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Food and Drink


THE VEXED question of tipping has been discussed in this column before, when the Restaurateurs' Association of Great Britain advocated legislation to levy a standard service charge on all meals served in restaurants (as in other European countries). That way there would be no doubt about how much one should leave, or who benefits from the arbitrary surcharge that many restaurants slap on top of the bill.

Then, the Gastropod's view was that legislation was unnecessary: restaurateurs should be free to make their own policy on service charges and the distribution of tips, so long as it was reasonable. Now, following a case in the High Court earlier this summer, the Pod is not so sure.

Sandro Nerva and three of his fellow-waiters at a London restaurant called Paradiso e Inferno sued their employers, on the grounds that they were being paid below the statutory minimum established by the 1979 Wages Council Act and the 1985 Wages Act. They argued that tips, although constituting a sizeable part of their income, should not be counted as part of their remuneration. They lost.

The judge made a distinction between cash tips, which the waiting staff split between themselves, and sums added on to a cheque or credit card voucher, which must be administered by the restaurant management. Any payment made to the restaurant becomes its property, and the restaurateur is not obliged to distribute money collected among the staff.

Obviously, restaurateurs could not maintain a brigade of competent waiters without paying them adequately and we, as grateful customers, must assume the tips are distributed equitably. But perhaps the time has come to establish a universal convention when it comes to tipping, so we all know where we stand.

In the meantime, the Gastropod's advice is to tip in cash. That way, there is less chance of the management withholding money from its staff, or of the taxman making an accurate assessment of their wages.

WITH THE scavenging season for Scottish chanterelles in full swing, the Gastropod was amused by the tale of a mycological mix-up on the food page of a Canadian newspaper. A recipe in the Ottawa Citizen called for chanterelles but, alongside, it published a picture of deadly poisonous Destroying Angels. The caption read: 'Wild Aura: Mushrooms add exotic taste to a meal'.

Although the Gastropod has been unable to discover exactly what a Destroying Angel looks like, such confusion is understandable, given the North American tendency to rename mushrooms to suit themselves. Pieds de Mouton, for example, are called Hedgehogs over there. Mind you, the yellow, trumpet-shaped fungus that the Scots are exporting in vast quantities to France are not what the French call chanterelles, either. They are giroles.