Hands Off My Tips!

UK restaurant owners are stealing tips - legally

UK restaurant owners can legally steal tips – and they do.

Besides all the other things that regularly wind me up (planetary injustice, border controls etc) there is a more local issue that is seriously beginning to piss me off: tips. Or rather, stolen tips.

Yep, that’s right. My tips in restaurants are being stolen. Yours are too. And it’s all happening fully within the bounds of the law.

It’s completely legal for restaurant owners in the UK to nick all of the service charge that you pay at the end of your meal, whether you pay by cash or credit card.

The system has been shady for a while – you may remember reading a few years back about a campaign (led by The Independent newspaper) to push to get the law changed.

Back before 2008, restaurants from Cafe Rouge to Carluccios were using the service charge on our bills to top-up their staff wages and bring them up to the legal minimum wage. Yes, pretty shocking. Our tips were used by the restaurant owners to make sure that their staff got the bare minimum – and no more.

So after sustained public pressure and much huffing and puffing from our less-than-honourable politicians (busy no doubt pocketing their own self-declared ‘tips’), the law changed. In 2008, it became illegal for restaurants to use staff tips to top up wages.

What difference has that made? Absolutely none – this is why:

The restaurants are still allowed to pocket those tips, the only difference is they’re not allowed to put them towards staff wages. Well it doesn’t take a city slicker to figure out that they just divert the money somewhere else. So the staff still get the same amount of cash (minimum wage) and still don’t get their tips. So nothing’s changed.

But it gets worse. Even if the tips are given to staff, the government advice says it’s fine for the restaurant to define its own arbitrary ‘processing charges’ for handling credit cards and related admin. Why they should be allowed to do this is totally beyond me – I’ve never been to a restaurant that charges me more because I’m paying by credit card.

100% of the service charge should be paid to staff, whatever it’s called and however it’s paid.

But there is a silver lining to all this rather depressing news. Well, bronzish lining.

Whereas before 2008 waiting staff could be disciplined by their restaurant for telling you that their bosses pocketed their tips, they’re now legally protected to tell you the truth. That might not sound like a big deal, but I’ve found that in every restaurant I’ve asked, the waiting staff are more than happy to tell me what’s going on with their tips. They’re understandably pissed off that their money is being nicked and hardly anyone seems to know about it – or care.

So here’s an idea: let’s start a website naming and shaming the restaurants that steal our tips while also highlighting the good guys that value their staff. That way we can support the decent restaurants and spurn those run by greedy bosses. Who knows – maybe a bit of public naming and shaming will get them to change their practices?

All you have to do is ask the waiter when you pay your bill whether the service charge goes to the staff. Then let me know the response (either in the comments below or by email) and when we’ve got enough we’ll launch this website. Site name suggestions welcome (handsoffmytips.org.uk ?)

Here are the last few cafes/restaurants I’ve visited:

  • Albion Cafe (trendy cafe in Shoreditch). Steals tips.
  • Gallipoli (Turkish cafe chain on Upper St, Islington). Steals tips.
  • Taste of Siam (Thai, Camden High Street). Steals tips.
  • Tequila Tex Mex (Bayswater/Notting Hill). Steals tips. (Place is a shithole with laminated menus and pictures of the food. Best to avoid anyway).
  • La Porchetta (Italian pizzeria, Stroud Green Road, Finsbury Park). Steals tips.
  • Pizzeria Pappagone (Italian pizzeria, Stroud Green Road, Finsbury Park). Gives staff tips!

Yes, it’s a pretty depressing start, but there are some good guys out there (and has helped me make the difficult choice between Pappagone and Porchetta as my local Italian..)

So next time you eat out, ask the question:

Do all tips – made by credit card or cash – go to the staff?

And let’s smoke these thieving restaurant bosses out!

5 Responses to “Hands Off My Tips!”


  • Thieves!

    Some more for Hands off My Tips!:

    DA POLPO – Chi-chi Italian tapas (that’s not a typo, that’s how concept it is) place in Covent Garden. Steals card tips but gives cash tips to staff.

    PETEK – Turkish restaurant with pretty twinkly lanterns on Stroud Green Road, Finsbury Park. Gives all tips to staff. Hooray – It would be sad to give up Petek.

  • GROES INN , CONWY, N. WALES
    The owners take a HUGE cut straight from the till when they want something nice. All this while I was having a meal. I asked the waitress and she seemed to think it was regularly happening as her tips had plummeted and it was peak season ….appauling.

  • I am not sure if you’re aware but a lot of companies are aware that their staff will be asked the question of where their tips go to.To combat this, they threaten the staff, telling them that all of their tips will be taken away if they do not LIE to the customers by telling them that they receive all tips, even when this is 100% inaccurate.I left a place after working there for one day, having learned that although the waiters keep their cash tips, 40% has to be tipped out and given to the bar/kitchen staff. 100% of the credit card tips goes to the company and is used to pay the kitchen staff wages. It is beneficial for the company to receive card tips and so this is actively encouraged.In fact, a certain amount has to be met each month and when this is not reached, all tips are taken away, including cash tips.

  • This practise is an absolute outrage and out and out theft.
    Firstly I worked in hotels, restaurants and pubs for a long time and we kept our own tips in those days or shared them amongst all the restaurant staff.
    Secondly when I go out for a meal and I get very good service from the waiting staff I like to tip them accordingly and also the more they give the more they get!
    I am outraged that managment and owners think they should be allowed to steal the tips of these hard working people, how DARE they?! And also how is that encouraging hard working and happy work ethics and enviroment.
    It is utterly disgraceful! And the government should act to stop it now!
    Here are a couple of places I would like to name and shame:
    THE PAVILION HOTEL in York where the delightful owner pockets the tips and robs her hard working staff.
    PICCOLINOS, greedy managment rob their hard working staff.
    This needs to be sorted out and the staff themselves are often to scared or bullied into not speaking out. Tnis is exploited even more because of unemployment being as it is.

  • sorry to disappoint you but Pappagone steals tips as well,what the owner does he gives some of it back but unfortunately for the staff no one knows the citeria and most important the total amount, I can prove it as I use to manage there so please take that off the list of the good ones please.And in total honesty I believe 90% of restaurants do it.I have worked in the industry for 14 years in london at all levels and let me tell you this is shameful situation!I am prepared to come forward and get people to sign up for this to be changed!only way out of this is as follows:teach everyone(potential costumers)to say I do not believe that the tips goes directly to staff therefore I do not want to pay service charge as is optional,and let’s say total bill is £ 50 service is £ 6.25 take a fiver and stick in the waiter/ess pocket! but please guys let’s get together and do something active about this!restaurant bills will be cheaper staff will get more and finally bosses will go for a fiat 500 rather then a BMW

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