Restaurateur Alex Wrethman wears many hats. As the owner of London-based Charlotte’s Group, which operates Charlotte’s Bistro, Charlotte’s Place and Charlotte’s W5, his days are filled with thinking about how to better run his businesses and take care of his staff and diners.
Lately, his thoughts have turned to how to help his fellow restaurateurs create transparency with diners and staff. Specifically, he’s been thinking about how to address gratuities and service charges and how to let customers know where their tips are going.
“I was really worried that we could go into legislation that’s punitive and detrimental to hospitality,” Wrethman says. To combat that he has introduced The Tipping Point Campaign, which would create a system to display restaurant gratuity policies. “We’re really about the core principle of bringing transparency to this issue,” Wrethman says.
The campaign is currently in the petition stage and has to secure 10,000 signatures before today, June 27th to be brought before Parliament. Here are four things you should know about the campaign and the man behind it, Alex Wrethman.
1. Restaurants would display information about their gratuity policy in their restaurant.
Prior to starting the campaign, Wrethman hosted a luncheon with key stakeholders to find a way to create transparency that would be great for everyone. Fellow restaurateurs, members of the press, and members of trade groups all met at Charlotte W5 to discuss how to create transparency in a way that’s fair. “The goal was to get everyone there to do a brief and write a questionnaire.”
The group landed on a questionnaire but couldn’t decide what questions should be a part of it. Wrethman says the discussions got heated. “Everyone came to the table and talked about what they should be doing and after two or three hours, in the end, everyone agreed that nobody could agree,” he laughs. The group eventually came to six questions that are now part of the questionnaire.
The idea is that the questionnaire would be used to create signage that each restaurant would display so customers can understand that restaurant’s gratuity system. “You can see documentation like food safety when you walk into a restaurant so why not this?” Wrethman asks. “I think people would like to be able to get a straight answer on this topic.”
For Wrethman, providing this information for diners will lead them to make more informed decisions about where they spend their money. “We don’t want diners to believe that money is going into the back pocket of the restaurateurs,” he says. “We want to make everyone declare what they’re doing.
2. Staff could use the information to make better decisions about where they want to work.
One group that is also set to benefit from the increased transparency of the Tipping Point Campaign is hospitality workers, says Wrethman. If conversations about compensation move from peer-to-peer discussions to a national database that workers can access and review when they’re looking for new jobs, that means that staff can pick what kind of gratuity structure that they want to work in.
Also, having a system where guests can understand how their service charge or tips are allocated would help fewer tips be lost or stolen, Wrethman says.
3. Diners could feel more informed about gratuity policies.
“One of the things that came out of that workshop was the phrase ‘cards on the table,’” says Wrethman. He and the other members of the workshop agreed that in order for true transparency, all participants would have to be upfront about their gratuity practices.
The transparency is also a way to create trust with diners and offer them “genuine hospitality,” Wrethman says. “In Britain there’s this natural assumption that restaurants are really money grubbing,” Wrethman explains. “For as many restaurateurs that are trying to pad their pockets there are 10 times more that do the right thing.”
A big part of The Tipping Point Campaign is to help the public understand that restaurant owners want to do right by their employees and their customers. “They’re the diners and the voters. If you’re honest with them you get respect and a sense of loyalty from your guests,” he says. That means there’s more room to build a relationship and for diners to see what restaurants are really all about. “There’s such a nicer side to restaurants,” Wrethman says. “It’s a shame that that’s not being put forward.”