Do restaurant chains charge staff for walk-outs?

Prezzo, Loch Fyne and Carluccio’s are among the companies under fire for reportedly demanding that staff foot the bill when customers leave without paying.

In early March, the Guardian’s money editor Patrick Collinson wrote about an incident at an airport restaurant in which his waiter explained what happens when people “do a runner”.

“We have to pay their bill when they disappear. Yesterday it cost me £56,” the waiter said.

Collinson was “staggered”. He wondered if the deduction had pushed the waiter below the minimum wage for the day.

The restaurant in question was a franchise, with the airport in charge. Its response was to categorically deny that this was company policy.

Confused, Collinson encouraged readers and restaurant workers to write in with their experiences so he could understand who was telling the truth – the staff on the ground or those at company HQ. A follow-up has just been published with tales of similar situations at a number of big restaurant chains.

Loch Fyne (part of the Greene King Chain), Prezzo (part of the TPG group), Carluccio’s, Frankie & Benny’s (part of the Restaurant Group) and The Dome in Edinburgh were the ones named in the article by customers or staff.

The accounts are difficult to verify, of course, but each company denied that employees had to cover the costs of walk-outs.

In the 300 or so comments at the foot of Collinson’s article the answer of who pays for dishonest customers is equally unclear. In some cases it was suggested managers were implementing their own policies in order to protect their bonuses.

There was a similar case recently at Zizzi’s, part of the Azzurri Group. Buzzfeed News revealed in November that staff are “accountable” for the cash they handle.

“Zizzi has a policy that enables managers to make waiting staff foot the bill if customers leave without paying and for a catalogue of other ‘mistakes’, usually out of cash tips,” the site reported.

In a statement, the company said: "Waiter banking develops the cash handling skills of our front of house staff and drives respect and accountability for the cash that they are responsible for. [It] also supports our tipping policy whereby all cash tips go to the waiters and waitresses concerned.”

Footprint would be interested to hear what policies companies have in place to account for customers that flee without settling the bill. And whether this puts them in breach of minimum wage regulations.

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