Nine former employees of Au Fudge, the expensive, kid-centric West Hollywood restaurant co-owned by actress Jessica Biel, are suing the company for wage theft. In particular, as outlined by the Blast, the claimants say the restaurant charged a 22 percent gratuity for catering and kept that income for the managers.
The ethical problem here is pretty clear: The vast majority of people handing over money to restaurants believe that gratuities go to either one server or the entire pool of servers working at the same time. The people we see are only making minimum wage unless they are tipped, in other words.
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If it turns out the Au Fudge's operators were indeed keeping the tips for themselves, most reasonable people would agree that it represents some highly unethical trickery. But just so we're all clear: This happens all the time.
Wage theft in all its forms, be it withholding tips, charging servers for check errors or dine-and-dashers, or some other form of creative accounting, is rampant in the restaurant industry. As a food writer, I have been told some jaw-dropping stories, and lemme tell you, some of your favorite spots are problematic.
Also problematic is the fact that no one — short of the rare lawsuit like this Au Fudge situation — is willing to go on the record about wage theft. So consumers are left blissfully unaware, believing that the automatic gratuity or credit card tip they're signing for is going to the person who was so pleasant to them all evening.
So what's a restaurant-goer to do? I believe the answer is to ask your server, every time you get the check, how the tip is disbursed. And bring cash, just in case.