Jeremy King has launched a voucher fundraiser to support employees who have been left in a "desperate situation" after the exclusion of tronc and service charge from the government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme saw their pay cut by up to 60%.
The Corbin & King co-founder has asked future diners to purchase vouchers or gift certificates to use at the group's restaurants once they are able to reopen, with 50% of all money raised going directly to top up the wages of employees.
In a recorded message the esteemed restaurateur, behind the Wolseley in Mayfair, Colbert in Sloane Square and Fischer's in Marylebone, said: "Since we closed the restaurants in March, we at Corbin & King have gratifyingly received so many messages of goodwill and what was noticeable was how often the sentiments were ‘how are the staff, will you be able to keep them, we hope they're OK'.
"If you'd asked me those questions a few weeks ago my answer would have been ‘yes, I think we can', because at that point the government had acted quickly and introduced the job retention scheme with the furlough provisions. We were therefore able to reassure our staff that they would at least be guaranteed 80% of their salary up to a monthly maximum of £2,500 – not that by any means would have even reached that threshold.
"Then came a terrible shock, like a knife that struck to the very heart of the catering industry, this was when it was announced that tronc or service charge could not be included in the calculation of wages."
King described the Treasury's decision as "illogical, irrational and discriminatory and frankly not in the spirit of the scheme".
Tronc and service charge payments are notified to HMRC and subject to tax, and the restaurateur pointed out that self-employed workers such as hairdressers would be able to include discretionary payments within their income when making their claims for remuneration.
Asking for assistance, he added: "We have done all we can, we topped up their wages in April and March, but our money is running out quickly and with the restaurant lockdown threatening to be much longer we can't continue to do so otherwise we will jeopardise the company's future."
Vouchers will be issued to be used at any of the group's restaurants or private dining rooms, with no time limit.