Texas barbecue restaurant Black’s BBQ has been sued for withholding tips for labor violations

Black’s BBQ, the popular 90-year-old Lockhart-based mini-chain, had to pay just over $230,000 in arrears to employees this year. This comes after a U.S. Department of Labor investigation that began in December 2019 into the restaurant’s location in New Braunfels. Since the story broke, Black’s owners have worked hard to defend its reputation from a barrage of accusatory headlines, but the timelines of what happened between the restaurant company and the Department of Labor are at odds.

On September 19, the Labor Department announced that Black’s had to pay $230,353 to 274 workers. According to the agency, restaurant managers at the New Braunfels, Lockhart, Austin and San Marcos locations participated in employee tipping pools. This meant that during the September 2019-September 2021 period, Black’s BBQ managers took home a portion of tips earned during operating hours, leaving staff without a percentage of their tips — a key revenue stream for service workers.

This violates the tipping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which currently prohibit managers and supervisors from keeping tips received from employees. In 2020 and 2021, the Department of Labor updated its federal regulations under the FLSA to specifically protect tipped workers.

A buffet is served at Black’s restaurants, so tipping is almost always given when ordering at the counter and then divided among the staff. Because each of Black’s businesses operates as a separate entity, each was investigated by the Department of Labor as a separate case in 2021 and 2022.

In response, shortly after the release of the Department of Labor’s press release, Kent Black and Barrett Black, father and son of Black’s BBQ, released their own statement to the media, claiming that all current and former hourly employees were to be held responsible for anything that came up to them Company funds were fully compensated following the initial investigation by May 2021. Black’s blamed their outsourced payroll company (which they declined to name after Eater asked), which they said failed to catch the law change, but ultimately they vacated that it is your responsibility as a business owner not to be aware of changes in tipping regulations.

“Those affected people have always received tips, only with this new rule change were they entitled to about 10 percent more from the pool,” Kent Black says in a separate interview with Eater. “So we quickly made up the difference and spent those monies on them.”

After Black released their written statement, Kent and Barrett Black followed two days later, on September 21, with a video on YouTube, repeating what they had written and further describing what happened. “There were no penalties imposed by the Department of Labor because we voluntarily fixed it immediately,” Kent says in the video.

Juan J. Rodriguez, a deputy regional director for the Department of Labor’s Office of Public Affairs, provided Eater with different timelines than those claimed by Black’s owners. He writes via email that there were four separate investigations into Black’s four locations – New Braunfels, beginning February 2021 and ending May 2021; Lockhart and Austin from September 2021 to April 2022; and San Marcos from February 2022 to April 2022. According to Rodriguez, all of those back wages were fully paid and confirmed by July 2022, and the agency wrote out the release thereafter.

Although there are two differing viewpoints as to when the labor injury issue was resolved, both the Black family and the Department of Labor can agree that it was resolved, in the amount of $230,353. That hasn’t deterred critics or rivals and family members, however make fun of the situationincluding Terry Black’s BBQ, which has been associated with Black’s for a long time (yes, both are owned by members of the same Blacks family).

This isn’t the first time tip-sharing has gotten a Texas grill business in trouble. Hard Eight BBQ in Dallas had to pay its employees more than $867,000 in tips and overtime, according to its own Labor Department investigation completed earlier this year.

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