High-street restaurant chain Carluccio's has been criticised for paying waiting staff £1.60 less per hour than the national minimum wage.
The operator, which last week reported half-year profits of £2.4m, pays its 300 waiters just £3.75 an hour, 30% less than the national minimum wage of £5.35, it emerged this week
The company then monitors tips and service to ensure they lift earnings to at least the minimum wage, or else makes up the difference, as it is legally allowed to do under recent changes to tronc rules.
But union body the TUC said employers should be operating to the spirit of national minimum wage legislation as well as the letter. "Staff should be allowed to take tips on top of the minimum wage," a spokesman said.
Frank Bandura, Carluccio's financial director, defended its policy. "The way we remunerate encourages their best efforts," he told The Independent. "Many staff earn 50% more than the minimum wage. I think it's less important who pays."
The government last week opened consultation on proposals to fine rogue employers up to £5,000 for paying staff less than the minimum wage. For more on this story, see tomorrow's Caterer.
By Daniel Thomas