California Restaurant Laws & Regulations

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California restaurant laws and regulations govern a variety of categories from the proper training of restaurant staff to wage protections for tipped employees and the sale of alcoholic beverages. These laws are in place with the goal of protecting customers to ensure food is prepared safely and alcoholic beverages are served in moderation.

Food Handler Training

  • Every California restaurant is required to have at least one manager who holds a Food Protection Manager Certification. The California Restaurant Association administers a 90-question ServSafe Exam that grants this necessary certification. A manager can register for the test and a preparation class by visiting the California Restaurant Association's website. All food handlers in each California restaurant are required to obtain a similar form of certification through the ServSafe California Food Handler Program within 30 days of hire. The interactive online course and the test for food handler employees take between 60 and 90 minutes to complete.

Minimum Wage for Tipped Employees

  • It is illegal in California for an employer to claim a tip credit against a tipped employee's hourly wage, despite a federal law that allows an employer to claim a tip credit. An employee receiving gratuities from restaurant patrons must be paid at least the California minimum wage. As of April 2011, the minimum hourly wage in California is $8.00. It is also illegal for an employer to deduct a credit card service charge from an employee's tips. Any gratuities received through a credit card transaction must be paid to the employee by the next business day.

Tip Pooling and Overtime Pay

  • Tip pooling in California is legal when each employee involved in the tip pool is directly engaged with customer service. This includes bartenders, servers, bus boys, hosts and any cooks preparing meals table-side for guests. Overtime pay for tipped employees must be calculated using the base hourly rate. It is illegal for an employer to calculate overtime wages using gratuities because these payments are extended from patrons voluntarily. Employees who believe an employer is violating wage laws can file a wage claim with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.

Restaurant Alcohol Sales

  • A restaurant must have a license from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to serve alcoholic beverage. A bartender must be 21 to mix and pour alcoholic beverages in California. The minimum age to serve alcoholic beverages in the state is 18, as long as the establishment is primarily considered an eating place. It is illegal in California for an establishment to give away free drinks, offer two-for-one drink specials, or offer anything of value in conjunction with the sale of an alcoholic beverage. Meal and drink combinations are permitted as long as the drink is not free or complimentary.

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