Pizza Express waiting staff win back bigger slice of tips

Pizza Express

Pizza Express waiting staff have won back a bigger slice of their tips after a year-long campaign against a change that handed more to kitchen staff.

The restaurant workers were forced to take action after their share of tips and service charges paid on credit and debit cards was cut from 70% to 50% last year at a time when pay was already under pressure from social-distancing measures that limited the number of diners.

A shift to cashless payments during the coronavirus pandemic had also knocked back tips for staff.

After a campaign by workers backed by the Unite union, from this May, waiting staff will again receive 70% of tips made on credit cards, a change worth about £2,000 extra a year. Kitchen workers will get 30%.

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Waiting staff say they should receive a bigger share of tips and the service charge as they tend to receive lower hourly pay and fewer guaranteed hours than those in the kitchen and do not have an opportunity to receive a bonus.

One member of the waiting staff, who said it was a struggle to survive on the basic legal minimum wage they received, said that some colleagues had cried with happiness at the planned increase in the share of tips after months of financial struggle.

“The original decision was insane,” the worker said. “The change came in so suddenly that reasonably predictable earnings every month suddenly disappeared. Stuff had to be put on hold.”

Another said the change was a relief as they had already been forced to take on extra shifts to make ends meet and their energy bill had just risen by £100 a month and their council tax bill had also gone up.

“This is going to be a distinct improvement,” the worker said.

Unite’s general secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “This decision is long overdue and a welcome change. Pizza Express waiters have been fighting this ill-thought-out, unpopular and unfair tipping policy for over a year and have faced massive internal pressure from the company to stay silent and accept it.

“This victory sends a clear message throughout the hospitality sector that Unite will challenge and overturn unfair tipping policies.”

Card tips at Pizza Express, and many other restaurants, are managed via a “tronc” in which a committee of staff members decide on how they are allocated. However, unions and staff argue that the committees can be influenced by the restaurants who pay the fees of its head, usually an external consultant called a troncmaster.

After the campaign, a majority of the eight members of the committee, half of which are kitchen staff, voted to hand back 70% of tips to waiting staff.

A spokesperson for Pizza Express said: “The tipping policy is entirely employee-led.” They said the latest change had been made after a “planned review”.

They added: “100% of all tips continue to go to our restaurant teams and cash tips go directly to the server. Pizza Express pays the card fees to ensure 100% of tips go to the restaurant team.”

The change to tipping policy comes as hospitality businesses struggle to cope with rising costs because of rising energy and food prices as well as heavy competition for a dwindling pool of qualified workers caused by Brexit and the pandemic. Chefs are in particularly high demand.

The latest controversy over tips at Pizza Express comes six years after the company was forced to reverse a policy of taking an 8% “administration fee” from tips paid by card.

The government has promised to introduce legislation to ban restaurants from taking customer tips and service charge payments from workers. However, the legislation has yet to being introduced more than five years after a ban was first proposed.