Tipping: top chefs turn up the heat

Ex-minister 'regrets' tips loophole in minimum wage deal
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The Independent Online

The Independent's campaign for fair tips has won the backing of leading chefs, politicians and restaurant guides. Marco Pierre White, Antony Worrall Thompson and Giorgio Locatelli all demanded an end to the widespread abuses of Britain's waiters and waitresses.

The editor of Britain's gastronomic bible, the Michelin Guide, backed the campaign and said he was considering listing the tipping policy of every restaurant in future editions to provide transparency for customers.

The campaign also received the backing of Pizza Hut, which has 450 restaurants around the country, and The Good Food Guide, Harden's Restaurant Guide and Time Out Eating and Drinking.

Meanwhile, a former minister disclosed the Government did a secret deal with restaurateurs so they could pay their staff less than the national minimum wage and make up the difference through customer service charges.

Ian McCartney said yesterday that there was strong lobbying by the hospitality industry for the practice to be allowed and he apologised for its effect on waiters and waitresses.

"I regret that some employers decided to use it in the way they have done," he said. "It was never intended that the Minimum Wage Act should be used in this way. A service charge is for service, to show the goodwill of the customer. It should not be a contribution to paying wages, which should already be covered in the meal costs."

Mr McCartney, a former waiter and chef, ensured that the legislation banned employers from using cash tips to top-up low wages to take staff over the minimum wage. But he confirmed that the Government bowed to industry pressure to use service charges.

"I put my hand up. It was a compromise," he said. "There was a genuine desire for a consensus over the minimum wage. We didn't want business to undermine it." The former Labour Party chairman said the loophole should now be closed. He backed The Independent's "fair tips, fair pay" campaign and urged the Low Pay Commission, which oversees the minimum wage, to investigate the evidence that employers are creaming off tips and service charges.

As The Independent reported earlier this week, the leading chains Carluccio's, Café Rouge, Strada and Caffé Uno funnel tips into paying basic wages. Others, such as Zizzi and ASK, fail to pass on gratuities on credit and debit cards as rewards, while some establishments keep all of the service charge.

Under the current law, restaurateurs are legally entitled to do more or less whatever they wish with tips. Service may or may not be included in the bill, typically with a "discretionary" 10 per cent or 12.5 per cent service charge.

Many diners are unsure whether to tip and, if so, whether to leave the money in cash or on a credit card. That has angered many leading chefs.

Giorgio Locatelli, the star of London's Italian restaurants, said: "Whether it's a discretionary service charge that's added to a bill, or cash left on a table, I think all tips should go to the staff."

Marco Pierre White, Britain's first chef to be awarded three Michelin stars, said: "Staff work very hard and I think all tips should go to them."

Antony Worrall Thompson said yesterday: "I fully support the fair tips, fair play campaign for the whole industry to adopt fair policies. I think the law needs to be changed because we don't have any proper regulations governing service. Staff and customers never know where they stand and something needs to be laid down so we're on a level playing field."

Despite spending almost two decades in the industry, the chef and restaurateur Mark Hix said that even he had been "shocked" by some of the practices employed by restaurant owners.

Meanwhile, Derek Bulmer, editor of Britain's Michelin Guide, said he would seriously consider divulging what happens to money left by customers for service alongside reviews of each of restaurant.

Mr Bulmer, the guide's editor for eight years, said new symbols could be attached to the entry for a restaurant detailing its policy on tips, including whether they went to staff.

"We send an annual questionnaire to restaurants asking about opening hours and so on. We could ask them at the same time what's their policy on tipping," he said.

"It would be very easy to create a new symbol. It could be done. We would have to ask several questions: 'Are your prices fully inclusive? Do you have a service charge? And what happens to the service charge or the tip customers leave on the table?"

"Anything that improves the mess that exists at the moment would be welcome," he added.

Editors of the Which?, Time Out and Harden's restaurants guides also called for reform of the current system of tipping, which they called unfair to staff and confusing for customers.

Richard Harden, co-editor of the Harden's guide, said the sheer confusion offered by the system was awkward for diners.

He and Mr Bulmer suggested British restaurants adopt the French model of paying waiting staff better, doing away with the need for tips, which would be given only for exceptional service. "Your doctor's a professional and you wouldn't give him a tip if you lived," Mr Harden said. "We think it would be really nice if there was a bit of consistency."

He said he would consider advising readers on how best to navigate the maze of modern tipping in future editions of the London and UK Harden's guides.

Guy Dimond, editor of Time Out Eating and Drinking, warned that so long as restaurants could abuse service charges, they would.

Displaying a restaurant's policy on tipping was unnecessary, he suggested: new legislation was required to stamp out the minimum wage loophole. He said: "I think it would be far better if the Government pulled its finger out and sorted this out once and for all. "My advice to diners is to ask the waiting staff how they would like to be tipped."

Elizabeth Carter, consultant editor of the Good Food Guide, strongly supported our campaign. "Tipping is an absolutely appalling situation at the moment," she said.

"From a consumer's point of view, you go to the restaurant and pay a 10 per cent or 12.5 per cent charge and you have no idea whether that's going to the person who has served you and who has helped make your evening a success."

* The Independent is changing its policy. From 26 July onwards, the Saturday magazine will clearly state each restaurant's policy on tipping when it is reviewed.

Have your say on any general issues. If you have points on a specific restaurant or employer, rather than post in our 'Join the Debate' section (above), please email features@independent.co.uk with "Tipping" in the subject line.