Leading article: Service with a sting

When you go to a restaurant and leave a tip, whether in cash or before you tap out your pin number on the card machine, you surely do so in good faith.

You intend to add a reward for good service, and you believe that your contribution, however modest, will augment your server's – probably – low wages. As we report today, you could be wrong. And we are not talking a few insalubrious dives here, but some of our most popular and most highly regarded chains. Too often, it turns out, the money intended by customers for tips goes not to the staff, but to the owners.

The stratagems used by owners to divert tips from their waiting staff are many and various; for the most part, they are also – scandalously – legal. The most despicable is the use of tips to supplement an inadequate hourly rate and make it up to the legal minimum. In the worst case, servers receive no pay at all; their whole wage is made up of tips.

It cannot be right that the law allows employers to count tips as an integral part of the minimum wage. That was not what the minimum wage was instituted for. But it cannot be right either that a tip, intended as a compliment and encouragement, from individual diner to individual server, has become an essential component of a low wage.

We believe that, at very least, there should be full transparency.

Diners should know whether their tips reach the serving staff or not, and in what form. Until then, we encourage you to ascertain how the restaurants you patronise treat tips, and make your views known accordingly.