Downing Street signalled yesterday that it will back the campaign to ensure Britain's 231,000 waiters receive a fairer share of money left in tips.
Hours after The Independent published a front page story disclosing how restaurants pocket much of the money, Gordon Brown's official spokesman said the Government wanted to see a "fairer and more transparent" system and intended to make an announcement shortly.
The move came as public and political support flooded in for our Fair Tips, Fair Pay campaign, which seeks to ensure that restaurants operate fair and transparent systems for distributing gratuities to staff.
As we revealed, restaurants – including those run by some of the biggest names in the £37bn-a-year business – are using the service charge to pay basic wages. Many are also failing to pass on all gratuities to waiting staff or deducting charges for breakages or other problems. Among the chains dipping into the service charge to pay basic wages are Carluccio's, Café Rouge, Strada and Caffé Uno.
Yesterday we discovered further evidence of the practice, including its operation by the Zizzi and ASK chains owned by the company's biggest casual dining chain, Gondola Holdings.
At the Groucho Club in London, frequented by some of the capital's most fashionable diners, waiters are left with less than a quarter of the service charge left by customers.
As pressure for change built from all parties, Gordon Brown's spokesman said: "The Government believes we should make tipping fairer and more transparent. We are looking carefully at the options and hope to make an announcement shortly. This is a complex area but the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform is looking at it."
Meanwhile, a Commons motion backing our campaign was tabled by the Labour MP Michael Connarty, who has been fighting to close the loophole allowing restaurant owners to use tips for the national minimum wage.
The motion demands "an end to the present situation in the UK hospitality industry" where service charges, tips and gratuities are used to pay staff wages and calls on the Government "to ensure that all tips and gratuities are paid to staff in addition to at least the hourly national minimum wage rate".
Stephen Byers, the former Trade and Industry Secretary who introduced the minimum wage in 1999, asked John Hutton, the Business Secretary, for new legislation. In a written Commons question, Mr Byers called for all waiting staff to be guaranteed the minimum wage excluding gratuities and to receive all tips given by customers in full.
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, also backed our campaign, saying: "It is scandalous and a betrayal of trust that some restaurants are exploiting customers' generosity by not properly passing on tips to their employees.
The overwhelming majority of readers who left comments on independent.co.uk expressed irritation that money designed to reward good service was not being passed in full, if at all. One wrote: "I wholeheartedly agree with your campaign to ensure waiting staff in restaurants and hotels receive the tips left by customers in recognition of the good service they receive. It is iniquitous that employers 'steal' this money on too many occasions, and I have adopted the practice of leaving cash rather than adding a gratuity to the bill."
Another wrote: "When I leave a tip, it's for the person who gave me the service, not some other waiting staff I did not deal with and certainly not the owner."
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