Norwich restaurant accused as workers claim they don’t receive service charge

Bill's restaurant tipping policy. Former employee Ellis Langdon and current employee Laura Rose.Pict

Bill's restaurant tipping policy. Former employee Ellis Langdon and current employee Laura Rose.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

A Norwich restaurant has today been accused of allowing its customers to believe their service charge payments are going to staff, when they are in fact being kept by the company.

Bill's restaurant tipping policy. The Norwich restaurant at The Back of the Inns.Picture: ANTONY KEL

Bill's restaurant tipping policy. The Norwich restaurant at The Back of the Inns.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Three employees, two current and one former, have made the claims about the Norwich branch of Bill's, on Back Of The Inns, one of 72 of its franchises in the UK.

They claim staff do not receive a penny from the optional charge –which ranges from 10pc to 12.5pc depending on the time of day – despite company policy stipulating it be shared between every member of the team.

They also claim to have been told to say they do in fact receive the service charge money if asked and that it was common for managers to pull staff aside and question why customers had chosen not to pay the service charge, if it was removed.

Bill's, which has faced similar accusations at some of its restaurants elsewhere in the country, deny the claims and say employees receive all of the service charge money, once tax has been removed.

Bill's restaurant tipping policy. The Norwich restaurant at The Back of the Inns.Picture: ANTONY KEL

Bill's restaurant tipping policy. The Norwich restaurant at The Back of the Inns.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

However, Unite, Britain's biggest trade union, is calling on Bill's to investigate the allegations.

Current employee Laura Rose, 21, from London, says she began working at Bill's last September after returning to Norwich to continue her degree at UEA.

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Having previously worked at Carluccio's where she says staff kept whatever tips they received, Ms Rose said she was initially led to believe she would receive some of the service charge at Bill's.

She said: 'When I started I was told I wouldn't see much of the service charge, but they didn't tell me I wouldn't see any of it.

'One of the girls asked about it and said, 'where does the service charge money go?' and the manager said, 'if you don't like it you can leave'.'

She also claimed staff were told to tell customers they received the service charge were they asked.

Bill's started out as a small, family-run restaurant in East Sussex but has become an international business, with franchises across England, Scotland and Wales. In the year to August 2015, it posted a £12.5 million profit, a 63.1pc increase year-on-year.

Bill's employees receive an hourly base wage of £7, which is 30p above the minimum wage.

Any cash tips go directly to staff, however those we spoke to estimate they bring in about £100 worth of service charges per person per shift.

A current supervisor at the Norwich restaurant, who wanted to remain anonymous, also claimed the money from service charges did not go back to staff. The supervisor added: 'Head office, when questioned, always continues to say that the service charge does go to the staff.

'I was asked on several occasions to discuss the service charge with wait staff who were being asked by customers to remove it.'

Ellis Langdon lasted only a month at Norwich Bill's after moving from Northamptonshire to study environmental science at UEA.

The 24-year-old said the lack of money from service charges, made it unsustainable to continue working there.

'I came here with not much money so I need the tips,' he said.

'When a company keeps the service charge, I think it's a bit of a kick in the teeth. I thought, I need to look after myself here and just leave, because I can't afford to be doing 10 hours of work and getting nothing extra for it.'

Last year business secretary Sajid Javid pledged to investigate the payment of tips to waiting staff, amid claims some restaurants were pocketing them. The practice of keeping the service charges is not illegal unless they use the cash to take staff pay up to the minimum wage level.

Tomorrow: What happens to tips and service charge at other Norfolk restaurants?

• BILL'S RESPONSE

We put a dozen questions to Bill's head office on the allegations. They included:

What is the policy on staff tips/service charges? Employees at the Norwich chain of Bill's have claimed that they do not directly receive any of the money handed over by customers in service charges. What is your response?

Furthermore, staff members in Norwich allege they are instructed to deceive customers by covering up certain parts of the bill showing the service charge. What is your response?

Norwich staff allege management have discussions with them if service charges are taken off the bill at the customer's request top find out why and prevent it from happening. What is your response?

Your Norwich staff don't appear to know exactly where the money taken from service charges is going. Do you see this as an issue?

Is it a directive from head office to not distribute tips among staff?

Similar allegations have been made against other branches of Bill's across the UK. Will you now investigate these claims?

Bill's declined to answer our questions, choosing instead to issue the following statement via a spokesman: 'Employees of Bill's receive all of the optional service charge (after the deduction of relevant taxes imposed by HM Revenue & Customs).

'It does not go solely to the waiter in question but rather is distributed across the whole team within the restaurant.

'In the company's opinion, this is more equitable as it is the whole team's efforts that give rise to good service and a coherent team environment. This is clearly explained to everyone who joins Bill's as an employee.

'If we are made aware of any specific instance where a member of staff has tried to deceive a customer about the service charge we will investigate and take appropriate action.

'If a customer does not want to pay the service charge then this can be removed and if any cash tip is then left this goes directly to the waiter.

'The company does not receive any benefit from the service charge.'

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