Fair tips campaign

Tipping, of the sort where you leave a few pounds extra to your nice restaurant waiter, is a kind of bizarre custom anyway in some ways. Most people doing other sorts of jobs don't tend to get tips, and you'd never really think to give your bank clerk an extra fiver if they paid your cheque in particular fast. Nonetheless, they are part of established UK culture. Also, to be fair, the kind of jobs you do expect to get them in are probably some of the most annoying, worst paid jobs around, so why not reward your server with some shiny shiny coins if they do a good job?

Well, one good reason why not is because in many cases your tip does not actually benefit the person you think you are paying. Rather, some restaurant owners actually pocket all the tips themselves and, at best, recycle it to make the sub-minimum wage they pay their staff up to the bare legal minimum come the end of the week. Outrage.

It's not new news, the Poorhouse remembers hearing of the practice ages ago, but it has recently been re-renewed into the media via the Independent's Fair Tips Fair Pay campaign, and rightly so. Tipping is apparently a £4 billion a year income in the UK, and the customer generally rightfully expects that their tip goes to their waiter as a bonus, or at least a combination of the waiter & other low paid back-house staff. They do not expect it to go to greedy restaurant owners so they can get away with paying illegally-low standard wages. Well, "illegally" is the wrong word, because strictly speaking it is legal to run this scam. Since the minimum wage laws were enacted in 1999, this loophole has existed - through what has been described as

a secret deal with restaurateurs so they could pay their staff less than the national minimum wage and make up the difference through customer service charges.

Former Government minister Ian McCartney claims it was indeed industry pressure that made the Government compromise the original minimum wage act text that actually did guarantee a....erm....minimum wage.

We're not just talking the odd self-run business running this less than ethical scheme. Here's some names compiled from various stories the Independent ran last week:

Restaurants that pay their staff less then minimum legal wage and rely on tips to makes the rest up:

  • Carluccios
  • Cafe Rouge
  • Chez Gerard
  • Strada
  • Cafe Uno
  • Zizzi
  • Ask
  • Harvey Nichols cafe (probably)
  • Spaghetti House
  • Hard Rock Cafe
  • Gaucho

Restaurants that take a percentage of customer tips (often if tip left via credit-card, perhaps arguing a "administration fee")

  • Pizza Express (8%)
  • Grouch Club (>75%)
  • Tootsies
  • Real Greek
  • Smollensky's (90%)
  • Bertorelli

There even exist restaurants that pay their staff no wage so they rely 100% on tips, for example Tuttons in Covent Garden.

So what to do? Well, clearly if you don't like the practice you shouldn't indulge in it, so don't give tips when you don't like where they're going. However sometimes it is hard to tell where that is...reports have been made of waiters getting disciplined for honestly answering a customer's questions as to where the tip goes. Not tipping via credit card machines is probably a good idea if you're unsure, because at least that then makes it a little bit harder for the evil restaurant corporation to immediately take money that you never intended them to have.

Some of the above chains however are rude enough to put "tips" on the bill automatically, which is something to watch out for. In fact, it's pretty rude to assume the customer would want to tip anyway (Did someone say Wokmania? Ahem!). But even aside from that, just because it's automatically put on doesn't mean it automatically goes where you think it does - you might be better asking for it to be removed, and go back to basics with real cash. Basically, it's a bit of a minefield. But just stopping tipping altogether doesn't really help as it will obviously hurt the very people that this campaign is supposed to favour. Hmm.

Here are the 3 demands of the Independent campaign, all good ideas - some would say basically common sense.

  1. All restaurants should operate a fair, clear and transparent policy for distributing service charges and gratuities to their staff.
  2. All restaurants should display their policy on service charges and gratuities clearly on all their menus.
  3. All restaurant waiting staff should be guaranteed a basic salary of at least the minimum wage, excluding gratuities.

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