Wednesday 16 January 2008

Service not included

There was a time when tipping (leaving gratuities) was considered discretionary. If you took a cab ride and the driver took a good route and got you there fast you gave him at tip. If you got a really good haircut that felt like a million dollars you left your hairdresser a tip. If you ate out and got friendly, discreet, courteous and prompt service you left you waiter/waitress a small consideration as you left. You never felt obliged to leave money for a sub-standard service and you certainly did not have it added to your bill as a matter of course. This leads us to the pernicious 'service charge'.

Presumably the rise of payment by electronic means made it more difficult for the satisfied customer to leave a tip. But it is very unusual these days to dine out and not find at the bottom of your bill "12.5% service charge". Apart from the fact that I was brought up to believe that 10% was an acceptable amount to tip (where did that extra 2.5% come from?) there is the additional consideration that I very rarely believe that I receive service which is worthy of a tip.

Tonight a friend and I went to a bar just off Piccadilly Circus. Very 'theme' bar in a smart sort of way. On each table was a sign advertising the fact there was 'table service only'. So we sat and waited (and waited) and waited for a waiter or waitress to come and take our order. About 15 minutes. In the end my friend walked off towards the bar at which point a girl finally appeared to take our drinks order. A while later we wanted some snacks. Eventually we snagged a guy passing dressed in the bar's uniform... but he was apparently only employed in cleaning tables, not serving drinks. More drinks orders and food followed, and each time the same difficulty; including even trying to pay the bill. When the bill came my friend decided (quite rightly) that the 12.5% service charge was not warranted. She called over the waitress and told her we weren't happy to pay the service charge, when asked why she told the waitress that we hadn't received any service!

I cannot make an argument for compulsory service charge. If the staff need to supplement their wages then the establishment need to pay more. If the establishment need it to pay the staff (which not only happens, but is legal) then they should charge higher prices. This price increase by stealth should stop!