Servers in southern England are tearing into their employer for imposing what amounts a literal “pay to play” scheme. To wait tables, Italian chain Aqua allegedly forces servers to pay the restaurant 3 percent of their nightly sales total, no matter what customers tip. Staff took complaints about the policy, which has apparently been in place for a while, to the Bristol Post earlier this week, with some telling the paper that they’ve lost “hundreds if not thousands of pounds in tips.” They liken Aqua to a contractor that’s “making people rent a section of the restaurant.”
Its explanation to employees — which the Post got ahold of — says it’s “completely down to” them how much they make. Minus the kitchen’s 10 percent, they keep whatever tips they make, so “the better you are at working your section and charming the customers then the better your tips are going to be.” In return, the restaurant says 3 percent of servers’ check sales are owed “to the company at the end of every shift.” This means that if a waitress had a nightmare of a night — big spenders collectively ate £2,000 worth of food, but being jerks, didn’t tip because they thought the pasta needed salt — she’d take home no gratuities, yet still owe £60. Workers say waving good-bye to £50 worth of tips at the end of the night isn’t uncommon, and one server tells the Post that he once even witnessed a co-worker “in tears” because she hadn’t earned enough, and the manager was making her withdraw money from a nearby ATM.
According to a “senior” staffer, Aqua’s owner believes that it’s servers’ fault if their tips don’t cover the 3 percent, since they’re clearly “not doing a good job.” The system of workers subsidizing their own pay strikes some legal experts as dubious, not least of all because the deduction doesn’t even appear in Aqua’s employee contracts. Aqua, meanwhile, has been conspicuously silent so far, despite labor groups descending upon locations to pass out angry leaflets and people vowing to boycott until the policy is removed.