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Bonfire Uses Servers' Tips to Pay Credit Card Fees

If you eat at Bonfire, your tips aren't making it into that smiling server's pocket at the end of the day without a grab-and-dash toll tax to the restaurant.

Derek Johnson, a server at Bonfire in St. Paul, has been slinging dishes at the popular wood-fire pizzeria since mid-summer. He says a month after he started, he served a large party that tipped him about $80, but at the end of the shift Bonfire withheld 2 percent.

When Johnson asked where the rest was, his manager explained that the restaurant had a legal right to take a percentage of servers' tips to cover credit card fees. Though Bonfire is actually correct in that according to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, Johnson's pissed because no one bothered to tell him they were taking his money.

As a result, for a while he was claiming more than he was actually making, and paying taxes on imaginary income, Johnson says.

See also: Blue Plate Responds to Minimum Wage Increase By Dipping into Servers' Tips

Bonfire declined to comment on the practice. It isn't surprising considering that backlash on other Twin Cities restaurants choosing to dip into tips to offset the minimum wage hike had been swift and severe, with angry foodies taking to Yelp in defense of their favorite servers.

Johnson is currently working two serving jobs to pay for all the usual luxuries of adult life, such as rent, car insurance, and student debt. "If you're taking any bit of money away, it really hurts," he said. "I don't think I can tolerate working there much longer."

He's leaving Bonfire to focus on his other serving gig at Turf Club, where servers have always taken home the full amount of their tips. Turf Club manager Nate Kranz says it's just never occurred to 701 Ventures' venues to claim any part of what customers give their servers. Though other restaurants do it, it's certainly not common practice, he says.

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