31 January 2005 by

Restaurant industry rolls over too easily

I'm writing in response to the article on cash-back (Caterer, 9 December, page 8). Where a tronc exists, responsibility for operating PAYE on the distribution may lie with the troncmaster, with or without a committee. Employees are already liable for their own tax on their present cash tips. Hardy's makes all the tax implications clear to staff, and makes them aware of their own responsibilities.

On reading Peter Davies's views, Hardy's might be able to offer a choice to staff that either we process their individual tips through our payroll or offer assistance on self-assessment.

Peter Davies said: "Does any restaurateur really want to see their employees placed in this position?" The onus is on the troncmaster, not the restaurant. Restaurateurs have been placing restaurant troncmasters in a far worse position for years, without any thought and in many cases not advising the troncmasters as to the potential financial liabilities for which they are held responsible.

The tronc system may be worth at least £1.5b a year to the Inland Revenue but this hasn't stopped its policymakers instigating "Project Gourmet", seeking vast amounts for small errors in a very grey legal area that is the "tronc". Hardy's has had two years of investigation by the Revenue's compliance department on casual payments and tronc, only for the Revenue to achieve nothing on all counts. I fail to see, if there's no increase in the level of PAYE payment, why the business should be subjected to a compliance review.

The credit card companies don't facilitate a direct cash-back but a "cash returned tip" that is quantified on our bill and filled in by the customer, then totalled. A tip is cash whichever way you look at it.

We were holding cash for the tronc paid on credit cards and giving the tronc cash at the end of the week so it could be regarded as a "delayed cash-back". Now we return it to the table at the time of transaction.

A discretionary service charge would be paid though payroll and attract PAYE and NIC, and this would also count towards the minimum wage, so you wouldn't have a "tronc" system in place.

Customers can tip in any way they choose. They will also know that our staff actually receive their tips.

I think our industry rolls over too easily in the face of blatant and unjust practices - for example, "Project Gourmet", where money which could be legally doubtful has not been challenged in the courts.

The collection of these vast amounts is based only on a biased Revenue view, therefore should be viewed as suspect. What are we doing about Ken Livingstone's congestion charge fiasco, and now chip and PIN, which is designed for retail and not the UK restaurant trade?

Nick De Bastarrechea

Hardy's, London

Patients do care where the cabbages come from

Inside Health (Caterer, 2 December) was an excellent set of articles, but I have to take issue with Matthew Merritt-Harrison, who is quoted in the news story about the Better Hospital Food initiative. He has clearly missed the point with regard to the key role NHS trusts can play in the sustainable development of their local communities.

In Cornwall, we've been pursuing sustainable principles with regard to food purchasing for several years. The impact local purchasing can have on the community is demonstrable and lasting.

All five trusts in Cornwall are currently working in partnership with Objective One, the Soil Association, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and PASA to increase our purchasing within the South-west, which will in turn create jobs and improve the social wealth, health and wellbeing of people living within a depressed economic area.

Patients and customers do care passionately where their cabbages and cauliflowers come from, and are concerned about food miles.

Local purchasing includes ice-cream, award-winning local cheeses, and yogurt produced on the Lizard peninsula. All meat is sourced in the South-west, and in the new year the trusts will be able to take advantage of a new fresh fish contract.

Trusts should embrace sustainability wholeheartedly, and understand that their patients do care where their food comes from.

Mike Pearson

Acting head of hotel services, Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, Truro, Cornwall

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