One of Britain's fastest-expanding restaurant groups fails to pass on all tips left by customers to staff at two of its chains, The Independent has discovered.
As the campaign for fair tipping gathered fresh political support, Clapham House Group confirmed that staff at Tootsies and the Real Greek received only a "proportion" of the 12.5 per cent service charge automatically added to bills.
The company would not disclose how much staff received from the "optional service charge". At its biggest chain, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, there is no service charge because the food is served over the counter. At chains where there is table service, Tootsies and the Real Greek, serving staff are allowed to keep cash tips in line with the practice of most restaurants.
"Waiting staff do receive a proportion of the service charge," said a spokeswoman for Clapham House, which had annual sales of £60m last year. "The remainder is used in a variety of ways, including the funding of staff bonuses, staff welfare and very competitive salaries."
She added: "Clapham House are about to introduce a pilot scheme in one restaurant where customers will only be able to leave a cash tip for the staff. We will examine whether customers and staff prefer this approach."
The company, which owns 25 Tootsies and six Real Greeks, said it did not dip into tips to top up salaries to the minimum wage.
As The Independent reported this week, several chains, including Strada, Café Rouge and Caffè Uno, pay less than the minimum wage and use money from the service charge to reach the legal minimum. Two chains operated by Gondola Holdings, the country's biggest restaurant operator, Zizzi and Ask, also use a portion of the gratuities added by customers on credit and debit cards to pay the minimum wage.
Yesterday pressure mounted in Parliament for the Government to outlaw unfair tipping practices. The Liberal Democrats tabled an amendment to a Commons Bill aimed at stopping restaurateurs from diverting money from tips to top up wages to the minimum. Sarah Teather, the party's spokeswoman on business and enterprise, said that the amendment to the Employment Bill would close the legal loophole, if passed.
MPs from all parties have signed a Commons motion calling on the Government to change the law to ensure that waiters receive all tips in addition to the minimum wage. The motion has been signed by 40 MPs: 25 Labour, seven Liberal Democrats, four Tories and three from other parties. It backs The Independent's campaign, which began on Tuesday and which yesterday won support from the television chefs Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
Jamie Oliver's Fifteen chain ensures that frontline staff receive all cash tips and service charges. In a statement, the Fifteen Foundation said: "Each restaurant at Fifteen has its own pool for credit card tips and an additional payment made into the fortnightly pay. This is calculated fairly based on the number of hours worked over that two-week period. No money is withheld by management."
Gordon Ramsay Holdings, which operates the chef's Michelin-starred establishments, passes on all its 12.5 per cent service charge to restaurant staff, after the deduction of a small credit card charge.
"Gordon Ramsay Holdings are happy to back your campaign," a spokeswoman said.
Fearnley-Whittingstall said any tipping at his River Cottage Canteen in Axminster, Devon, was discretionary. "Whether the tip is cash or on a credit card, it is split equally among the waiting staff and kitchen porters and is additional to their salary," his spokeswoman said. She remarked: "This is a subject and campaign we feel strongly about and are keen to have the opportunity to support."
The National Consumer Council urged individual restaurants to display their tipping policies. Philip Cullum, acting chief executive of the publicly-funded organisation, believed that many diners would be "shocked" by the current practices of the £37bn-a-year restaurant business.
He said: "The National Consumer Council wholeheartedly supports The Independent's campaign to make tipping fairer for both diners and employees.
"Customers give tips to recognise and reward good service, and many would be shocked to learn of leading restaurant chains profiting by abusing this system. Where the full amount of the tip is not going to the waiting staff, this should be made crystal clear to customers on both the menu and the bill."
To have your say and comment on issues relating to our campaign, visit independent.co.uk/tipping. To comment on a specific case, please send an email, in strict confidence, to email@example.com, making sure to put 'tipping' in the subject field.