Service Charge in Restaurants: is it just me?

In the last five years this has crept in to become the ‘norm’: 10 or 12.5% added to your bill in a restaurant. Automatically. Regardless of how many of you. Regardless of how good or bad the service is.

When a restaurant automatically puts service charge on my bill, I become absolutely determined not to pay service charge, and I also don’t want to leave a tip. If they did not put service charge on the bill I would probably leave a tip when I experience good service! Even if I have enjoyed the experience of going to the restaurant, and liked the staff and food, this taints the whole thing.

Today I went to a restaurant on Berners Street with my friend Samantha. It was just the two of us, and we wanted a quick lunch. Despite clearly being in a rush, we constantly had to call the waiters over, as the service was quite poor and we were ignored much of the time.

Can we have the bill please?

To top this off, when they brought us the bill (and then disappeared, as seems to be customary with all waiting staff, despite you holding your bank card in your hand) it stated 12.5% service charge. I folded the bottom of the receipt so that it just showed the sub-total. I then said I would pay the £9.95 I owed for my meal on my card. He pretended not to hear me! He unfolded the bill and said “you split?”. I explained no, I am paying for mine – £9.95. He put this through and I could see what was about to happen.

My friend then gave her card and said the amount she would put on it, and he said “the service charge?”. I said no, it’s optional, and he said “You didn’t like the service then?” so that I had to grumble something about putting some coins on the table instead. I didn’t, of course, as they were rude and what a cheek to charge a whopping 12.5%! As a result, I am never going back to that restaurant. It makes no difference that the food was quite nice – that’s forgotten in the wake of bad customer service and assumptions that you want to pay for their service.

Back in the day

“Service charge” used to be paid in the form of tips, if you particularly enjoyed the experience. It was always meant to be voluntary and friendly thing that the customer can do as a way of saying an extra “thank you”. This assumption that everyone should just pay it without question is appalling. I now go out of my way to give a big tip at places that really impress me, and that don’t feel the need to push their customers into it.

I found a place that does not charge service: Pizza Express. Who would have thought it?

Sorry for the rant – I had to get it out of my system…

PS: I was charged £1.20 “admin fee” in a black cab yesterday – does anyone know anything about this? Is this new?


4 thoughts on “Service Charge in Restaurants: is it just me?

  1. I totally agree. My favourite one was recieving a bill which said in very large letters ‘Service Charge Not Included’ and then in much smaller writing in the actual body of the bill charged ‘10% Service Charge’ – have never been back!

  2. Also, the waiting staff don’t get service charge as part of their tips. It’s just eaten up and lost in the rest of the restaurant’s money. The only way to be sure your waiters are getting a tip is to hand it straight into their hands and say ‘this is for you’.

    • I completely agree – for the two years I worked at a restaurant I had just one service charge cheque, for £20. It all goes to the owners, rather than to say thank you to the staff. The only problem is, when they ask for service charge it puts me off even giving a tip – even if I wanted to!

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