A tipping point for Culinary Services: No more tips for student employees

Since Aug. 19, Sonoma State University’s Culinary Services have discontinued the acceptance of tips at Charlie Brown’s Café, Sip, W+B, Lobos and Toast as a result of legal requirements.

Previous to this change in policy, all food venues on campus were permitted to accept tips which were divided equally among all workers from the entire day’s work.  The decision was made to change procedure because of “legal requirements related to cash handling and tip notifications to government agencies,” according to Director of Sales and Marketing Ryan Ernst. 

After this change, students were no longer allowed to accept tips in certain locations.  As compensation, students affected by the change were given a raise of 51 cents per hour. Two venues that were excluded from this conversion were Prelude and Overlook, which are set up as full service venues and may still receive tips, Ernst said.

Claudia Bernal, a fifth-year Sonoma State student who works at the kiosk in Toast, expressed both surprise and understanding at the new policy.  

“My initial reaction was kind of shock, but once it was explained to me I kind of understood why this was happening but that doesn’t mean I exactly like it,” Bernal said.  

The financial compensation Bernal receives in her salary will not match that of the amount she would earn from tips, she said.

“I understand why these two venues [Prelude and Overlook] got excluded from the tips rule,” Bernal said. “They are the venues most visited by staff and people visiting the campus. I just wish a few more venues were included on this list.”  

Ernst said the reason for the two restaurants to operate with tips is so Culinary Services are in compliance with federal tax laws.

Camille Cintas, a fourth year student and Culinary Services employee, also had a complex reaction to the policy change.

“My first reaction to the change was negative,” Cintas said.  “I couldn’t understand why Culinary [Services] decided to make this change in the first place, and I thought that there was no way they’d be able to make up the lost income to students.” 

Cintas admitted the inconsistencies and unpredictability of tips are “always a gamble.”

“Now I have a better understanding of the negative consequences of the tipping system,” Cintas said.

Ernst said there is a “perception that money is being taken away from our student employees… [and] a vast majority will end up with a bigger paycheck than before.”  

In an email sent Aug. 15 to the Sonoma State campus community, Neil Markley, associate vice president for administration and finance for Entrepreneurial Activities, included a link to a donation website for those who wish to continue to support students financially. The link leads to a page with various scholarships and programs visitors can choose to support.  

When asked about this alternate form of student support, Cintas said, “This sounds great, but… I think Culinary [Services] should do a better job of informing the entire school, and the cities around us, of this new system.” 

Bernal provided a different perspective on the matter. 

“This is a good alternative to help out students,” Bernal said. “The only problem I could see is that not all students will be able to get these scholarships.”  

Ernst said administration is working to enlighten customers on the new methods of donation while maintaining a focus on supporting students. He said the website donations could go to annual funds, specific programs and departments, the alumni association, athletics or different special events.

Since the new policy is just over a week old, there is not much to say about how it could affect the working student body, Ernst said.  

“As with any change, there will be a review of customer and employee feedback after an appropriate amount of time,” Ernst said. “University Culinary Services [will] evaluate what changes, if any, need to be made”.  

For alternative ways to support students financially, visit http://www.sonoma.edu/give.