Pizza Express has become the second restaurant chain in a month to say it penalises waiting staff for mistakes by taking money out of their pay packets.
BuzzFeed News has spoken to several current and former employees about a policy that allows managers to deduct cash shortages from staff – and has seen an internal company document that confirms it.
In a terms and conditions document that all employees effectively have to agree to, the company says it can recoup money to make up for cash shortfalls, but only after investigations are carried out.
Several former and current waiting staff told BuzzFeed News this would typically come out of the waiter's own money at the end of a shift, but Pizza Express said any deductions should come from salary, not tips or personal cash.
It’s legal for companies to deduct up to 10% pay for shortfalls, but after BuzzFeed News revealed last month that Zizzi employees were being forced to foot the bill if customers left without paying, along with a range of other mistakes, MPs and unions called for the practice to be axed.
Pizza Express declined to confirm under what circumstances a waiter would be asked to pay up, but said one example would be that if they accepted out-of-circulation currency, then this would be deducted via payroll.
One current Pizza Express waiter told BuzzFeed News how the process worked.
"You get a slip of paper at the end of the day which will say all of your transactions – whether that be cash or card, and then there will be a lump sum of cash that is to be handed over before you leave. If your cash is different to what's in your apron – and you're missing money – you will you have to pay out of your own pocket. That's what I've experienced," they said.
"And every time I've made a mistake I've 100% had to pay... The most I've ever been out is around £30."
BuzzFeed News was told by current and former Pizza Express staff, including three managers, that in common with some other casual dining chains, waiting staff handle their own floats of money in their aprons.
At the end of a shift, if their receipts didn't match up with cash, they would be required to make up for the discrepancy using their own cash tips or personal money. BuzzFeed News was told shortfalls might occur as a result of giving or taking the wrong change, misplacing cash, or accidentally undercharging a customer.
Another former Pizza Express waiter claimed they were made to split a bill totalling over £50 out of cash tips after a table left without paying during a busy shift. Pizza Express did not answer questions around whether its policy was designed to cover walkouts or whether those instances would be against its own policy of taking deductions via payroll.
A current waiter claimed it had happened to them personally "a couple of times, but only a small amount of money".
Another, who said Pizza Express was a "lovely place to work for" and that they had not personally been charged, said other staff at their restaurant had been made to pay and that "all staff are made aware of this risk. Basically, because we don’t have tills, we carry our own cash floats that we bring and then take away."
They added: "We are told that if there is money missing at the end of the night it comes out of our money because it’s our own money that makes up the float."
This claim was echoed by a former waiter who said they too had never been short at the end of a shift, but claimed to have been "told repeatedly if I was I would have to pay the difference".
"There was one incident where a customer had come in to eat, they had two glasses of wine, main and a dessert and basically ran out on me and left their bill there. The manager at the time didn’t charge but the next day they said I should’ve been charged for it," they said.
One former manager told BuzzFeed News the practice tended to be dealt with in-house at the discretion of management, rather than monitored by head office, and that the investigations process was not "pushed or highlighted enough."
Pizza Express said its policies were communicated to managers and teams as part of training and were on the company intranet at all times, but declined to answer questions about the investigations process.
A former manager said: "I can tell you now managers don’t follow through with any paper track investigation, it’s too long-winded and time consuming. They just inform the waiters of the cash handling process and take the money from the server."
Because some managers would be under pressure to hit targets, they would keep it off the books, they claimed.
"Most managers would push to take the money due to the pressures of hitting stupid targets, but I ran a high-volume site that regularly took money and I knew how hard my team worked with little reward from the company so I would bury any mistakes out of respect, unless I felt it was strongly out of bad service," they said.
Some managers, they said, who might be "driven to take every penny" could "end up penalising" their teams. They said as a result they believed the cost of mistakes should not be placed on to waiters, who are often low-paid and "on a learning curve", but dealt with through training and disciplinary procedures.
Two other former managers said they had never asked waiting staff to hand over their own cash or tips to make up for mistakes but were aware of other managers having done so. They said they were unaware of any investigation process having been followed in these instances.
One of these managers said nonetheless the policy was fair as a deterrent to stop staff from stealing from the company.
"When you start working there you have a contract that you sign, and the contract says that the money in your pocket is your responsibility. I think that's fair, if they don't do that people can steal from them," they said.
"I know they [customers] are shocked and surprised about it, but what are you supposed to do? If they [the waiters] don't pay, then the manager has to pay, and if the manager doesn't pay, then the company is going to be short."
"The head office won't have any access to this information," they added. "At the end of the day the one thing they want to know is that the money that's in the safe is exactly [the same] as what the report says. They don't care where the money comes from".
BuzzFeed News asked Pizza Express to respond to allegations made by staff. The chain said its restaurant teams were at the "forefront of our business and we rely on them to provide the exceptional level of service our customers expect and appreciate at Pizza Express".
It said it was conducting a review of its cash handling policy that would be finalised in the new year.
In a statement, a spokesperson said: "It is standard practice in the restaurant industry for waiting staff to carry their own ‘float’ to enable them to give change to customers who pay cash.
"We have clear cash handling policies in place which state that the recovery of any agreed cash discrepancy which could arise at the end of a shift, for example if the waiter accepts out of circulation currency, would be made from salary through payroll and should not come out of a waiter’s cash tips or personal cash.
"All policies are communicated to managers and teams as part of their training and are available through our internal intranet at all times."