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Viewpoint: Let's be clear – it's always best to be transparent about who receives the tip

27 May 2016

It's all too easy for the misinformed to assume the worst and tar all restaurants with the same brush when it comes to the question of keeping tips, says Andrei Lussmann, founder of Lussmanns Fish & Grill

As a restaurateur, what stands out most in the ongoing debate about tipping is the complexity of the issue and the misinformation in its reporting. Even the title of the newly announced Government Consultation on Tipping, Gratuities, Cover and Service Charges (a 37-page document) illustrates the confusion between voluntary and mandatory charges. Our position has always been that gratuities should be given at the diner's discretion and go directly to staff. We take an ethical, transparent approach and consult employees about any changes, such as our recent move after 12 years of cash tips only to accepting gratuities on credit cards.

Columnists talk a good game about the welfare of staff, often believing restaurants to be dodgy bastions of the old ways, where oily bosses in sweaty nylon suits pocket the tips and staff are regularly beaten after working a 16-hour shift. I am afraid that this is a misconception peddled by those who, generally, have not worked in hospitality and exacerbated by the well-meaning chattering classes.

The vast majority of those who run or operate a business understand fully the need to inspire staff and also appreciate that pay is important, but not absolute. Welfare, opportunity and an actively open door environment rank alongside salary and benefits.

The industry does need to continually review and evolve best practice through self-regulation, but the recent increase of often tribal witch hunts does nothing except create resentment and bad press. If customers really care, as with the ethics of their chosen restaurant, they should perhaps vote with their feet (and their wallets) more often to encourage positive change.

The recent law underpinning the need to keep credit card gratuities separate from staff wages and focus on a more robust tronc platform was welcome. Thus, the old offering of restricting restaurants building up the minimum wage using tips has, thankfully, now become defunct.

We should also remember that our excellent front-of-house staff have, in the past, made a slightly unfair fortune, with little finding its way to workers behind the scenes. Never was the Three Musketeers' motto of 'all for one and one for all' more relevant than when managing a restaurant team. Hence, the growth in popularity of the tronc has helped to massage out the bumps in what has previously been a rather unfair system - looking after everyone from the kitchen porters to the manager.

Gratuities, as a discretionary reward for service, are not just the preserve of those in hospitality - they also act as an informal bonus enjoyed by cabbies, hairdressers, postman, builders and delivery drivers alike. Unfortunately, this furore, and the frequent misconceptions about how hospitality works, will only encourage some customers to refrain from tipping completely.

As with many restaurants, we will continue to advertise our policy and, most importantly, distribute 100% of all gratuities to the staff on shift.

This article originally appeared on Andrei Lussmann's blog.

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Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

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