A restaurant group accused of forcing waiters to pay back 3% of their section's total spend at the end of each shift could be breaking minimum wage laws, according to an industry expert.
Aqua Italia's employees told the Bristol Post that the money was expected to come from their tips, but if they had not made enough during a shift it had to be paid from their own pocket.
After paying the 3% charge, said to subsidise staffing costs, waiters said they were also asked to give 10% of their tips to bar and kitchen staff.
Peter Davies, managing director of WMT accountants and adviser to hospitality businesses, told The Caterer: "Businesses would be well-advised not to operate these type of arrangements as they can leave an employee having to make up money from their own pocket.
"Quite apart from issues of fairness it can potentially result in a breach of the National Minimum Wage Regulations, which has serious consequences including public naming and shaming by HM Revenue & Customs.
"These problems can be avoided by operating a fair and transparent tronc system to share out to all team members proceeds of service charges and card tips as well as, if staff agree, cash tips.
"Whether directly or through a tronc system businesses should always ensure that staff keep their cash tips."
Aqua employees have claimed details of the pay back scheme are outlined in a contract staff must sign at the start of their employment, which was seen by the Post.
The revelations have prompted a backlash from customers and attracted the attention of Karin Smyth, Labour MP for Bristol South.
Smyth told The Caterer: "Restaurants are a really important part of the Bristol economy. This is a really shocking practise that exploits young people and is a fraud on the customer and it needs to end."
The Caterer has contacted Aqua restaurants for comment.
The group has restaurants in Bristol, Bath, Milton Keynes, Portishead, Worthing, and Lewes.
The government is currently considering the results of a consultation on tips, gratuities and and charges.
A document published by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills in May 2016 said it should be clear to consumers that service charges were voluntary, that tips should be received by workers and that it should be clear to diners how their payment would be treated.
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