Restaurants tips and service charges – how much to give and who gets the money

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Hospitality workers fear plans to force their employers to hand over tips given to staff will not be included in next week’s Queen’s Speech.

The Government unveiled plans to ‘overhaul tipping practices’ in September 2021. The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy said the proposals would help two million workers get more money, by stopping their employers from keeping card tips or service charges for themselves.

But – as the Financial Times reports – Boris Johnson is said to be scrapping the plan. The FT cites a Government source who says it will be shelved for the “foreseeable future”.

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Under the proposal, business minister Paul Scully and the Department for Business said they would “make it illegal for employers to withhold tips from workers.”

They added: “The move is set to help around 2 million people working in one of the 190,000 businesses across the hospitality, leisure and services sectors, where tipping is commonplace and can make up a large part of their income.



A person paying for the bill using a contactless payment method with a credit card.

“This will ensure customers know tips are going in full to workers and not businesses, ensuring workers receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”

Unions are furious at the “betrayal” following reports the new law won’t be included in the upcoming Queen’s Speech. Labor says Mr Johnson has broken a promise made to service staff as the cost of living crises worsens.

Unite union general secretary Sharon Graham said: “A hospitality worker can lose thousands of pounds a year from their earnings when the employer refuses to hand over their tips. In a sector notorious for long hours and low wages, tipping misappropriation is another abuse. If the Government won’t fix it, Unite will.”

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Whether or not to tip in restaurants – or anywhere where you get service – can be confusing in Britain, especially in situations when a service charge is added to the bill. And, as the current controversy shows, it is not always clear who is getting your service charge, or tips, which are often made via card payments nowadays.

Should I tip waiters in restaurants in Britain?

Tipping in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is essentially voluntary. It is not formally expected in the UK as it is in the USA, but it is appreciated. In general, if you have received a service you have liked or appreciated, then tipping is a kind of thing to do.

As a rule of thumb, if you get table service, then tipping is often normal. That doesn’t mean you should never tip at a bar though, if the service has been good – or say, a bartender has spent a lot of time on your round of complicated cocktails – then ask if you can leave one.

Also, check your bill. If there is a service charge added to the bill, then that is your tip. Sometimes it will be a compulsory service charge – which menus should make clear. Other times it is technically voluntary and you can ask not to pay it. You may want to ask your waiter if they see any of that service charge money.

While cash tips are generally accepted, it is becoming increasingly common to tip on debit and credit cards. Often customers are given an option to add a ‘free’ to their bill when they are given the card machine. Again, you might want a quiet word with your server to find out if they get to keep the card tips, to inform your decision about leaving one.

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How much should I tip in restaurants, cafes, or bars?

The amount you can leave as a tip is up to the customers. Giving a couple of quid is better than nothing, but if you can, aim for around 10% to 15% of the total bill cost. Visit Britain, the UK’s tourist board, says a 10-15% tip for food service is “standard”.

If there is a service charge added to the bill, a tip on top of that is not usually expected. But, again, you might want to check with your waiter to see if they actually get the service charge money and make a decision based on what they say.

Is tipping the same as a service charge?

Yes, essentially, a service charge is added to your bill, which you are expected to pay as a tip. If there is no service charge, you can add your own tip to the bill, either on card or by leaving cash. You can also leave an extra tip on top of the service charge if you want to or felt particularly well looked after.

Do waiters get to keep card tips and service charges?

You may think service charges and card tips go to staff working in restaurants, but that is not always the case. Pizza Express, Prezzo and Zizi have been caught out before for deducting fees from customer tips.

The Government says: “Research shows that many businesses that add a discretionary service charge onto customer’s bills are keeping part or all of these service charges, instead of passing them onto staff.”

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Do waiters and staff get to keep tips?

Not always. Businesses are legally allowed to keep the tips themselves or divide them how they wish. The Government’s reportedly shelved plan to protect tips for staff aimed to make sure staff working in the businesses get to keep the tips themselves.

If you are not sure, ask your server, quietly, if they or their colleagues get to keep all the tips, a share, or none. Some restaurants divide tips between front of house and kitchen staff.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader and shadow secretary of state for the future of work, said: “Boris Johnson is set to break yet another promise and allow tips to be pinched from under the noses of staff in bars, pubs, cafés and restaurants.

“It’s not just pledges to let workers keep their tips that are being ditched along with the long-promised Employment Bill, but any action by the Conservatives to ensure fairness at work at all.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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