimum wage.

This involves combining their direct wages with any earned tips. If you decide to apply tip credits, you are obligated to inform your employees about tip credit procedures.

Federal law dictates that these tips must be fully retained by your staff, reflecting the service they provide to patrons.

You also must keep scrupulously accurate records of tips for both compliance and tax credit purposes.

🧠 Did You Know?

When state law differs from the federal FLSA, you must comply with the standard most protective to employees.  For example, some states require a higher cash wage than the federal direct (or cash) wage of $2.13 per hour or in some cases prohibit you to take a tip credit altogether.

Who Is Eligible for Tip Credit?

To qualify as a tipped employee, an employee needs to “customarily and regularly” earn more than $30 per month in tips.

The Department of Labor mandates strict adherence to these requirements to ensure that workers who significantly depend on gratuities for their income receive the compensation they are due.

Take a look at some common roles within the service industry that are tip credit-eligible:

  • Waiters and Waitresses
  • Bartenders
  • Food Delivery Drivers
  • Bellhops
  • Valet Parking Attendants

💡 Pro Tip:

Be sure to regularly train your staff on the intricacies of tip credits and tip pooling to ensure everyone is informed and compliant with the law. This training can also help staff maximize their earning potential.

Connecteam’s dedicated employee training software makes it super simple to quickly create short training segments, send them to your entire team, and track exactly who has taken the training and understood the material.

Get started with Connecteam for free today!

Impact of Tip Credit on Overtime Pay

When tipped employees work over the standard 40-hour workweek, the FLSA has specific stipulations for calculating overtime pay.

Employers must pay these workers one and a half times their regular rate for overtime hours, minus the tip credit.

You are responsible for correctly calculating tip credits during overtime and can be liable for fines and backpay if you miss to do so.

💡 Pro Tip:

To ensure your employee timesheets are exact and fully compliant, we recommend using a digital employee time sheet app.

We put together a list of the best time tracking software to help you keep your staff fairly paid and your business safe from lawsuits.

How Does Tip Pooling Affect Tip Credit?

Tip pooling is a collective arrangement where tipped employees contribute a portion of their individual tips to a general fund. This pool is then redistributed among eligible staff.

Such a system advocates for a fair share of earnings among both front-of-house and back-of-house team members, recognizing the collaborative effort it takes to provide exceptional customer service.

By taking part in tip pooling, servers, bussers, and other front-of-house staff can ensure that the behind-the-scenes heroes, like dishwashers and cooks, receive a compensation for their part in the customer’s overall experience.

  • Adherence to FLSA regulations is non-negotiable; FLSA mandates exclude those in managerial or supervisory roles from tip pool participation, safeguarding the tip share for those who typically earn less.
  • While tip pooling does not directly alter the tip credit amount employers can apply, it does affect aggregate wage calculations. Factoring in tip sharing, you must still ensure each employee’s pay reaches or surpasses the required minimum wage threshold.
  • Compliance checks should be routine, including the evaluation of state-specific stipulations which may introduce further conditions or variation to tip pooling practices.

Maximizing the FICA Tip Tax Credit for Employers

The FICA tip tax credit can be a game-changer for your business.

It is designed to benefit employers by offsetting some of the costs associated with the social security taxes and Medicare taxes on employee tips.

Specifically, the tax credit comes into play when employees receive tips beyond the amount required to meet the federal minimum wage.

To make the most of the FICA tip tax credit, you need to ensure that your employees accurately report all of their tip earnings.

Accurate tip reporting allows you to claim a tax credit for the portion of social security and Medicare taxes paid on tips above $5.15 per hour.

The result? A valuable tax credit that could lead to significant savings come tax season.

  1. Verify that your establishment qualifies as a food service establishment to benefit from the tax credits.
  2. Communicate to your staff the importance of meticulous tip tracking and reporting for claiming the FICA tip tax credit.
  3. Calculate the total amount of eligible tips that exceed the threshold for the credit, which will inform the amount you can claim.
  4. Use IRS Form 8846 to claim the 7.65% credit on eligible tips, which can make a noticeable difference in your annual tax liability.

Remember, taking advantage of the FICA tip tax credit is more than just an employers benefit; it’s a strategic move that can have a positive impact on your establishment’s financial health.

Managing Payroll Compliance with Tip Credit Regulations

Ensuring payroll compliance within your establishment becomes a more intricate task under the stringent tip credit regulations.

As an employer in the cutthroat hospitality industry, it’s imperative to establish a robust system that navigates the complexities of FLSA compliance.

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We put together a guide on how to run payroll for restaurants, including a list of the best payroll software for your needs.

Let’s focus on the core components: accurate recordkeeping and precise wage calculations, which are not just best practices but legal requirements.

  • Recordkeeping: Keeping detailed records is part and parcel of the food and beverage industry’s payroll landscape. Your employees’ records should include a detailed account of their daily tips. IRS forms like the 8027 may be utilized to compile and present tipping data diligently. This level of meticulousness facilitates transparent and accurate reporting.
  • Wage Calculations: Beyond tracking your employees’ clock-in and clock-out times, ensure the hourly wages and tips meet the minimum wage standards set by the FLSA. Should there be a shortfall, it’s your responsibility to make up the difference, safeguarding your employees’ income and your FLSA compliance.

Streamlining these processes requires a keen understanding of the available tools and resources. For example, IRS Form 941 is crucial for reporting payroll taxes, while Form 8846 comes into play when claiming the FICA tip tax credit.


With both federal and state regulations shaping the landscape, your diligence in applying the FLSA guidelines and adhering to labor standards is essential to remaining compliant and fortifying your establishment’s reputation.

Remember, tip credit isn’t just about adhering to guidelines; it’s a testament to your commitment to your staff’s financial well-being and reflects your establishment’s integrity.

Using a dedicated employee management software made for the food and beverage industry will ensure that your employees are properly paid, and your business runs smoothly and fully compliant with labor laws.


How do tip credits impact overtime pay?

When calculating overtime pay for tipped employees, employers must ensure that the hourly rate for overtime is at least one and a half times the employee’s regular rate, excluding the tip credit. The tip credit itself does not change, but the base rate upon which the credit is calculated increases for overtime hours worked.

Can tip credits be implemented in all states?

No, state laws regarding tip credits can vary, with some states not allowing them at all, following only the federal guidelines, or imposing different minimum cash wage requirements. Employers need to follow the regulations that apply to their respective states.

What are the benefits of tip credit for both employees and employers in the food and beverages industry?

Tip credits can benefit employees by potentially stabilizing earnings during periods of varying tips, while employers can manage labor costs more effectively. This can result in maintaining competitive pricing, growing the workforce, and ensuring that staff members are compensated fairly.

What is mandatory tip pooling, and how does it relate to tip credits?

Mandatory tip pooling is an arrangement where tips are collected and redistributed among a wider group of employees, sometimes including those who do not typically receive tips directly from customers. The goal is to create fairness in the distribution of gratuities. Tip credits remain the same, but the pooled tips can affect the overall wage calculations.

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