The Bristol Post has reported that waiters at Aqua Italia, which has seven sites in the South and West of England, say they have to effectively ‘pay to work’ under the policy.
Though the fee is supposed to be taken out of tips, staff claim they are forced to cover the costs from their own pocket if they haven’t earned enough to cover the levy.
Sam Rimmer, a former waiter at the group, said one of the managers told him that the money from the charge was used to subsidise staff wages.
“Basically they’re making people rent a section of the restaurant, if you want to work there you have to pay,” Rimmer told The Post.
“I’ve actually heard [the operations manager] say they should be getting tips and if they don’t that’s their own fault.
“I covered a few shifts in Milton Keynes and the waiters would even have to pay 3% on groups coming in for drinks. A few people having drinks don’t usually tip so a couple of bottles of wine can add up then you have to pay 3% of that bill out of your own pocket.”
The Post saw documents staff were asked to sign at the start of their employment agreeing to the policy.
Several former employees said they had resigned because of the practice.
Restaurant tipping policies have repeatedly made headlines in recent years. In 2015 high street chains including PizzaExpress and ASK Italian faced backlash for leveraging an administration charge on card tips to cover the costs of running a tronc system.
Last year Zizzi said it would reconsider the ‘wording’ of its cash handling policy after claims staff pay and tips were used to cover ‘mistakes’ such as diners leaving without paying.
The British Hospitality Association’s code of practice advises restaurants make it clear to customers how non-cash tips are distributed or used to cover costs.
BigHospitality has contacted Aqua Italia for further comment.