The Ultimate Guide To Running Restaurant Payroll

By Starza Thompson|Mar 4, 2024|3:41 pm CST

Running a restaurant comes with plenty of complicated (and rewarding) challenges. Among these is supporting your staff and ensuring they’re paid correctly. That’s where restaurant payroll comes into play. It’s a critical part of any restaurant’s operations, and getting it right can make the difference between a thriving business or a struggling one.

Restaurant payroll involves more than just cutting checks. It encompasses everything from tracking hours to distributing tips and managing taxes. You’ve got to stay on top of labor laws, keep accurate records, and ensure your team gets paid on time. It’s a complex task, but with the right knowledge and tools, you can master it.

In this article, we’ll delve into the intricacies of restaurant payroll, giving you the insight you need to streamline your process and keep your staff happy. Let’s get started.

Key Takeaways

  • Restaurant payroll management encompasses tracking hours, managing tips and other income, handling taxes, staying compliant with labor laws, and maintaining accurate records.
  • As a restaurant owner, it’s crucial to file all necessary legal paperwork for payroll, including forms like W-4 and I-9 for new employees. Accurate tracking and reporting of tip income are also required to comply with IRS regulations.
  • It’s essential to establish a restaurant pay schedule that complies with FLSA and state minimum wage requirements. The structure of this pay schedule will depend on your restaurant, the number of employees, and payment frequency.
  • Payroll taxes are based on each employee’s gross pay and includes considerations for Social Security, Medicare, federal, state and local taxes, and crucially, tip income. Staying on top of these taxes is critical for any restaurant employer.
  • Restaurant payroll software can help employers calculate gross pay, net pay, and total labor costs. Software solutions can help employers manage complicated payroll matters such as tip credits, tax deductions, and compliance with various wage requirements.
  • It’s important to maintain proper payroll records for support business transparency and prepare for potential audits. Correct, updated payroll records ensure you stay legally compliant and help avoid unnecessary fines.
  • When setting up and running a restaurant payroll, consider key factors like tip reporting, correct overtime pay, and how to handle multiple pay rates.
  • Although labor costs represent a significant portion of most restaurants’ operating expenses, managing these costs with a reliable payroll service can help keep operations smooth and compliant.

How Is Payroll Defined?

When you’re running a bustling restaurant business, you probably need to keep track of a multitude of tasks—planning new offerings and services, impressing customers, and, of course, managing your restaurant payroll. But what does managing payroll really mean?

Processing payroll is far more than just counting hours and cutting checks. It also involves keeping a solid record of your employees’ gross pay, factoring in hourly wages, overtime pay, and tips for employees like bartenders and servers.

It doesn’t stop at record-keeping. Next, you’ve got payroll taxes to manage, including Social Security and Medicare taxes, not to mention state tax and local tax. On top of that, you’ll need to stay abreast of FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) norms regarding tipped wages and minimum wage requirements.

To keep your restaurant operating smoothly, a functional payroll system can help track tip income and ensure correct reporting. Good restaurant payroll software will ensure your staff is paid correctly, taking into account deductions such as taxes and workers’ compensation insurance. It’s your responsibility to process your employees’ gross pay and distribute wages, either through direct deposit or a good old-fashioned check.

Step One: Ensure All Legal Restaurant Payroll Paperwork Is Filed

When you run payroll, one of the first steps you must take is filing all the necessary legal paperwork. Let’s get into the specifics of that documentation.

During the onboarding process, you’ll need to collect paperwork from new hires, including forms like W-4 and I-9. A W-4 form is for tax withholding, while an I-9 verifies an employee’s eligibility to work in the US.

You also must track and report tip income accurately to satisfy IRS regulations. This can be complicated given that both cash and credit card tips affect restaurant payroll. Employees should provide a tip report (on Form 4070) if they collect more than $20 in tips a month.

Time tracking is another vital step to process payroll accurately. You need to precisely track the hours your employees work—including overtime. Tracking hours helps demonstrate that your business meets minimum wage requirements and complies with FLSA norms.

You’ll also need to take care of state, local, Social Security, and Medicare taxes. This includes managing withheld restaurant payroll taxes and the employer’s share of Social Security and Medicare taxes—often referred to as FICA.

And don’t forget routinely reporting and depositing taxes to the IRS. To do all this, opt for a good payroll service that can help streamline your tasks for reduce the risk of manual errors. These platforms can also help you provide detailed pay stubs and maintain required payroll records—a crucial aspect often overlooked by many small businesses.

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Step Two: Set A Restaurant Pay Schedule

With your payroll paperwork in place, it’s time to establish a structured pay schedule. This pay structure will help ensure that your workers’ compensation meets FLSA and state minimum wage requirements, while also allowing tipped employees to benefit from tip income.

Creating a pay schedule will directly impact your restaurant payroll, labor costs, and even the happiness of your staff. Any miscalculation can affect an employee’s paycheck, become a labor law violation, and cause dissatisfaction among your team.

When setting a pay schedule, consider the nature of your restaurant. Decide on weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly pay periods. You might find weekly pay works for a smaller team, as it can mean better cash flow management. The most important thing is providing pay transparency for your restaurant employees, which will both help them plan expenditures and improve job satisfaction overall.

Remember, the structure of your pay schedule should be compliant with IRS and Department of Labor rules. Also take into account any state tax obligations, Medicare taxes, and social security deductions.

If you have tipped employees on staff, you’ll need to factor tip credit, tip pooling, and tip reporting strategies into your payroll process. These policies must be in line with FICA and the restaurant payroll rules laid down by the IRS.

Once your pay schedule is set, notify your team and set a constant payday, then ensure everyone who intends to be paid through direct deposit has their bank account details on file. At this point, you should be set up for accurate and timely payroll, benefiting both your business and your staff.

Step Three: Calculate Payroll Taxes

Dealing with payroll taxes is an inevitable part of running a restaurant. While it might appear daunting at first, understanding the basics can make the process less intimidating.

You’re not alone in this. The majority of small businesses must navigate payroll taxes and calculations. Fortunately, there’s plenty of documentation available to help you approach taxes while running restaurant payroll.

Consider Federal, State, and Local Taxes

Calculating payroll taxes starts by understanding each employee’s gross pay. From this gross pay, you deduct the employee’s share of Social Security and Medicare taxes, also known as FICA taxes.

You are responsible for matching the amount of Social Security and Medicare taxes deducted from the employees’ wages. The combined federal FICA tax rate is fixed—currently, it’s 7.65% from the employer, and 7.65% from the employee.

Tax Type Employee Rate Employer Rate
Social Security 6.2% 6.2%
Medicare 1.45% 1.45%

Remember, you also need to withhold federal income tax from employee wages based on IRS guidelines. Depending on where your business is located, you may also need to consider state and local taxes.

Factor in Tipped Wages

In the restaurant industry, tip income plays a significant role in many employee’s wages. All tips earned by tipped employees, such as waitstaff and bartenders, are subject to taxes.

In fact, the IRS requires all tips to be reported, and it’s on you, the employer, to ensure accurate tip reporting. Depending on the total tip income reported, you may owe additional Social Security and Medicare taxes.

Restaurant payroll software can streamline this complicated process and ease time tracking. These platforms can automate calculating and withholding taxes, and ultimately ensure accuracy and compliance.

Step Four: Calculate Gross Pay, Net Pay, and Labor Costs

Calculating gross pay, net pay, and labor costs is essential to running a restaurant. You must ensure that your financials are correct and you’re adhering to minimum wage requirements.

Let’s start with gross pay. This is the total compensation an employee receives before any deductions (such as taxes). It includes base pay, bonuses, and tips. To accurately determine base pay, you’ll need a reliable time tracking system in place. Pay attention to FLSA regulations and state labor laws to be sure you’re appropriately compensating for overtime work.

Calculating net pay comes next. This is the take-home pay that’s left after all deductions have been made from the gross pay. These deductions will include income tax, Social Security, and Medicare taxes which, as discussed earlier, you as an employer have to match. If you’re using a full-service payroll platform, this process should be easy to manage.

Finally, to run payroll successfully, calculate your labor costs. Labor costs encompass wages, benefits, payroll taxes, and insurance. Even the time you spend on payroll processing could be considered a labor cost. Pre-existing payroll records and time tracking data can help you calculate labor costs accurately.

One way to curb labor costs is by leveraging the tip credit allowed by the FLSA. To utilize the tip credit, employers must inform their employees about it, and then ensure that their workers’ total tip income plus the reduced minimum wage equals or exceeds the normal minimum wage.

Each business is bound to have unique challenges when it comes to managing payroll. Employing efficient restaurant payroll software can help you avoid common payroll obstacles. These solutions can help with a variety of tasks, such as managing tax deductions, direct deposit, and unemployment benefits. With a good handle on these key payroll calculations, you’ll be one step closer to streamlining your business operation, ensuring you’re compliant with payroll regulations, and keeping your employees satisfied.

Step Five: Choose A Restaurant Payroll Solution

It’s now time to get into the nitty-gritty of restaurant payroll—choosing the right software solution for you. Payroll processing is often a challenging task for restaurant owners, but having a solid payroll solution can make it easier.

Your chosen software should be able to properly handle minimum wage requirements, accommodate tip credits, efficiently calculate payroll taxes, and handle a range of tip income scenarios. It’s crucial to look for features such as time tracking, direct deposit, tip reporting, pay stub creation, and new hire onboarding. Being able to support tipped wages and FLSA requirements is also vital.

Look for a solution that can handle your tax filing needs—including federal tax, state tax, unemployment tax, and workers’ compensation.

With all these requirements, managing restaurant payroll may seem daunting. But don’t worry. Full-service payroll managers can simplify the entire process.

Step Six: Maintain Proper Records

One non-negotiable aspect of payroll processing is maintaining proper documentation. As a restaurant owner, you should always keep exact, up-to-date payroll records. This gets you ready for any surprise audit and saves you from unnecessary fines or legal complications due to mishandled records.

There are specific payroll records that the IRS and the Department of Labor require you to keep. These include but aren’t limited to:

  • Hours worked each day and total hours per pay period.
  • Total wages for each pay period.
  • Deductions from wages.
  • Pay rates and pay basis (for hourly or set wage).
  • Date of payment and the pay period covered by payment.

Managing tipped employees complicates the situation, as you’re required to accurately record and report tip income. Hence, documentation of tip income and tip credit is also crucial.

Inevitably, labor costs account for a significant part of restaurant expenses, and using a payroll service can make a significant difference in reducing those expenses. An efficient payroll system organizes data in a simple format, making it effortless to prepare payroll taxes and file them with the IRS in due time and according to requirements.

Considerations When Setting Up and Running Restaurant Payroll

Managing restaurant payroll requires a reliable and robust system. Handling tip reporting, overtime pay, and multiple pay rates can be a heavy task. But, with a strategic plan and the right resources, you can streamline this important process.

Tip Reporting

When running restaurant payroll, it’s essential to manage your employees’ tip income responsibly. According to the IRS, all tips your employees receive from both cash and credit card transactions are considered taxable income. It’s your responsibility as a restaurant owner to ensure that all employees report tips correctly.

Restaurant payroll software can make this process simple and efficient, by integrating with time tracking tool and POS (point-of-sale) systems. This technology can automatically calculate and report tip income, reducing errors and ensuring precise tax filing.

Paying Overtime Correctly

As with other businesses, the restaurant industry is governed by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which mandates time-and-a-half pay for any hours worked beyond 40 in a week.

Sounds simple? Well, it’s not always that straightforward. In restaurants, various factors like tipped wages and multiple pay rates can make overtime calculations complex. Many restaurant payroll systems can automatically compute overtime pay—saving time and avoiding potential FLSA violations.

Handling Minimum Wage vs. Tipped Wage

Differentiating between minimum wage employees and tipped employees can be confusing. In many states, the law allows you to pay tipped employees less than the minimum wage, as long as their tips bring their total earnings up to the federal minimum wage. This disparity is known as the “tip credit.” To ensure compliance with federal and local laws, restaurant owners must keep up-to-date with changing wage laws and requirements—or invest in software that will manage these factors automatically.

Handling Multiple Pay Rates

In the restaurant industry, employees often perform multiple roles, each with their own pay rate. For example, a server might also work as a host or prep cook. It’s essential that your payroll system can track and manage these different pay rates efficiently. Look for a versatile payroll solution that can calculate pay based on the nature and timing of work. This will ensure fair pay for your staff, and maintain compliance with labor laws.

Remember, running a successful payroll system doesn’t have to be a daunting task. There are many resources available to simplify the process. By understanding legal requirements and utilizing effective payroll software, you can ensure correct and timely pay for all restaurant employees. Staying informed and organized—that’s the key to a stress-free payroll process.

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What Should Payroll Look Like for a Restaurant?

Your restaurant payroll process should help you manage several key components: employee wages, tips, payroll taxes, and compliance with labor laws such as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Labor cost, considered a significant portion of your operating expenses, should ideally range between 20-30% of your gross revenue. However, these numbers may vary from business to business and are influenced by factors such as location and restaurant type.

What Is the Best Payroll Software for Restaurants?

Payroll handling can be a daunting task, especially for small businesses. Thankfully, restaurant payroll software helps to streamline these processes, reducing manual errors, saving time and ensuring compliance.

The “best” software will vary depending on your specific needs. A comprehensive platform like Fourth can help you handle a range of HR concerns, including payroll, scheduling, and time and attendance.

Before deciding on a platform, consider the size of your business, the number of employees you have, the features you need, and pricing. Your ultimate aim should be to find a full-service solution that simplifies your payroll process while staying within your budget.

How Do I Handle Payroll for Employees?

As a restaurant owner, understanding how to run payroll for your employees is crucial. With support from restaurant payroll software, the process becomes consistent and manageable.

The payroll process usually involves several steps:

  1. Collect your employees’ Form W-4 and I-9 during onboarding.
  2. Track employee work hours for each pay period.
  3. Calculate gross pay, considering regular hours and overtime pay for tipped employees.
  4. Correctly calculate payroll taxes including Social Security, Medicare, FICA, state tax, local tax, and unemployment tax.
  5. Deduct the appropriate tax withholding and tip credits from employees’ paychecks.
  6. Deposit the correct amount into each employee’s bank account via direct deposit.

But remember, this process can become complex, depending on the mix of salaried vs. tipped workers, and whether you’re managing multiple pay rates. Using a robust payroll system will not only help you manage these complexities but also free up your time to focus on what you love the most—running your restaurant.