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Restaurant chains Wahaca, Strada and Byron accused of forcing staff to pay bills when customers dine and dash

UK restaurants frequently force their staff to foot the bills of customers who ”dine and dash”, industry insiders have told i after the popular Mexican chain Wahaca came under fire for allegedly ordering a waiter to cover the costs of a table that left without paying.
Sarah Hayward, a former council leader, revealed on Saturday evening that she had witnessed a waiter at a branch of Wahaca in Kentish Town, north London, being instructed to pay his customers’ bill with his own money after the diners walked out without handing over what they owed.
And another customer has told i  a waitress in a separate branch of Wahaca informed her that staff there had to pay for walkouts.

Wahaca walkout

Ms Hayward, who served as leader of Camden council from 2012 to 2017, voiced her anger on Twitter over Wahaca’s “utterly shameful” approach to walkouts.
Addressing Wahaca directly, Ms Hayward wrote: “[I’ve] just eaten in your Kentish Town restaurant for the last time.
“[The people] next to us left without paying and their server [was] made to foot the bill from his wages. Apparently company policy. Utterly shameful employment practice.”
She added: “Food’s great, company is c**p.”
‘It’s really common’
Although members of the public appeared to be shocked by Ms Hayward’s account, waiting staff and a representative for a major trade union have told ithat what happened at Wahaca was “not a one-off incident” but a regular occurrence in the hospitality industry.
“It’s really common,” said a former waitress who has worked in multiple branches of the Italian restaurant Strada and several other popular high street chains.

Penalised at Strada

“It happened at Strada about five times…You would lose your whole night’s wages and tips,” said the ex-staff member, who wished to remain anonymous.
“The restaurants were so busy, people would just slip out for a cigarette and then leave…Your heart would sink when it happened.”

Devious diners

Staff were reminded by managers to be vigilant for walkouts but diners could go to great lengths to avoid paying – some even apparently planned their getaways in advance, purchasing cheap jackets from a budget store, leaving them on their chairs to give the impression they were still on the premises, and fleeing.

Open secret

Another waitress who worked at a pizza restaurant with several London branches and who also asked not to be named, said she was “not surprised” to learn about the Wahaca incident and that her boss had penalised her in a similar manner after a walkout on her watch.
“I think the reasoning behind it, rightly or wrongly, is that wait staff are responsible for the tables – making sure they have the bill and that they’ve paid,” she said.
“Everyone who has been a waiter or waitress knows about [this practice], but if you’ve never done a hospitality job you wouldn’t have a clue,” she added.

Byron accusations

Christopher, a waiter who previously worked at Byron, claimed that when a diner’s payment card is declined and the customer leaves before staff notice the glitch the burger chain insists that the server stumps up the cash.
The former staff member, who requested that his surname not be used, claimed he had paid for declined credit cards “many times” at Byron. He also said it was his understanding that it was “official policy” for staff to pay for walkouts.

Frogmarched to the cashpoint

Dave Turnbull, regional officer for the union Unite, said: “It happens everywhere…We’ve heard of [waiting staff] being escorted to ATMs to take out money to pay bills.
“We always tell them to refuse to pay, but it’s not easy, especially if they’re on a zero-hours contract and depending on [the manager] to give them decent shifts.”
i approached Strada and Byron for comment. Byron said: “It is not policy to deduct costs of unpaid bills from waiting staff.”

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