I work at a restaurant and the business takes personal tips and pools it together. I believe that it is legal here in California, but does it count as tipping if a customer hands it to you personally and their reasoning is that they do not want the business to take it? Would they still be allowed to take it then?
Of course it counts. Many restaurants are required to tip pool so that all the tips get reported to the IRS. The business is not "taking" the tips. They are simply collecting them and distributing them to the employees.
The business can't legally keep your tips, but tip pooling is legal and common.
Staff operate as a team, do you cook the food, put it on the plate, wait the table and clean the dishes afterwards plus manage the business?
I doubt it, the customer is tipping the entire process