When a restaurant bill says that service charge is included, most of us would trust that what we pay for our meal is being shared out between kitchen workers and waitstaff. But recent reports suggest that many restaurant owners are muscling in on their workers' tips first.
After investigations last year revealed that high street chains like PizzaExpress charge their staff "admin fees" for processing tips, it seems that high-end eateries are also in on the act. Iconic London department store Harrods was last week accused of keeping a large portion of waitstaff tips.
United Voices of the World union claimed that Qatar Holdings, the company that owns Harrods, was keeping up to 75 percent of the service earned by more than 450 workers in the department store's 16 restaurants and cafes. The union said that by keeping such a large portion of tips, Qatar Holdings was potentially reducing its employees' earnings by up to £5,000 a year.
— UVW (@UVWunion) January 8, 2017
Unsurprisingly, people weren't too pleased to hear this.
On Saturday, around 100 protesters led by United Voices of the World demonstrated outside Harrods Knightsbridge, calling for a more transparency in how tips are shared between Harrods staff and owners. The group blocked doorways, released smoke bombs, and placed notes around the store that read: "Harrods pinch 75 percent of their restaurant staff tips!! The tips are intended for waiters NOT the Qatari Royal family! Stop stealing from your workers!! [sic]"
— VelvetJoyProductions (@velvetjoyltd) January 8, 2017
MUNCHIES reached out to Harrods for a comment on the percentage of service charge it keeps and the amount distributed to waitstaff. A spokesperson didn't confirm the figure but said that the company was engaging with staff on the issue.
They said: "Harrods regularly revisits its policies to ensure that we best serve our employees and has been taking steps over recent months to review and improve the current system through which it distributes its service charge."
The outrage follows the news last month that chef Michel Roux Jr was keeping the service added to bills at his Michelin-starred restaurant Le Gavroche. Roux Jr has since apologised and announced plans to scrap tipping and instead increase menu prices to include service charge, which will be shared with waitstaff.
The situation at Harrods, however, is yet to be resolved.