I am not completely against tipping waiters/waitresses. However, since moving to London I’ve noticed a ”optional” service charge keeps popping up on my bills. My first encounter of a service charge was last year at my friend’s birthday, and when I looked at the bill, which came to over £100, I noticed something called a ”service charge” which came to over £10. I was then informed that the service charge is basically a tip of around 12.5% of the bill and is (apparently) optional. Now, the issue I have is if this service charge is optional then why the hell is it placed on my bill with the assumption I will pay it. Plus, while our waitress was nice I don’t think she deserved a tip of over £10, she was polite and brought the food over but that’s what I expect from a waiter/waitress anyway. She didn’t provide exceptional service, for example when my friend asked her for a doggy bag to take away some food she hadn’t finished the waitress simply brought it to the table and my friend had to put the food in the bag herself. In my opinion, the waitress should have taken my friend’s plate to the kitchen, put the food in a doggy bag and brought it back to the table. With that in mind, I asked for the service charge to be taken off our bill and the waitress made me feel so guilty, like I was eating cake in front of starving children.
Since then, I can’t remember seeing a service charge on my bill or if I did I decided it wasn’t worth challenging. However, last night I went out for a meal and I was paying. I looked at the bill and there was a ”discretionary service charge” at the bottom of around £5. Now, the food was great, but the service was mediocre. The waitress brought the food and drink over but she wasn’t particularly attentive and I don’t remember her asking if we’d like more drinks, if we’d like to see the dessert menu etc. I didn’t think the service deserved a tip, because I see a tip as a reward for excellent service not a guaranteed thing. Thus, I asked the waitress to remove the service charge because I was paying by card and she honestly looked at me like I’d spat at her. Then she disappeared for a minute and then suddenly she appeared again demanding to know why I wanted to remove the service charge. I was literally dumbstruck, I can’t even remember what I said but it was something along the lines of ”I prefer to tip what I think is appropriate for the service”. It was awkward and I was so thankful I’d already eaten my food because I’m 99% sure she would have spat in it if she’d known I was going to refuse to pay the service charge.
After we’d made a hasty exit, I started thinking more about service charges. I was quite irritated about the fact I’d been challenged because as it says on the bill the service charge is ”discretionary”. However, at who’s discretion is it? Because it certainly didn’t feel like the service charge was optional last night when I was being questioned about my decision. Customers have no obligation to pay a service charge and for waiters and waitresses to challenge that decision indicates that it is increasingly being viewed as compulsory. The fact that service charges are added to bills without asking for the customers consent also supports this idea. However, my view is that taking my order, bringing my food and drinks to the table and being polite are what I expect from a waiter/waitress anyway. It’s what they have been employed to do and I don’t see why I should have to pay extra for a service that is a basic requirement in their job description.I don’t tip my bus driver for not crashing the bus or the checkout assistant at Tescos for packing my shopping.
Not only do service charges deter restaurant owners from paying their staff higher wages, but it’s not uncommon for the restaurant to either take a cut of the charge or hold the entire charge completely. The charge is unfair on the customer and the employees, the only people who benefit from it are restaurant owners. Thus, I’ve made a decision to continue asking for the service charge to be removed if I receive mediocre service. More people should begin challenging it instead of being worried about ”causing a fuss” or being seen as ”difficult”