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'MasterChef' Graham Elliot

FIRES Back at Lawsuit ...

I'm Allowed to Take Your Tips!

4/21/2012 1:18 PM PDT BY TMZ STAFF

"MasterChef" Graham Elliot is FED UP with the lawsuit recently filed against him and insists everything he did in his Chicago restaurant was legally within his rights ... this according to new docs.

If you recall ... the culinary God is being sued by former Graham Elliot Restaurant employee Gregory Curtis, who alleges that Elliot was skimming tips from waiters and giving it to the kitchen staff ... which Curtis claims would be a violation of federal law.

But in a response filed earlier this month, Elliot claims the suit is BS. While he does admit he DID take tip money and pool it for other staff members -- bartenders, bussers, and food runners -- he is adamant ... under federal labor laws, it was totally legit. 

Elliot now wants the judge to throw out the suit completely and force Curtis to cover his legal fees as well.

If only there was a tip pool for that.


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When I was a waitress it was customary to pool the money together and split it. The belief of most honest restaurant owners is...all the employee's contributed in the customers satisfaction from the waitress taking their order, to the bartender making their drinks, to the cook making their food and even the bus boys cleaning the plates. It's called common courtesy. Unfortunately not all people have that!

894 days ago


I worked as a busser for many years. Made great money. The restaurant had it were the bussers & service bar were tipped out by the server. Since without our help they wouldn't be making their tips in the first place. Now we were all paid about the same (if not the same). But the kitchen staff, and door staff all had different wages than us. They'd make 10 or more dollars an hour more, so no they would not get tipped out. If a manager did the to go order and either the host took care of most of it that tip went to them otherwise the manager gave it to the kitchen staff (usually if it was a big order before FOH got there in the morning). I worked the door sometimes to pick up extra shifts and got paid $12 (cause first worked the door cause they were short and took away from bussing shifts) an hour (this was 10 years ago) because I was the head busser and wanted a descent pay for working the door (most got $9 - $11). But if you're being paid a higher pay then there should be no tip pooling for that staff. BTW, I hated tip pooling. They wanted to do that for our bussers and I refused. I busted my a-s for my servers getting their tables ready to go fast, if there was a party I always brought out extra tables from back so we still had regular tables for them to work, if I noticed a refill I'd get it, ashtray needed a changeout (back when you could smoke), always had everything stocked for my servers. Now there were some slower bussers who I helped out in their sections too and there is no way I'd share my tips with someone who wasn't doing the best. I would usually have servers who tipped out more than what they were supposed to because they knew my help made them more. And the slower bussers would get the standard tipout. Tip pooling in that way doesn't help someone do better cause they are getting tipped out the same no matter what. And we were paid from the amount the server sold, not what they were tipped (that helped with the bad servers cause we still got paid fairly).
Now if this guy is paying his kitchen staff a lower pay then that is wrong -- but don't think they should have the servers tip them out. In that case he needs to raise the kitchens pay.

894 days ago


Most people are getting stiffed Just because you are fat does not mean you can cook it means you can eat!

894 days ago


Give me a break! He can't take some of his own money and tip the kitchen staff. Let the waitstaff keep what little they probably get for themselves. He ought to be ashamed!!

894 days ago


That $%@#$ ought to pay his employees a proper wage instead of redistributing their tips.

894 days ago


If he was up-front about it, this guy had the choice to work there or not. If it was behind their backs, another story.

894 days ago


I thought it was legal if it was split amongst other staff, kitchen and bus boys etc, but illegal if it went to the managers or owners.

894 days ago


The waitress or waiter is who I run to death for refills and more of this and a little bit of that. That is who the tips should go to... No one else. I have a problem with them having to pull tips and split.

894 days ago


It was a long time ago, but when I used to wait tables, it wasn't required to tip out the busboys and bartenders. It also wasn't required for them to bus my tables or make my drinks before they took care of the other servers. One hand washes the other and if you didn't recognize how important the busboys and bartenders were, your tables suffered. It makes perfect sense that, in order to ensure uniform, quality service, the management would take a step to make sure the service personnel got their fair share. Legal or not, waiters should be happy that everyone gets paid.

894 days ago


What's the point of having a "minimum wage" if that's not the minimum wage an employee is allowed to pay his staff? The wait staff (and every other employee) should make at LEAST minimum wage and THEN tips being tipped to the wait staff should be REQUIRED to be split up in a certain way described in full to them when they are hired. I, personally, will not tip a waiter as good if the food is ****. I'm not going into a restaurant with the intention of having a great meal and tipping the person who served me if I leave disappointed. I mean that to some degree, I suppose. If the server worked her but off I'm going to leave something, of course...but definiately NOT what she would have gotten if the food was good. I would expect (and did expect) that was the norm. I have never worked as a waitress myself and would have never thought they would be paid so little. I'm wondering if that happens here in Canada too? Maybe not and that why I haven't heard of it? Not sure, but damn...ya gotta pay your staff. That's the most f'ked up part of this whole thing, IMO. And again, waitresses, tip the cooks that cook the food your getting (at least partly) judged on. Just my opinion. :)

894 days ago


Mr. Elliot! You are a CHEAP, ASS!!! You are a thief, and I won't ever set foot in any of your establishments - ever!

894 days ago


This whole tip business is just getting ridiculous. A tip is suppose to be a GRATUITY. A way of saying "thanks" for putting up with my indecisive kids, carrying that 80lbs bag for me, or turning me on to a drink I had never tried before.

Instead, we've created a system where tips are a REQUIREMENT. We've got the government and employers coming up with convoluted systems to take these crumbs. We have dining and kitchen staff at each others throats. We have people spitting and doing god knows what else to our food/possession out of spite.

Just bake the tip in the cost of the service, pay service people a proper wage, and lets be done with this crap -- we will all be a lot happier.

894 days ago


Don't waitresses/waiters get paid under minimum wage because of tips? If his staff is getting paid minimum wage the tip money is for wait staff. If they are not being payed minimum wage, WHY?

894 days ago

Megan Prunty     

I had the same thing done to me at... Sonic when i was younger. I thought it was completely fair because we were a "team".

894 days ago


Also, I don't think it's right to say "You shouldn't have to tip the cook just because he make's more than a server.". They are working his/her ass off too...sweating like bitches in a baking hot kitchen...and dealing with temperamental (at times) wait staff that want their tables food up yesterday!! That I have witnessed myself. Also, when the restaurant isn't doing well (ie, they have a slow month when it should be a good month, sales are down for no apparent reason) it's their asses that are on the line as they are not keeping people interested in the food at the restaurant. And I saw a comment on here that the wait staff have to clean! Wow. Who do you think cleans the kitchen every night? At least in the restaurant I worked in years ago. The last staff out of the restaurant at night was the cooks...aND they were the first ones in as well. I think it goes both ways. An electrician on a construction site gets paid more than a laborer...but you don't really "feel" for the laborer when he complains about having to do all the bitch work...that's his job. You don't like it? Go be an electrician...or a cook. Whatever.

894 days ago
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