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Wednesday, Sep 18, 2019

A Calmer You: Service charge has discharged my mind

To give or not to give – now that’s the question. With guests and restaurant owners slugging it out over the forced gratuity, we urgently need a crowd-pleasing solution.

columns Updated: Jul 29, 2017 18:11 IST
Sonal Kalra
Sonal Kalra
Hindustan Times

Chaddhaji went to the Golu restaurant to celebrate his wedding anniversary. The choice of venue had nothing to do with Mrs Chaddha’s shape, he said. She anyway got the hint, and spilled the beans about how he frantically sprinted towards the door when the sizzler arrived. They fought for a while, and the discussion then got diverted to a big pain point. Not only for the Chaddhas, but for a lot of us. Whether or not the restaurant should have levied the service charge! The whole service charge debate, which was sparked off by the Consumer Affairs Minister saying that it isn’t compulsory, had just begun to settle when the Ghor Sankat Tax dropped on us like a hot patato. Lo, the jhagda has started again in restaurants, with staff saying service charge do, and customer saying no, no, no. That rhymed. Do you think I have a future as a poet? Anyway, let’s get some fact and reality check right before we dive stomach-on into the service charge debate.


Hazaar baar suna hoga, but will still say it. Service Charge is different from Service Tax. There is no service tax anymore, it has changed to GST of 18% (9% central, 9% state), in case of restaurants. Service Charge is what we informally call the ‘tip’, and is normally added in your bill as 10-20% of the total amount. No, it is not mandatory to pay the service charge. The Food and Consumer Affairs Minister clarified in April that diners can ‘voluntarily choose to pay the service charge, if they wish to’. If a restaurant forces you to pay the service charge, you can sue them in the consumer court.


Most restaurants have put up notices on the door, or printed on the menu that they levy a service charge, thereby implying that if you are not okay with paying the charge, you should not eat there. Legally they can’t enforce it, but if you enter and order at a place despite the notice, it is largely understood that you’re okay with paying the service charge.

If you are unhappy with the service, you can refuse to pay the charge and ask for it to be removed from the bill. But such a refusal mostly results in verbal spats with the staff. Hence, truckloads of stress for everyone.


I have a lot of friends who keep cribbing about the service charge. I also have a lot of restaurateur friends who justify the service charge citing high costs and the need for staff motivation. There’s partial merit in both arguments, I’d say. If the dishes came cold and the waiter even colder, why would you want to pay 10% extra as tip? And the whole point of going to a restaurant and paying an obscene price to eat out is to avail of the service and the ambience. If even that is to be charged, what justifies the high cost of the food bill, anyway? However, if you look at the same argument from the side of the restaurants, they’d quote international examples and tell you that in America, even though there is no service charge added on the bill, paying close to 20% tip is usual. And how Indians make such an issue of not paying tip — something that’s a valid perk for the waiting staff, considering their low salaries and tough working hours.


Ghar mein khana khaa lo. Ha! Okay here’s the thing – while there are countries like China and Japan where tips are refused as they are considered rude, in India they are like a parallel salary for restaurant staff that’s not well paid. Also, while in countries like Cambodia, where diners voluntarily put a fixed amount in a tip-box regardless of the cost of the meal, here in apna Bharat — whether we like it or not — we do not have the mindset to dole out money wherever there’s the slightest option available of not doing so. We also, however, don’t want to be paying for service that wasn’t up to the mark.

What perhaps should be done is for the government to have a clear, unambiguous rule about the service charge. Marzi hai toh do, marzi nahi toh mat do kind of a stance puts everyone concerned in a confused, and eventually combative mode.

A lot of unnecessary arguments and stress can be avoided if the government works out a solution, which is fair to restaurants and customers and fixes it, once and for all. Bas tension khatam karo ab.

Sonal Kalra decided to tell Mrs Chaddha to make Chaddhaji pay her service charge for feeding him every day. She says she takes it out of his wallet every day, anyway. Mail your thoughts at, Follow on Twitter @sonalkalra

First Published: Jul 29, 2017 18:10 IST