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Pizza Express under fire over rip-off tips

Written by: Emma Lunn
Union Unite is demanding a ‘hospitality tipping law’ as Pizza Express cuts the proportion of tips handed to waiting staff.

Unite said workers would lose an average of £2,000 a year after their share of tips paid via credit and debit cards, or the company’s app, was suddenly reduced from 70% to 50%.

It’s calling for the government to introduce legislation to prevent employers ripping off tips given to staff.

On 17 May, the day restaurants reopened after lockdown, Pizza Express increased the 30% previously deducted from waiting staff tips to 50%. The deduction is being used to boost the wages of kitchen workers.

But Unite says this is “depriving minimum wage waiting staff of a sizable chunk of their income”. The union believes Pizza Express has increased tip deductions so that it doesn’t have to pay kitchen staff competitive wages.

Unite has waged a long running campaign for fair tips and has been critical of the government’s inaction. Despite promising to tackle such tipping abuses three times – in 2016, 2018 and during the Queen’s Speech in 2019 – the Conservatives have failed to introduce legislation that would do so.

Dave Turnbull, Unite national officer for hospitality, said: “Unfortunately Pizza Express, like far too many hospitality employers, appears to see its members of staff less as human beings and more as assets to be used or disposed of at will.

“It was only a few months ago that Pizza Express fired 2,500 loyal employees instead of registering them on the job retention scheme. Now the company is seeking to hire 1,000 workers, a process made more difficult by sector-wide labour shortages.

“But rather than pay kitchen workers competitive wages to attract applications, Pizza Express is boosting back of house pay by depriving its minimum wage waiting staff of their hard-earned tips, which form a substantial part of their income. This policy will only lead to more staffing problems, as poorly remunerated workers vote with their feet and potential new hires decide to apply elsewhere.

“Hospitality employers like Pizza Express should not be taking advantage of low paid waiting staff and pitting its employees against each other. Instead, restaurants should pay their kitchen workers a decent wage and allow front of house staff 100% of their hard-earned tips.”

Card tips at Pizza Express are managed via a ‘tronc’ system. A tronc is a separate organised pay arrangement used to distribute tips, gratuities and service charges. Pizza Express says its tronc committee of staff members decides how tips are allocated. But workers said the members of the committee had not been elected by staff and minutes of meetings were not available.

Unite is calling on the government to deliver on its 2019 Queen’s Speech commitment and bring in its promised Fair Tips legislation. It says this must include a statutory code which provides access to remedy for workers who believe Tronc decisions are being unfairly manipulated to the benefit of their employer.

Pizza Express announced in September that it would be closing 73 restaurants, putting 1,100 jobs at risk, due to the pandemic.

A Pizza Express spokesperson said: “In February 2020 our employee-led Tronc committee decided to update the way that our restaurant teams share out the tips they receive, so that 100% of all restaurant tips would be split 50/50 between front of house and back of house team members. Previously it was split 70/30. The UK went into lockdown in March 2020 and our restaurants closed before this could be implemented. The committee decided instead to implement it from 17 May 2021, as restaurants reopened again.”

Pizza Express added that the Tronc system is only relevant to tips via credit and debit cards, with cash tips going directly to the server. It said that the Tronc committee was employee-led with the decision about tips not coming from senior management, and that a 50:50 split between front of house and back of house staff was common in the industry.

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