Is it time to kick the tip into touch?
Conservatives are instinctively reluctant to interfere with the affairs of business; so it’s a sign of just how frustrated the Government has become with the practices of foodservice operators around service charges that it has felt the need to take matters into its own hands.
Last week, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) unveiled new plans to end unfair tipping practices and increase transparency for consumers and employees.
Contained within a BIS consultation paper are three key policy objectives: that it should be clear to consumers that tips are voluntary; that tips should be received exclusively by workers; and that it should be clear and transparent to consumers and workers in terms of how the payments are treated.
In particular, the Government has made clear its intention to stamp out practices such as employers charging an administration fee for handling tips or even keeping the whole of these payments from workers who had rightfully earned them.
One of the options under consideration is to make the current voluntary Code of Practice, published back in 2009, a legal requirement for businesses; the tacit acknowledgement being that a voluntary Code is not working.
Tipping etiquette has long been a topic of dining room conversation – and awkwardness - for the British. This is partly a consequence of the waiting profession being historically undervalued in this country. Tips are often used to subsidise the meagre basic wage of employees meaning diners’ discretionary payments can be the only thing enabling serving staff to earn a reasonable living. This knowledge puts pressure on customers to leave a gratuity even when their service has not been of the highest order.
As someone with experience of the waiting profession I know just how demanding a job it can be – not just physically exacting but also requiring good people skills and a high level of technical expertise, especially at the fine dining end of the market.
Foodservice operators who value the work of their employees (of which there are many) should fully embrace any proposals the Government makes to give waiting staff a fairer deal.
Even better why not let’s avoid the obfuscation and chicanery altogether by scrapping the tipping system and simply paying staff a decent basic wage?
*A version of this blog was first published by Footprint magazine