Hawksmoor and Foxlow co-founder Will Beckett has urged his fellow restaurateurs to "be transparent" with customers over service charges and tipping, after two weeks of "really damaging" publicity for the sector.
Beckett spoke out after several national newspapers highlighted what they claimed were unfair policies in relation to the way in which the likes of Côte, Las Iguanas, Turtle Bay and Bill's divide service charge and tips up between staff.
The coverage had a detrimental effect not just on the way customers viewed the restaurant industry, but also on how people within the industry perceived the sector, he said.
"To people outside restaurants, I think it has suggested that this is an industry still where there aren't transparent, progressive employment practices, and that is really bad at a time when we have really just been getting up a head of steam about what a wonderful place to work this can be and we all recognise that there is a staffing shortage in the industry, although it is not something we feel particularly," he told The Caterer.
And he added: "To people inside the industry, I feel like the suggestion has been that if you want to do very well, you are going to need to make money a real priority at the expense of other things."
He said restaurants should make more of an effort to be transparent about what happens to the service charge and tips so that customers were clear on where their money was going and why.
"Part of the outrage that is being felt is all the customers think that their money is going to staff and they feel like they are being hoodwinked," he explained. "I feel like everyone ought to be totally transparent. So on all our menus we say all the money you pay goes to staff and I feel like it would be a good thing if everyone does the same.
"I do know that everyone runs their business in a different way and I don't think that everyone is being incredibly cynical. I think that some people are doing it for what they think are the right reasons."
Hawksmoor, which has been ranked in the Sunday Times Best Companies To Work For top 100 for four years in a row is currently the highest-rated restaurant company in the list in 12th position, runs a tronc system and pays the entire service charge it levies on bills to its staff, aside from any administration fees charged by credit card companies.
"I feel like Hawksmoor - and by the way we are not the only ones by any means - is a company that demonstrably does very well but does things the right way. I feel that we have very clearly got our priorities with money a distance behind the people that work here, the restaurants that we open, the food and drink that we provide," Beckett said.
"We personally don't make any money from the tronc. We don't use any of the money to cover any of our staffing costs that might be incurred doing it, we just let the credit card company take the money they take and then we give every penny of the rest of it to the staff. And we distribute it not just to front of house but to chefs, pot washers, bar backs, managers - anyone that is involved in running a restaurant and making sure that the customer has a nice time."
Beckett's comments came as Hawksmoor Group, which started life as one restaurant launched in 2006 by Beckett and his business partner Huw Gott, unveiled increased turnover and profit for 2014. Turnover for the year, which saw the business open one new restaurant in Knightsbridge, was up slightly to just under £30m, while EBITDA rose from £4.8m to just over £5m.
The group will grow to 10 restaurants after it has opened two new Foxlows in London, on the sites of what were Sam's Brasserie and Bar in Chiswick and Harrison's in Balham. It currently runs two Foxlow restaurants and six Hawksmoor sites.