Zizzi has said it will investigate whether restaurant managers have been recouping cash losses from staff, after BuzzFeed News revealed allegations that waiting staff had been made to pay for a catalogue of different "mistakes".
The 149-branch restaurant chain, part of the Azzurri Group, said it was "concerned" by the allegations, which included claims by waiters that they had been made to foot the bill if a customer walked out, if they lost a card receipt, or if they made a payment mistake.
Zizzi confirmed it had a cash-handling policy in place, said it was "transparent", and said staff were "comfortable with the processes in place". It went on to tweet that the policy was designed to prevent "fraud and negligence" and not to recoup losses from "genuine mistakes".
In a further statement to BuzzFeed News Zizzi said it would investigate "whether there have been cases where the policy has been wrongly applied to ensure that no one has been mistakenly charged" and "revisit the wording of the policy to make sure that its purpose and application are absolutely clear".
It said it was "concerned to hear about the instances described", and that the policy was "in no way designed to recoup losses from staff for mistakes".
The chain has come under pressure since the BuzzFeed News report was published on Wednesday, and has faced calls to scrap its policy altogether.
Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson petitioned chief executive Steve Holmes to end the practice in an open letter.
"No business leader should be allowed to get away with this," he said in a Change.org petition, "this is totally unacceptable. We must not allow this abuse of workers, which we commonly see in the gig economy, to penetrate into the mainstream."
BuzzFeed News had asked more than a dozen current and former Zizzi staff members from a variety of restaurant locations about the chain's deductions policy.
Some said they had not heard of the policy or had never seen it implemented, but several told BuzzFeed News staff were responsible for taking payments accurately, and claimed they had been charged when a table had walked out, had been made to pay a bill if they'd lost a card receipt, or had been made to pay if a voucher or gift card failed. They said it was enforced at the discretion of management.
Some waiting staff said they had paid in excess of £100 for such errors, usually out of the cash tips paid to them by customers or "out of their own pocket".
Waiters' contracts seen by BuzzFeed News currently state that the company can deduct sums owed to it "without limitations" including "cash shortages, from from waiter banking...or... any losses in the restaurant that you are accountable for".
Following publication of the article, the chain faced calls for a boycott from some customers online, and more than 1,500 people signed Tom Watson's petition.
Unite, the union, said it feared the policy could still be "open to abuse" even with clarification.
Jack Dromey, shadow business minister, said in a statement to BuzzFeed News that the practice, which is legal, was "immoral". He said hospitality workers were often "struggling to get by" and called on the government to make deductions from worker pay illegal.
"It is completely unfair that they should be punished for customers who ‘dine and dash’ from their restaurant," he said. "The amount of money in question would be mere pocket money to a company as large as Zizzi. However to one of their workers, it could be the difference between a hot meal and going without.
“We will challenge the government [to] change the law which allows staff to have their wages deducted and change it as soon as possible so workers do not lose out."
Since publication, several workers have come forward to BuzzFeed News to make similar allegations about other major UK restaurant chains.