In the latest example of shocking tipping practices at UK restaurants, it has been revealed that a chain of Italian restaurants operating in Bristol, Bath, Milton Keynes, Portishead, Worthing, and Lewes has been in effect forcing waiters to ‘pay to work’.
The Bristol Post blew the lid off two local Aqua Italia restaurants whose policy is to charge waiters 3 per cent on their total table sales each night.
This is generally taken from tips that they earn, but if waiters do not earn enough in tips to pay the three per cent levy, they must fork over the cash from their own pay packets.
The money taken from waiters, staff say, are used to subsidise wages.
Workers at Aqua Italia claim that they lose a minimum of £20 to £30 each and every night from their tips.
One waiter the Post spoke to said on a busy night she can lose as much as £50.
“Going into Christmas I just thought I would lose hundreds if not thousands of pounds in tips,” another waiter, who decided to resign over the restaurant’s policy, told the Post.
He recounts covering a shift at another branch of the restaurant chain in Milton Keynes, where he witnessed a waitress finishing her shift in tears because she hadn’t earned enough in tips to pay the three per cent, so would have to pay the levy from her wages. He said that a manager forced her to go to a cashpoint to withdraw money to pay the three per cent.
‘Has to stop’
Unite regional officer Dave Turnbull said reports of this story in particular were “shocking and it must stop”.
“The company needs to clarify whether this is a policy across the board or a local incident,” he said. “Either way it has to stop.
“I am sure that thousands of diners enjoyed a Christmas meal at one of this group’s seven UK-wide restaurants totally unaware that some staff were ‘paying to work’,” he added.
Employment contracts revealed by the Post indicate that this policy may operate at all Aqua Italia branches although this has not been confirmed.
Speaking to the Caterer, an accountant and adviser to hospitality businesses, Peter Davies, said he believed such a policy could be illegal.
“Quite apart from issues of fairness it can potentially result in a breach of the National Minimum Wage Regulations, which has serious consequences including public naming and shaming by HM Revenue & Customs,” he said.
Unite reiterated its demand for the government to release its long-delayed report into tipping practices.
“This is another reminder of the chronic lack of regulation in this sector, and of the ease with which a predominantly young workforce can be abused,” Turnbull noted.
“It is also an urgent reminder that is has been 500 days and counting that restaurant staff have been waiting for this government to take action.
“For every day that goes by, yet more abuses come to light. It is now up to this government to crackdown on mistreatment. It can start by publishing its long overdue tipping report.”
As part of Unite’s ongoing campaigns in the hospitality sector, in addition to tipping justice, the union is fighting sexual harassment in the industry. It is currently conducting a survey and is urging workers in hospitality to take part. Find out more here.