BLOG: “Diners who dash” policies – ‘Just desserts’ for staff or a case of ‘humble pie’ for Wahaca?

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The Wahaca chain were faced with criticism over the weekend when Sarah Hayward, a former councillor of Camden Council dined in the Kentish Town restaurant and used the power of social media to express her concerns about an employee who was ‘made’ to foot the bill from his wages when his customers left without paying.

The tweet (below) obtained a huge amount of engagement with over 3,000 retweets and 8,000 likes with many users stating comments such as ‘utterly disgraceful’, ‘Another one off the list. Disgusting practice’ and ‘I used to love eating @wahaca but if that’s really their policy. I won’t be back.’

Matt Forde, Comedian responded on twitter and stated:

Wahaca attempted to respond to the negative comments about their policies and replied to individual tweets with the following (in a few different ways):

An ex-employee tweeted a screenshot of Wahaca’s former policy on the subject which stated: ‘If through your negligence a customer leaves the restaurant without paying, you will be liable to pay the full bill including service to the Company or it will be deducted from your wages’. The policy as it stands is harsh and unclear.

Legally speaking within the retail industry, Wahaca is able to make a deduction from its employees’ wages on account of one or more ‘cash shortages or stock deficiencies’ under the Employment Rights Act 1996. Any such deduction must not exceed one tenth of the gross amount of the wages payable on that day.

Although legal, it is highly concerning that Wahaca’s policy would have left an employee at a significant monetary loss due to an act which is out of their control. It is well known that employees in the retail industry are already on low salaries, under high levels of stress due to working long unsociable hours and placed in demanding environments. The policy places increased stress on individuals whilst working and if deductions are made it may be regarded as immoral and unfair, especially to the public eye.

The BBC reported that Mark Selby, co-founder of Wahaca, told them that in light of the incident, the company had decided its policy needed a “clearer direction”. The new policy will mean waiters will not have to pay any element of the bill if the diners at a table for which they are responsible leave without paying unless the manager suspects the waiter was ‘complicit’ in the walk out.

Wahaca has also stated on twitter that:

It is encouraging that Wahaca have responded so quickly and publically to the social media reaction and it is hoped that the amendment will improve the wellbeing of their employees. It is clear from this story that it is extremely important for employers to be aware of the power of social media and the impact that it can have on their reputation and brand.

In other news, Hawksmoor Manchester has shown an outstanding example of how treating their employees with dignity and promoting it on social media can have a positive effect on their business. Hawksmoor posted on Twitter that one of their employee’s accidentally gave a customer a bottle of Chateau le Pin Pomerol 2001 which was priced at £4,500 (the only bottle of its kind in the building) instead of a much cheaper bottle. The Manchester based restaurant recognized that this act was a one off mistake and took no action against their employee. The Tweet went viral and captured more than 10,000 retweets and 66,000 likes. It is refreshing to see that the company publically highlighted that everyone can make genuine mistakes:

It is therefore imperative for employers to review their employment policies to ensure that not only do they comply with the law but also whether they are moral to protect them from negative press. It is clear in the instance of Wahaca that social media outbreaks really can have a detrimental effect on businesses.

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