“A 12.5% service charge will be added to your bill”

Have you noticed that a new charge is being added to your bill in most restaurants when you eat out? They call it a “service charge”. In order for the restaurant to provide a waiter to come to your table and take orders and serve your food, they will add a fee.

They don’t even pretend it’s a gratuity for the staff. They brazenly name it for what it is - and it’s usually a massive 12.5%.

Admittedly, they do forewarn you, in rather small type, at the very end of the menu, that “an optional (or discretionary) 12.5%”  will be added to your bill. But it seems strange to me - what if John Lewis added 12.5% at till every time you shopped? Or M&S? 


When utility companies put their prices up by 8 or 9%, there's a public outcry, but when restaurants add 12.5% few people seem to care. Are we all so rich that we don’t care? Or are we so British that we would be far too embarrassed to say 'no' in a restaurant, but we don’t mind marching in protest about utility companies?

Personally I find the whole thing absolutely outrageous but I seem to pretty much alone. I started off refusing to pay it as a matter of course and tipping in cash as I’ve always done. But, like King Canute, I’m beginning to see that I’m wasting my time.
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We’re accustomed to tipping staff if the service has been good. It’s a long tradition. We like to say 'thank you' with a cash gift - and of course they’re happy to receive it. I’ll admit that it can lead to unfairness if the waiter pockets the lot. What about the folk behind the scenes? But a properly managed “Tronc” system resolves that.

But no, in their cunning, profiteering way, they started putting “Do you wish to add a gratuity?” on card machines, which is interestingly difficult (as the restauranteur knows it will be). Being asked, even by a machine, if you wish to leave a tip puts you under a moral pressure to do so. Pressing the “No” key is like saying the service was poor - and you feel mean.

So I carried on giving a cash tip and hoping the restaurant had a fair system for distribution. Then I discovered that charge on your card payment goes to the management, not the staff, and they can basically do what they want with it - or at least they could!  I have yet to see any proof that it all actually goes to the staff; and if you ask the staff, some insist that they get it all but they’ve never seen the figures, whilst others admit that staff receive as little as 40% of gratuities. And I was told, in one well known chain, that the “gratuities" were used to make up the minimum wage. This is so immoral that it eventually reached parliament and was discussed, so I believe it's now illegal.

So they’ve come up with another wizzard wheeze to extract greater profit from us - a 12.5% price hike. And being good little British people we happily pay it.

Well I’m not happy about it. When I decide to give a tip, I want it to be me who makes the decision - 5%? 10%? 15%? And it will probably depend on how well I feel I've been looked after during the meal.

When a “Service Charge” is simply added to the bill, my ability to choose has been taken away and a gross presumption has been made on the part of the restaurant.

But as I said, most people seem happy to be fleeced in this way and are happy to have a12.5% price increase foisted on them. We are a starnge lot, us British, aren’t we?

What do you think?

Let me know

© Brian Smith 2015