Pizza Express is facing a backlash from waiting staff after their slice of tips was cut in order to pay kitchen workers more.
The Unite union 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% when Pizza Express restaurants reopened this month.
Waiting staff said their take-home pay had been as much as halved as the shift to contactless payments had also led to fewer cash tips, which waiting staff keep in full.
One worker told the Observer: “My wages have nosedived. The reality is everybody I’m working with is on minimum wage – so that is council tax or a dental bill.”
She said customers would not be aware that only half the amount they paid in tips by card would go the person that served them.
Another worker said it in tips was a further blow on top of contract changes that meant waiting staff no longer had paid breaks or extra pay on Sundays or bank holidays.
“These were all things that kept us afloat while getting the minimum wage,” she claimed. She claimed waiting staff were given fewer hours than kitchen staff, had lower basic pay and had no opportunity for bonuses, and that these factors had not been taken into account when dividing tips.
“The reality is [waiting staff] have to rely on tips. When we signed the contract that was the understanding. We are not arguing that chefs and cleaners don’t contribute to service but we agreed to certain terms.”
Workers claimed the changes had caused conflict between waiting and kitchen staff and they felt they had not been properly consulted. Staff said they had found out about the changes only 10 days before restaurants reopened.
Card tips at Pizza Express are managed via a “tronc” in which a committee of staff members decide on how they are allocated. Workers said the members of the committee, led by a member of Pizza Express’s head office team, had not been elected by staff and minutes of meetings were not available.
Pizza Express said the decisions of the tronc committee were “entirely employee-led”. It said kitchen staff had also been awarded a pay rise by the company and this would take effect in July.
A spokesperson for Pizza Express said the decision to change tips was made in February last year and added: “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.”
The Unite trade union’s national officer for hospitality, Dave Turnbull, said: “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.
“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.”
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.