This is an opinion piece which I understand may get me a lot of flack but this is something which has been bothering me for a while…
A service charge is exactly what it says on the tin. It is a charge added at the end of your meal for the service you have been provided. This is almost always worked out as a percentage of your meal and is usually put on as an optional standard. This is very similar to a tip but is not a spontaneous act of kindness which is guaranteed to go to the person serving you but is paid through the bill and, frankly, could go anywhere.
I am glad we do not have a big tipping culture in the UK. I completely understand that it can be a good thing to do if the service in a restaurant has gone beyond the line of duty but people should not be tipped for simply doing their job.
Tipping is not something I flat out refuse to do but I have often felt that a tip should be an exception rather than the rule. It should be on the terms of the customer what they are willing (or can afford) to pay.
I am also aware that tipping is popular in other countries, most notably the US, which I completely understand. Minimum wage laws are sporadic, insufficient, and in some examples non-existent in America. Healthcare is not universal and tipping fits quite nicely to the American idea of the harder you work the more you get. So, something like tipping is a great way for someone to turn their waitressing job into a sustainable wage to pay for things which we take for granted in the UK.
But things are different in the UK. We have a generous minimum wage, a better benefit system, and universal healthcare. We also don’t subscribe to the starry eyed American idea of “being the best you can be” but more to the idea of working to live well.
Which leads me to the service charge. This is essentially the worst of all worlds. It has this horrible habit of being added onto your bill at the end without warning (or usually written in tiny writing at the bottom of the menu). It is something which is not included in the price and you have to add on top when calculating what the bill (if you notice it).
Of course, people will say that it’s optional and you can have it taken off at any time but naturally this puts an unfair pressure on the customer who has come to the restaurant to relax. Now they have to justify why it should be taken off when it shouldn’t be on there at all…and the restaurant knows this too. Restaurant owners know that a lot of people will just pay it to avoid embarrassment, which is essentially exploiting people’s good nature, especially in the UK where we will do almost anything to avoid an awkward situation.
That person who you have spent an hour or so chatting with and building up a relationship, you now feel like you have suddenly upset, when the reality is that the customer should never be involved in the pay discussions between the staff and the management in the first place.
Which leads me to my next point. What is an acceptable tip? I have always thought that 8% is a fair price, especially for a larger group. Yet I am seeing companies crudely add 12.5% to their bills. This is rather presumptuous of them.
I am happy to pay more for my meal if the staff earn a fair living but just add it to the price of the food. Tipping culture puts unfair pressure on customers, encourages employers to pay less, and breaks trust between restaurants and customers.
If you see me in a restaurant, do not expect a service charge. It’s nothing personal, it’s ambush tipping
If you want to write a piece for the Cambridge Foodies blog then get in touch with me on Simon@cambridgefoodies.me.uk
We polled the Cambridge Foodies Facebook group to see what the community’s opinions were. After two days it became clear that the service charge was a very unpopular idea with more people preferring not to tip at all rather than pay a service charge.
Reading through the comments, peoples main concern was not the tipping itself but the fact the charge was added and had to be requested to take off. According to people in the group this made customers feel uncomfortable and awkward. There were also concerns over the service charge often being very high, between 10-15%, with individuals wanting the freedom to tip what they feel was appropriate at the time. Some expressed concern over the money being paid through the restaurant and either being taken or shared across the restaurant and taxed.
It looks like my concerns aren’t alone 🤷♂️
9 thoughts on “My beef with the service charge”
Minimum wage is £9.52 and waiting staff and chefs pay Cambridge rent and bills, so when you say this is generous I’m struggling to understand how you think not paying service is acceptable? of course if your service was awful you wouldn’t pay, nor would I.
Unfortunately the profit in restaurants is small and getting worse with the costs rising so the owners cannot afford to raise the wage above minimum so your choice is to pay the service or see lovely places to eat close and people who are skilled at making your experience great be out of work.
Minimum wage is only the minimum you can be paid (which is one of the higher ones in Europe, when compared to the cost of living). Your employer can pay you more if he/she wishes. My argument is that the customer should not be involved in your pay disputes. If you wish to earn more than this needs to be discussed with them, not with the customer. Tipping, for example, is a better way of handling this, as they aren’t put into an awkward situation why a whopping 12.5% isn’t justified. Indeed, Cambridge has a very high cost of living which is why most people (like myself) move out of the city and travel in. Please keep in mind that the customer is also suffering a high cost of living and may very well live in Cambridge too. These are choices people make. I do not have an issue with waiters and waitresses warning more but the way service charges are implemented are unfair.
Dear Simon. Firstly, I would like to say anyone who calls themselves a ‘foodie’ and goes into a restaurant is already a wanker in the eyes of anyone who actually works in hospitality. This is proven in your idiotic diatribe above. Secondly, I find it hilarious that you have written this and then, at the bottom, there is a ‘ make a donation to help run this site’ button. Almost like a stealth charge. I didn’t ask you to write drivel, why would you ask me to support it? Please remove it immediately- I have spent a few minutes engaging with you and now you expect payment?
You are everything that’s wrong with the word ‘foodie’.
Thanks for the constructive comment. The difference between asking for a donation anonymously behind a screen is very different from automatically putting a service charge at the end of a bill face and face, then expecting them to justify why it should be taken off is very different. Especially when my service is entirely free in the first place. Surely you can understand that.
I stand by my comments, as I believe that the customer should not be involved in your pay dispute between you and your employer. I worked in care for 18 years on minimum wage and was not allowed to accept tips or gifts.
Personally, I feel your attitude towards thinking people are “wankers” for enjoying food is what’s wrong with hospitality, especially if you expect a service charge afterwards.
I think I speak for a large amount of the hospitality staff in Cambridge when I say, Simon, don’t go to restaurants if you can’t afford it Babes. And, btw, I live abroad now but if I didn’t, you and your sort would be banned from my establishment. I’ve met you before and you are indeed twattish.
I don’t think you really understand what I’m trying to say.
Always had good service at smoke works Amanda, tipped our servers directly. Generally prefer to tip cash as I’m not sure if companies keep the service charge.
Agree with Simon that it should not be an automatic addition, if anything that should be priced into the food costs.
The point is that you didn’t get tips as a carer so you don’t think others should. As everyone knows, service charge is optional. There are many people who don’t agree with it so they politely decline it. Some people leave a tip instead. Some people don’t leave anything extra. What they don’t do is try and rile things up with a lengthy ‘opinion’. Stay in your own lane. Wetherspoons.
Great piece, I completely agree with you. It should be completely optional and not automatically added to the bill as a presumption. I’ve seen a few places tell you how much 10%,12.5% and 15% is on the bottom of the receipt which I think is a good compromise.