Turkish restaurant owner in Essex shamed after threatening staff over tips

A menacing 60-second message from Ali Melin to his staff at Melin restaurant in Chigwell, Essex, telling them, “you take money from me, I’ll take something from you” has gone viral, prompting a huge backlash.

The restaurant owner warned his staff that they were not entitled to keep any tips for themselves: “I would just like to say and clarify with people that don’t know that any tips in the building belong to the restaurant.

“Any money that is given to you by a customer belongs to the restaurant.”

The high-end restaurant with its Turkish-Mediterranean menu opened in March of this year, and was an instant hit with local celebrities including the cast of TOWIE (The Only Way Is Essex), former contenders of Love Island, and music and football stars.

However, it’s reputation has been tarnished after people heard the restaurant owner’s threatening message to his staff.

Mr Melin, who is originally from Turkey, reminded workers that they are not entitled to any tips and that he has more than 50 CCTV cameras watching them and the restaurant:

“You are not paid any tips whatsoever. Nobody has the right to put tips in their pocket whatsoever. I have over 50 CCTV cameras in the building that are visual and voice activated.”

“I can hear everything, and I can see everything. If I see again, yes again, that someone has put money in their pocket from a customer I will either 1) report it to the police or 2) take them into the basement,” he added.

Ali Melin’s message to his staff

The ominous recording, shared multiple times online, has led to dozens of people leaving negative reviews and comments on the restaurant’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Zoey Doherty wrote: “Do not eat here, the owner is a bully who steals staff tips and threatens violence on his staff. Should be ashamed of himself, the Internet is a wonderful thing, because thugs no longer get away with this behaviour. Peace!”

Anya Linder said: “I wouldn’t recommend a restaurant who’s owner threatens to take its staff “to the basement” for pocketing tips which they rightly deserve. Will never ever go here and will continue to dissuade people from going.”

Mr Melin told The Sun Online he had sent the voice message after two of his workers were caught taking around £20 each in tips from his restaurant.

The newspaper noted he declined to apologise for his recording. The restaurant owner instead rowed back on his original statement that staff “are not paid any tips whatsoever”, claiming tips are pooled for all staff and his anger was directed at the few workers who were pocketing money intended for the team.

Mr Melin said: “They were stealing their colleague’s tips – not my money. That’s why I got irate. It’s really unfair, it’s not right.

“They were putting them straight in their pocket, which is not how they are meant to do it. It’s meant to go into a tips box that is locked.

“The general manger and the deputy manager opens the tips box monthly, divvies it all up and gives it out to the staff as a form of wage.”When challenged on his remarks about taking staff down to “the basement,” Mr Melin explained: “We at Melin refer to the basement as the office area – the manager has an office down there.

“I’ve not told anybody I’m going to chop their fingers off or anything like that! You can go to the police or you can go down for a disciplinary – maybe I should have called it a disciplinary.”

Mr Melin said the restaurant’s tips policy is set out in their employment contracts.

A statement was also issued on the restaurant’s Facebook page, which was later deleted, stating that the restaurant divides tips equally among employees and they were “disappointed to learn staff were stealing tips” from the team.

What does the law say on tips?

In 2018, the Conservative government pledged to bring in a new law that would lay out the rules for the estimated 165,000 businesses and 2 million staff in the hospitality, leisure and service industries where tipping is common.

The government’s commitment to bringing in the new legislation was confirmed when it was included in the Queen’s Speech in October 2019.

The new law, resisted by the Hospitality Industry which represents business owners, would introduce a ban on employers making tip deductions.

Currently, the law on what happens to tips is vague. Existing legislation states employers cannot use tips to make up the basic wages of their workers, and that any tips claimed by workers must be declared and tax paid on it.

Ali Melin with performers at his restaurant in Chigwell

Beyond that there is only a voluntary code of practice on tipping for employers, but it is not compulsory for them to follow it.

An employer can, for example, agree to share all or some of the money customers give as tips among their workers. This is called a “tronc”, and the money is divided among staff by a “troncmaster”, usually a senior member of staff.

A business owner can also agree for staff to pocket tips individually, which is common in hairdressers and beauty parlours.

They can currently also say that staff are not entitled to any tips and service charges, and the business retains all of it.

Whichever option the business owner chooses in how tips are managed must be clearly communicated to their staff. Bosses and their employees should be also mindful that even in the absence of legislation, rulings in employment tribunals over tipping disputes have already set some important precedents.

In an article for the Global Payroll Association, employment lawyer Emma Bartlett said that “gratuities paid by card” are currently “deemed to be an employer’s property”.

She stated that, “employees are only legally entitled to retain a cash tip as they are considered their property rather than their employers.”

Ms Bartlett referenced the Employment Rights Act 1996, which states that “fees…referable to the [worker’s] employment, whether paid under his contract or otherwise” are considered to include tips. As a result, she said, “workers have succeeded with employment tribunal claims for unlawful deduction of wages against employers that have withheld tips that did not belong to them.”

She qualified this by stating, “While service industry employees are currently able to seek recourse against employers that withhold tips and service charges, they can only do so if the tips are paid in cash or using a tronc system.”