Tip for tat? How best to reward restaurant staff

It’s four weeks now since employers had to start paying the National Living Wage. Staff in restaurants up and down the country should have noticed a slightly fatter pay packet over the last month. Good news, no?

Well, in theory, yes, for the employees at least, so long as they are over 25.  In cash terms it means someone on the new National Living Wage gets £7.20 an hour, unless they’re under 25, in which case they earn £6.70 if they’re 21, or £5.30 if they’re 18, or £3.87 if they’re under 18… Or, put another way and based on a 40 hour week, an employee on the National Living Wage will now be getting £14,976 (or £12,896 if you’re under 25). Not a king’s ransom, but a significant increase on what they earned on the Minimum Wage.

Disappointingly, a number of hospitality businesses have decided to make savings elsewhere – cutting staff benefits like free lunches or being paid for break times.  This is all in a bid to prevent passing on the increased costs to you the customer. But are restaurants reading their customers right? Our own research revealed that staff treatment was the number one sustainability issue for diners.

So are they missing a trick and flying in the face of public opinion? A 2014 survey by Censuswide asked over 1,000 people about their potential consumption choices in relation to employers that pay the Living Wage in the UK. The results indicated that 52% of shoppers were willing to pay higher prices if staff were paid the Living Wage; 61% would recognise the benefits in service from staff in pubs, restaurants and hotels if they were paid the Living Wage; and 4 in 10 would consider shopping elsewhere if their preferred store does not pay the Living Wage.

It’s too early to say if the new pay regime will be the wrecking ball that some restaurateurs have predicted. But it’s worth remembering that those who predicted the Minimum Wage would result in Armageddon were proved wrong.

Meanwhile, the last few months have seen a swathe of stories about restaurants being less than fair to their staff and far from transparent with their customers, when it comes to tipping. And there seems to be a growing appetite for change. Restaurant critic Jay Rayner wrote in the Observer this month: “Either we regard waiters as literally servile, to be rewarded at our whim. Or we think they have the right to the dignity of a wage that’s both reliable and reasonable. Do I need tell you I think the latter is the only way forward?”

Food Made Good Three Star Member The Gallivant took the bold step of scrapping tips and service charges and paying over and above the National Living Wage earlier this year. Owner Harry Cragoe says it’s been an overwhelmingly popular move with both staff and customers.

We’re really keen to know what you think on this issue. Tell us, would you be prepared to pay a wee bit more for your meal out, if you knew the staff were getting fairly remunerated and there wasn’t a service charge added. We’d love to hear your views – [email protected].

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