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Service Charge

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#1 david goodfellow

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Posted 10 December 2010 - 06:49 AM

I vividly remember when I was first confronted with the 12.5% service charge in a London restaurant.
Yes it was there buried in the small print at the bottom of the menu. I was not amused and vowed to take any restaurant to task if the service was below par in any way. I thought the punters would vote with their feet, and boycott places that charged. Not the case of course, it spread like wildfire, now it is everywhere, and of course I do not like it one bit, even to this day.

Its not even confined to top end places, I know a few cafes that impose one.

I am still of the opinion the customer should have the right, if, and how much, they should tip.

I love the way the French do things "service compris" clearly stated.

And of course, guess what, like most Brits I simply don't want a complaint to spoil our meal so I don't complain like I should do. In fact I can not remember the last time that I did.

That is now about to change, mark my words.

What is your opinion on service charges, and do the staff get them like they should do or do the owners snap them up.

Wait staff what do you think? have your say, would you like your boss to pay you a decent wage or are you a lot better of with tips? Do you actually get any of this service charge, spill the beans, we would like to know.

And finally restaurateurs if the meal is £90 don't put £80 on your website and add the service charge at the end. We are not happy with it.
At least I am not.

There I have said it, rant over, (for now) :shock:

#2 ermintrude

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Posted 10 December 2010 - 07:49 AM

If you are not happy and have something to compain about the service you can leagaly withold some or all of the service charge. I've done this on a couple of extreem occasions. I've also not paid it as part of my bill (say paid by plastic) and then left cash equivilent or more as a tip it in places where I know that the service charge does not go to the staff.

If you are not happy and have something to compain about the foodyou can leagaly withold some or all of the food charge. Of course you should complain at the moment you have a problem and most good restaurants will ensure it's fixed there and then, but if needed you can refuse to pay some or all of the charge.

If you don't wish to make a fuss about this (and it can cause one) make sure you write "paid under protest" on the bill so you can claim it back later.
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#3 Infrasonic

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Posted 10 December 2010 - 07:58 AM

I don't like it either. It seems the marketing psychology of keeping headline prices low and then gaining margin through lots of add ons like side dishes, service charges, wine mark ups etc. has become the norm. Presumably though, if it didn't work they wouldn't do it, which says volumes about the average punter...
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#4 Harters

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Posted 10 December 2010 - 10:02 AM

I think David raises two, possibly related, questions. The first is about our expectations of "service" and the second is how we pay for it.

As to the first, I struggle to recall a meal when I was sufficiently aggrieved with the service (and only the service) to want to not pay a service charge or, indeed, not leave a tip. That said, my needs are limited and usually met perfectly adequately. I want for nothing more than someone to take my order, bring food, clear dirty crockery, bring bill all in "good time". I want this to happen, as it usually does in "good places" in the UK, without you really realising it has happened. I am at my most content when eating at a place that is confident of its standards that it has no need to come and ask "how is it?" I have a tongue in my head and will use it if I need something or am unhappy about something. Oh, and in similar vein, I am less chuffed with places that whisk away your bottle of wine so they can decide when you need a top-up. Leave it on the table, along with the jug of water - I had the physical stamina to get to the restaurant and I have the strength to lift a jug!

As for paying, then I'm in complete agreement with David in preferring the French system where no tip is expected or the Spanish practice where you might leave a few coins. I would encourage restaurants to follow the example of, say, Bodysgallen Hall in North Wales which states "Our Tariffs are fully inclusive of SERVICE AND VAT."
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#5 david goodfellow

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Posted 10 December 2010 - 11:40 AM

Bodysgallen Hall in North Wales which states "Our Tariffs are fully inclusive of SERVICE AND VAT."

I like Bodysgallen Hall even more now John.

A Michelin two star that I have looked at recently is Whatley Manor and their prices are "inclusive of 10% discretionary service charge" I am warming to them by the day.
It looks like a visit is on the cards, shame they don't get any coverage on here.

Thanks for the comments folks.

Any restaurateurs or front of house willing to make a comment?

#6 Harters

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Posted 10 December 2010 - 11:55 AM

I'm sure I remember a first visit to Manchester's Moss Nook restaurant, more than 25 years ago, and attempting to leave a tip. It was declined, with thanks, as "we are very well paid".

Things have changed - not least my thoughts that the Moss Nook was the dog's danglies by way of local restaurants.

Edited by Harters, 10 December 2010 - 12:20 PM.

John Hartley

#7 sheepish

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Posted 10 December 2010 - 01:37 PM

I think I've just got used to it in high-end place, but it still grates to get it added to wine. I know the deal with wine, I'm going to pay 2.5-3.5 times retail price, and I think that alone should cover my glass and someone to top me up - a task I am quite capable of doing myself but seems analogous to wandering around naked to most waiting staff given their reaction to such an attempt.

Interesting what you say about France. Not eaten out there much, but there was much protestation when we tried to leave a couple of Euros on top of an 18 euro bill for 2 pizzas and a bottle of wine in the local place in the village where we stay.

#8 Harters

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Posted 11 December 2010 - 01:57 PM

Here's another really courteous way of dealing with the voluntary service charge - compliments of "Simon Radley at the Grosvenor":

"Please note that a discretionary service charge of 12.5% will be automatically added to your bill. Please do not hesitate to ask if you wish for this to be removed".
John Hartley

#9 TheFuzzy

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Posted 13 December 2010 - 01:38 AM

Hopefully this doesn't catch on in the USA.

What really gets me about automatic service charges is that generally the restaurantier is hoping that you won't notice the service charge, and put a regular tip on top of it. In the USA, where there's usually a mandatory service charge of 15% for large parties, this often results in the restaurant collecting a 30% tip.

Here in the States we're told that tipping is essential because we wouldn't get good service otherwise. Having been to several countries where labor charges are standard and included, such as Germany, Italy and Japan, I find that such is not the case. Rather, I think that tipping exists to drive the management's labor costs down without increasing advertised prices, and they've brainwashed customers into thinking that it's good for them. Over the decades here we've seen tipping creep up from 5% to 20%.

The only way I can see that tipping is good for the servers is that, if they have to cover more tables or work a really busy night and do a good job, they earn more. But even without tips, the Italian "coperto" system covers this.

Edited by TheFuzzy, 13 December 2010 - 01:39 AM.

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#10 catdaddy

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Posted 13 December 2010 - 11:01 AM

I do not know much about the restaurant business in Britain but it seems like the nature of user costs are changing all over. ie. college tuitions.

The only place I know of in the US where service charges are being to restaurant bills is Miami, FL. It is a product of the volume of European tourists eating in local places and leaving 5% tips without regard to the level of service. FOH servers often complain about bad tips but for management all over town to add these costs to bills the problem must be epidemic.

I wonder how things are done in Asia or Australia.

#11 ChrisTaylor

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Posted 13 December 2010 - 01:28 PM

We don't tip by default. People tip more now than they used to, I'd imagine, but even then, never that much and only if the service and/or food was exceptional. It's not expected. What's fairly common, I'd say, is rounding up to the next $10. For example, if they spend $65 on food, a lot of people would leave $70 behind. More, of course, if it's a very big group. I'll round up if I've had a good meal but if I've had a crap experience I'll take my change, unless I'm in a group, in which case it's really petty to be messing around with a dollar for me, five dollars for her, two dollars fifty for someone else.

I don't remember seeing anywhere that mentioned they included an opt-out service charge. Even Melbourne's best-rated fine dining restaurant (we actually don't have that many truly fine dining places--a lot walk the line between casual and fine dining, maybe even most), Vue de Monde, doesn't do that. The only thing that comes close is charging some tiny amount per head to open a bottle of wine in a place that allows you to bring your own. I would suspect the lack of a service charge is because the award wage for the profession here isn't terrible.

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#12 david goodfellow

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Posted 13 December 2010 - 02:58 PM

The only place I know of in the US where service charges are being to restaurant bills is Miami, FL.

We used to holiday in Miami Beach, specifically South Beach, perhaps up to four times a year. Not been for about five years. Quite a few of the places we have dined at, have imposed service charges in the region of 18 to 20%. One even added 22% simply I think because we were Brits.

If that happened now, an argument would ensue.

I understand in the States you tip perhaps between 15 and 20%. To us that is way over generous

#13 catdaddy

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Posted 13 December 2010 - 06:17 PM

Tipped employees in the US are paid less than $5.00 per hour by their employer. This rarely covers payroll taxes. Tips make up the vast majority of their earnings.

I know in France most servers are paid the same, by the restaurant, if they wait on 10 people or 40 people.

What is the custom in Britain?

#14 david goodfellow

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Posted 14 December 2010 - 02:54 AM

What is the custom in Britain?

In the UK we have a minimum wage of £5.93 per hour. which I am fairly certain has to be obeyed, no matter what trade you are in, plus tips are paid on top.

One of the reasons that I started this thread was hopefully to get comments off wait staff and restaurateurs for a better insight.

As I am not connected to the trade, but dine out a lot, I will start asking the question directly about service charges.

There are many better informed people on here than me, I would be most grateful if they would comment.

I suspect that in the States, some front of house people are on big wages, judging by some of the table turning places that we have eaten at.

#15 Mjx

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Posted 14 December 2010 - 06:35 AM

I frankly hate the entire tipping thing, whether it is presented as a 'service charge', or simply an expected tip, and hate hidden costs at least as much. I say charge the full cost up front; it 's not the sort of thing that deters people. I find it much pleasanter to eat a meal where I know that the staff is properly paid, and not counting on 'the kindness of strangers' for reasonable earnings. It's an ugly system, and there are better ways of insuring good service (complaining about poor service, for example). But forcing a tip is certainly not the way to go.

I worked (very, very briefly, it was that horrible, and paid a little under $2/hour) as a waitress in the US, and I suppose that in some places waitresses are paid a good wage, on top of which they also earn tips, but this is the exception, not the rule. There is still no requirement to pay minimum wages to waitstaff in the US (Waiter/Waitress Wages).


Still, a built-in service charge has the advantage of protecting wait staff from suffering at the hands of those who apparently believe that not tipping/tipping very little is the best way to express your disapproval of the tipping system (which, nope; if you disapprove, just avoid establishments that use this practice, and patronize those that eschew tipping in favour of paying staff standard wages).

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#16 Edward J

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Posted 14 December 2010 - 10:24 PM

Interesting thrad.....

Unless you count a 4 hr stopover in Gatwick back in the '80's, I've never really been in Britain, let alone eaten there. On the surface, it sounds like the owner is too chicken to raise his prices, and has found a weasel hole.

N. America is another story though, very different from continental Europe. Let's take a closer look:
-No trade qualifications for cooks, bakers waiters/esses.
-No qualifications needed to open a restaurant.
-In many places waiters are paid minimum wage, or even below that
-Fierce, cut-throat competition for the dining dollar
-Ample opportunity for Hospitality unions to address the situation.
-Dining prices are much cheaper than continental European dining prices, quality can be on par or exceeding many Euro places.
-Tips belong to the waiter. I believe in California it is illegal for owners to divide tips between other staff members.
-Custom to tip 10-20% for the entire dining experience to the wait staff. Now it's true the wait staff work very hard, but everyone in the building works for the customer's entire dinining experience. Whether this is fair or not, the owners take advantage of this custom, and consider tipping part of the waiter's salary.

In Continental Europe we have:
-Trade qualifications/benchmarks for all trades (waiter is a two year apprenticeship in most EU countries)
-Qualifications needed in many EU countries to open a restaurant (ie "Wirtepruefung").
-Trade Unions set wages for their respective trades across the country, as well as playing an active role in the education of apprentices, and setting benchmarks/salary scales.
-Stiff competition for the dining dollar.
-Service charge is built into the prices in many establishments.

It's quite something to look at and compare, isn't it?

#17 david goodfellow

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Posted 15 December 2010 - 03:16 AM

We had an interesting situation eight to ten years ago on Miami,s South Beach. Our meal was very, very, slow in being served. The waitress seemed uninterested, clearly not focused on her work that day. And to cap it all off a side order, for the main course, did not arrive. I pointed this out. She went back to the kitchen, and a couple of minutes later, reappeared to say it would be out in a few minutes. We waited a bit, then decided to carry on eating. We finished our food and then, the side order arrived at the table.
I asked her to take it away, as we had finished. We did not want it any longer.

When the bill arrived, the side order was on there, and so was a service charge. I asked her to remove them both.

She argued that it was not her fault, it was the kitchens fault and that she should not be made to suffer for it. She also claimed, tips were shared between front of house and kitchen staff. I asked to see the manager, she said he was not on duty. I asked her who was in charge, she said? well, I forget, it was quite a while ago.

I would not leave until she rectified the bill, which she claimed she could not do. Eventually I accepted a voucher to the value of the disputed amount,prepared to take things up with the manager at a later date.

The next day I had calmed down a bit so left it, as my holiday days are precious, who needs aggro?

We eventually spent the voucher, but never saw that server again during our stay on South Beach.

#18 alanjesq

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Posted 01 January 2011 - 07:37 AM

Minimum wage is $3.63 per hour for our Missouri (USA) restaurants. I don't recall if this is federally mandated or State, but there is a minimum wage for waitstaff FOH as well as BOH. .


#19 Kent Wang

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Posted 10 May 2014 - 04:42 AM

I've been living in London for a year and still haven't quite gotten the hang of the service charge. Should one tip if the service charge is not automatically added? By 'should', I mean the same way that you 'should' tip 20% in US bars, which is pretty much mandatory.


It's been three years since I've been to Singapore, but my friend there says Tippling Club and 28 Hong Kong Street are around S$22 (US$17.62) plus 10% service charge. But the alcohol tax has just gone up from S$70 to S$88 per liter of pure alcohol, so S$26.40 (US$21.14) per 750 ml bottle of 40% ABV spirit.

#20 Plantes Vertes

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Posted 10 May 2014 - 10:36 AM

It's a fraught point. You don't normally tip a pub barman and by analogy most people wouldn't tip a bar barman, but people who stay in hotels tend to tip the staff and by extension you might tip a hotel barman. Then in bars where you receive table service the servers are equivalent to restaurant waiters, whom you do tip, and anyway, the person making your ten-ingredient tiki drink or inventing something off the cuff to suit your particular idiosyncracies isn't doing the same job as the one pulling you a pint of Stella in the Nag's Head, so some people would tip a bar barman. There are bars (I think Ceviche does this) where if you sit at the bar they don't add a service charge and if you get a table they do.


Executive summary: no-one will be surprised or disappointed if you don't tip in a bar that doesn't add service charge.