Delhiites seek service charge-free food, restaurateurs reason out

Foodies in Delhi-NCR share their experiences of being forced to pay service charges at restaurants, on several occasions. Restaurateurs share their reasons behind levying service charges.
Complaints against service charge being added mandatorily in food bills, by restaurants, has led the central government call a meeting with the National Restaurants Association of India (NRAI). (Photo: Sanchit Khanna/HT (For representational purposes only))
Complaints against service charge being added mandatorily in food bills, by restaurants, has led the central government call a meeting with the National Restaurants Association of India (NRAI). (Photo: Sanchit Khanna/HT (For representational purposes only))
Updated on May 29, 2022 11:23 AM IST
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ByAngela Paljor, New Delhi

Appreciating the effort of a server when dining out, and extending monetary reward/tipping is a universally accepted practice. However, the levying mandatory service charges was ordered to be stopped, by the government. Still, many eateries have continued to add service charge in the issued bills, and some have even written it in their menu about not wanting to lay off this charge under any circumstance. This and general discomfort of having to shell out extra from the pockets made many consumers write to the concerned authorities, complaining against this practise. Taking those complaints into cognisance, the Centre has convened a meeting, on June 2, with National Restaurants Association of India (NRAI), to discuss the matter.

Some Delhiites tell tales of their bad experiences, on refusing to pay the amount calculated under service charge. Upendra Shaurya, 38, a market research manager who lives in Saket, shares, “My first encounter with having a service charge being added was when we were in Khan Market once, and our bill came to almost 15,000. Along with other taxes, they had added a 10% service charge. It is a lot to ask for 10% service charge! Especially when you are already accepting the exuberant prices of dishes. And when we checked with the manager, he directed our attention to the menu that carried a line stating that it’s mandatory to pay the same. Initially we refused to pay, but in the end we had to give in because it was mentioned on the menu and we didn’t realise it before ordering. But I still feel that this is more or less like tipping, which should be voluntary. I would rather hand the money to one server than the establishment. How can I be sure that the service charge money is really being given to the servers?”

Restaurateurs justify the additional charge by stating that the extra income is crucial for the servers and providing the customers with the option to refuse. (Photo: Sanchit Khanna/HT (For representational purposes only))
Restaurateurs justify the additional charge by stating that the extra income is crucial for the servers and providing the customers with the option to refuse. (Photo: Sanchit Khanna/HT (For representational purposes only))

Meanwhile, restaurateurs weigh in and share that they ask for service charges as it’s an extra income that is crucial for the servers. Sharad Madan, owner and co-founder of Khubani in Aerocity, says the service charge is for the staff on the floor. “They work really hard for customer satisfaction and deserve the tip as a token of appreciation. Of course they are paid salaries, but the service charge works as an incentive for them,” opines Madan, adding that he is looking forward to the meeting scheduled early next month to put forward his views on the matter.

Most of the customers say they feel willing to pay extra for the service, provided it is good. However, they refuse the claim by restaurants that making this section of the bill mandatory is for the benefit of the servers. “One should appreciate the service being provided and add a tip as per their convenience,” says Priscilla Ghazes, 30, lawyer who lives in Model Town, and adds, “I’m against being forced to pay a certain percentage of the total bill as service charge. Appreciation comes from the heart. It can’t be forced. And if the owners are truly concerned about their staff, they should either pay them better or give a share of the daily profit. The employers also need to be held accountable.”

But some Delhiites share they are tired of reasoning with eateries who make it compulsory to pay service charge, and are now giving in to pay and avoid creating a scene. “It’s a regular occurrence wherein I don’t wish to, but I still have to pay a service charge,” says Noida-based Oshin Baliyan, 26, a senior analyst at an IT firm. He adds: “Recently I was at the Malcha Marg market with friends, and what we ordered totalled to 1,200. But with the additional taxes charges, we were asked to pay 1,800. Ab taxes to samajh mein aate hain, but service charge bhi hum hi dein? Initially I used to be reluctant, but now I don’t argue since quite a few places have got it written on their printed menu that service charge is a must to pay. However, what I do at my end is check with the servers if they actually get what we pay as a service charge. In most cases they say they do. But I still feel that it should definitely be a personal choice to pay these charges or no. I have seen how some people don’t appreciate the work of those serving them food. They need to be sensitive towards them, and true that any additional financial help goes a long way. But this shouldn’t be forced upon the consumer.”

Most customers say they are willing to pay extra for the service, provided it is good, but aren’t convinced by the claims that this money goes to the servers. (Photo: Sanchit Khanna/HT)
Most customers say they are willing to pay extra for the service, provided it is good, but aren’t convinced by the claims that this money goes to the servers. (Photo: Sanchit Khanna/HT)

Other restaurant owners also point out that if one isn’t willing to pay the extra charge, they do provide them an option to refuse. “What we charge, 50% of it goes to the staff, and helps them a lot. The rest covers up for the additional issues that we face. It’s definitely something that shouldn’t be removed. However, we have mentioned in the menu that if the customer feels that it shouldn’t be charged, we remove it without any hesitation. So the option lies with the customer,” says Amit Bagga, co-founder of Daryaganj restaurant that has branches across Delhi-NCR.

Echoing a similar sentiment, Sahil Sambhi, co-founder and director of Molecule and Viet:Nom says, “Ever since the order came in 2017, about service charge being voluntary and not mandatory, we make it a point to not to force the customer to pay it. If a customer asks it to be removed from his invoice, we happily oblige. But more often than not, what we’ve seen is if the customer is happy with the experience, we’ve seldom been asked to remove it.”

It’s true that being a server in a restaurant is a tough job, and therefore it’s important to collect amount from service charge, to motivate the staff to give their best service to each customer dining in, says Sambhi, informing: “Even if the service charge is removed (after the impending meeting) we plan to give incentive to the staff, to keep them motivated and happy, which will ensure great service and experience to our customers.”

Author tweets @AngelaPaljor

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