Mark Hix: 'Why I've joined The Independent's campaign for fairer tipping'
Thursday 17 July 2008
After working at the top of the restaurant industry for almost two decades, I know that this business as a whole is not without its scams and tricks. But I must say that even I'm surprised – and disappointed – by some of the practices that The Independent's Fair Tips, Fair Pay campaign has exposed. Some of the tipping policies out there are shocking, especially where the management takes more of the service charges than the staff – that's exactly what restaurants should not be doing.
In theory, a service charge should simplify things, and make the situation very clear to the customer. But a lot of restaurants are betraying that implicit trust. Service charges certainly shouldn't be skimmed off. Paying staff less than the minimum wage, while using the service charge to make up the difference, is just wrong. The whole point of a service charge is that it should be a little extra to show gratitude for good service. It should also be genuinely discretionary – if you get lousy service, then you shouldn't pay, simple as that.
In my restaurants, in Dorset and London, all the service charge and tips are distributed to front-of-house staff according to a points system, so a less-qualified waiter would get less than a more experienced person. If people tip on top, it's an added bonus. You would like to think that the customers know what you are doing with the service charge, and I'm going to think of a clever way to make it absolutely clear in my restaurants.
Once, we had a well-known critic in, reviewing the place. I saw him hand a credit card to one of my waiters, look up and ask what happens to the service charge. The waiter just froze, despite having been briefed on what to say. Even though we're doing the right thing, it's very difficult for a waiter suddenly to be confronted by a customer. So I think it's vital to have transparency and not put them in that position.
Mark Hix - chef-proprietor, Hix Oyster & Fish House in Lyme Regis, and Hix Oyster & Chop House in London
"Whether it's a discretionary service charge that's added to a bill, or cash left on a table, all tips should go to the staff. They do at Locanda Locatelli – we have a tronc system that fairly divides up the money, and it's run by our front-of-house team."
Giorgio Locatelli – chef-proprietor, Locanda Locatelli, London
"Hopefully, your campaign will put a stop to the bad guys who skim off the tips, so that we can all safely assume that our tips go to the staff. We all have the right to expect this. We have a very fair system and we're very happy to tell our customers about it. No 'discretionary' charges are automatically added to bills and all tips are distributed among our staff, with no deductions apart from income tax – the Inland Revenue is immensely suspicious about tipping. So we collect all tips – whether they're left as cash or on a credit card – and share them out using a tronc system. The bulk goes to the people who are directly serving, but everyone who works gets a share, including the chefs."
Shaun Hill – chef-proprietor, The Walnut Tree Restaurant, Abergavenny, Wales
Antony Worrall Thompson
"In most of my restaurants there is a discretionary 12.5 per cent service charge, which is distributed among the staff, who run their own tronc system [in which some get slightly more than others, in an open, fair system]. I have nothing to do with it, and everything goes into it – we don't even take a percentage for admin on credit-card transactions.
I fully support the Fair Tips, Fair Pay campaign for the whole industry to adopt fair policies. I think the law needs to be changed because staff and customers never know where they stand. We already have a line on our menus to say that all tips are shared between staff. We want to make sure everyone knows what they're doing and what they're paying for."
Anthony Worrall Thompson - operates six restaurants, including Notting Grill, London
Marco Pierre White
"We add a standard 12.5 per cent service charge to bills, and that money is distributed to staff, from the kitchen porter upwards. The staff distribute cash tips among themselves. All I insist is that everything should be proportional: whatever there is at the end of the week is distributed fairly across the board. When I was a boy, chefs and front-of-house famously never got on, but now they get on very well because the tips are distributed fairly. At my restaurants, whatever you leave goes to every single member of staff who works there. I think it will be difficult to formalise tipping throughout the industry, but I hope customers build relationships with certain restaurants and find out whether the service charge goes to the staff. It's called a service charge, and I for one always assume that it goes to staff. I'd say 95 per cent of restaurants do that and I think that's correct. Restaurant staff work very hard."
Marco Pierre White - runs eight restaurants, including four branches of Frankie's in London, and The Yew Tree, in Newbury, Berkshire
"We have a 12.5 per cent discretionary service charge, all of which is shared among all staff according to a weighted tronc system. Cash is treated differently: if someone gives a £50 tip to a waiter, there's nothing I can do. It's all too easy to operate an unfair system because there's no law to stop it. Big chains can effectively put in place their own law. It shouldn't be allowed.
Of course I support the campaign to make it as clear as possible. But the customer also needs to ask more questions. The law should change, but it's also down to us to demand better service and make sure that the money goes to the right place."
Aldo Zilli - operates four restaurants in London and Brighton
"Unfortunately, Rick is not available to talk to you today, but I can confirm that Rick and Jill Stein's policy is always for staff to receive 100 per cent of all tips made in the restaurants, without any company deductions."
Spokesman for Rick Stein, who owns four restaurants in Padstow, Cornwall
"We have a 12.5 per cent service charge that is optional. Customers can leave cash tips on top if they want – 100 per cent of the service charge and credit-card tips go to kitchen staff and front- of-house at the end of the month. Cash tips go into a box and are divided at the end of the month."
Spokesman for Tom Aikens, who operates three restaurants in London
"I support absolutely The Independent's campaign. The fact that some bosses are keeping service charges is scandalous. As a result of the campaign, we've had people come into the restaurant and ask what happens to our service charge. I don't take a cent of it. So we are going to add a line to our menus by the end of the week to say that all the service charge goes to our serving staff."
Alain Lhermitte - owns Mon Plaisir, London's oldest French restaurant
Fair tips, fair pay
The Independent has set out three simple guidelines for fair treatment of waiting staff, asking that the Government introduce legislation to end the widespread unfair tipping practices adopted by many of Britain's restaurants:
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 of their menus.
3) All restaurant waiting staff should be guaranteed a basic salary of at least the minimum wage, excluding gratuities.
To have your say, and comment on general issues relating to our campaign, visit www.independent.co.uk/tipping. To comment on a specific restaurant or employer, please send an email, in confidence, to firstname.lastname@example.org, with "tipping" in the subject field.
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