Despite the Central government’s directive that service charge is optional in restaurants, many restaurants in Connaught Place have started displaying signs at their doors, which say that they would be levying service charges at a fixed rate, and customers should consider themselves ‘informed’ about these caveats before availing their services.
The Attitude Kitchen and Bar at Connaught place is one such restaurant in the area that says they will charge a 10% service charge. “We serve you at the table. We are not a McDonalds or a KFC which gives you food over the counter, and you are expected to serve yourself. So we charge a nominal service charge,” explained Atul, manager.
Many restaurants that have been sporting these signs are members of the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI). Prakul Kumar, their secretary general, said that this was to avoid any conflict or confusion later on. “If customers are told beforehand, then there are no ‘hidden charges’ and it can’t be an unfair trade practice. The customer ordered knowing full and well how much it would cost,” he explained.
Customers in the area have expressed their displeasure with forced service charges. “Restaurants already mark up their products. Beer bottles which cost you Rs100 on retail, will cost you around Rs200-Rs300 at some places around here. Why should I pay even more in the name of service charge?” asked Kaushal, a customer.
However, some restaurateurs claimed that if service charge is slashed, the salary of their staff would get affected. “Most waiters work at minimum wages, which is around Rs10,000 a month in Delhi. The difference in their salary is made up for by the service charges levied. If it is slashed, restaurant owners will not be affected as much; they can raise their rates. But staff may not be able to make ends meet,” said SS Bhandari, the restaurant-in-charge at Delhi Darbar, where a sign at their door reads they would charge a service charge at 8%.
In fact, a survey conducted earlier this month by the online platform LocalCircles found that 68% of their respondents said that they did not mind paying service charges for good service, if the money goes to the staff and not the restaurant or the management.
Though most restaurants claimed that the service charges go to the staff, one staff member at one of the other popular eateries in the area claimed it was just on paper. “Service charge is supposed to go to the staff. Yes. But it does not always happen like this. You can just imagine. Some of the bigger eateries here are very expensive. If they take 10% service charges, and actually give it to the staff, most of us would be arriving in cars to work,” he said.