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UK Cracks Down on Restaurants Stealing Tips From Servers

Tipping will still be optional, though

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Here's a tip: The UK has announced plans that would force restaurants to distribute tips to their staff and increase transparency for customers and employees, but would still allow tipping to be discretionary to consumers. Business Secretary Sajid Javid announced the proposals targeting tips and service charges today. Among them are three key objectives: 1. Make tipping discretionary to consumers; 2. Ensure that workers receive any tips they do get; 3. Make it "clear and transparent to consumers and workers in terms of how the payments are treated."

Following concerns that some employers were simply keeping tips for themselves, the proposals would force restaurants to add a disclaimer on bills regarding where any tips will go. "We've been very clear. As a one nation government we want workers who earn a tip to be able to keep it," said Javid, in a release. "That's why I, like many others, was disappointed by the tipping practices of some of our well-known chains. This has to change."

As reported by The Telegraph, the proposals could also mean that service charges often tacked on to bills would go away: "Many restaurants add a 10 or 15 per cent service charge to their bills. Ministers are concerned that this often leads to 'double tipping' because customers do not notice that they have already paid a service charge before leaving cash for their waiter." In other words, tipping is still an "opt-in decision," said Javid.

Dave Turnbull, an officer of British and Irish trade union Unite, told the BBC that the proposals are a "massive victory for all those waiting staff who have worked tirelessly to expose sharp practices in the hospitality industry." Turnbull added that changes would need to be passed into law to make them effective.

There is currently no legal requirement in the UK regarding the proportion of tips that go to employers and workers. A voluntary code of practice introduced in October 2009 was meant to increase transparency on tips and gratuities, but many in the country say the system remains unclear.

A call for comments from consumers revealed that 61 percent would like to see all tips going to the employee, while 23 percent are in favor of a tronc system (wherein tips are pooled together and the employer takes no part in determining how tips are distributed among staff).

The UK is also considering a ban or restriction on the fees paid by wait staff based on their sales during a shift.

In America, the tipping system remains in flux, too. Some restaurant owners — like Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer — are eliminating tips altogether, opting instead for all-inclusive menu pricing and higher wages for front and back of house employees. And employees of large national chains such as Red Lobster and the Cheesecake Factory are currently petitioning their employers to bring back automatic gratuities on large parties — a once-common practice that is now under scrutiny.

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