By Jamie Elliott
One of the UK’s larger and fastest growing restaurant chains has been accused of deceiving customers by using tips to pay rock bottom wages. Unbeknown to diners, upmarket eatery Bill’s is using the optional service charge added to customers’ bills to subsidise rates of pay as low as £7.00 per hour.
A recent graduate who this summer worked at a west London branch of the chain, which employs 2,200 staff in over 50 restaurants, told London Journalism Centre she felt “exploited, used and unappreciated” when she found out how tips were being used.
“I was shocked to find that Bill’s was using the service charge left by customers to top up the minimum wage to pay me just £7.00 per hour,” she said. “It felt fraudulent because the customers were paying 12.5% on top of their bills to go to tips and we saw next to none of it.”
Staff at an east London branch of Bill’s visited by London Journalism Centre also said they did not receive tips in addition to their hourly pay. One waitress said she was paid £7.00 per hour, which she said was made up of the national minimum wage [£6.50 per hour] topped up by the service charge left by customers. But she received nothing in addition to her hourly rate. Another waiter, who had worked in the restaurant for almost a year, said he was paid £7.50 per hour, but again, received none of the service charge on top of his pay.
Greg Hinchliffe, Finance Director at Bill’s, acknowledged that the firm used the service charge left by customers to pay wages throughout the restaurant, which, with the exception of managers, ranged from £6.50 to £10.00 per hour. But he added that if there was anything left in the service charge pot after wages had been paid this was passed on to staff at three month intervals.
“Where a restaurant finds it is building up a surplus [of service charge] this is distributed in full to team members on a quarterly basis – splitting across the entire team,” he said.
According to Dave Turnbull, Officer for the Hospitality Industry at Unite the Union, the restaurant chain is increasingly out of step with the rest of the industry.
“It’ll be news for customers of Bill’s that their tips for good service are being used to subsidise low pay. Many restaurant chains have turned their back on such sharp practices, but it would be appear that some like Bill’s are short changing staff and duping customers to squeeze out every last drop of profit. We’d question how such practices sit alongside the founding values that Bill’s markets itself on and urge the chain to get its house in order.”