Tipping Point
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Tipping Point

As an American sushi eatery bans tipping, we ask city servers to break down Mumbai’s so-called innocuous gratuity culture as we talk to them about how service charge has affected their lives.

lifestyle Updated: Jun 28, 2013 14:07 IST
Serena Menon
Serena Menon
Hindustan Times

Earlier this month, a sushi restaurant in New York banned tipping. Not only did they feel that they pay their employees enough, but they also wanted to save the patrons the hassle of ‘doing the math’ (to calculate the 10 to 15 per cent tipping amount) at the end of their meals. In India, we’ve also followed global standards when it comes to tipping.

So we carried out a brief survey on Twitter and Facebook asking diners what they consider a suitable amount to leave behind in return for “good service”.

"If I’m really impressed, I would leave 20 per cent, but usually 10 to 15 is the norm,” someone said. However, most of whom we interacted with agreed that this norm has changed dramatically with the widespread inclusion of service charge at city eateries. Those in the hospitality industry don’t deny that fact either.

Served and charged

“People don’t tip when there is service charge added to the bill. Especially with the amount of taxes diners have to pay these days, expecting them to leave something more is quite unfair,” says Kenneth Miranda, manager at Umame, a fine dining restaurant in Colaba.

Roosevelt Fernandes, who is the manager at Pizza Metro Pizza, Bandra (W) feels this charge was introduced due to Indian customers’ stingy tipping habits. “I’ve been in the industry for eight years. When I started, there was no service charge, but people barely left any money as tips. For them, the tipping amount is just the loose change left over after the bill amount is paid,” he says.

However, Farhad Taraporevalla (24), who works at Amadeus and was employed by Busaba before this, disagrees. He says, “If the service was good, people have left 15 to 20 per cent beyond service charge too.” Ask him if the inclusion of this charge has made the tipping amount less of an ‘incentive’, and he says, “If the servers manage to sell more, they get a share of a larger bill at the end of it. So it is very much an incentive.”

Mitesh Rangras, the director of SID Hospitality that runs restaurants like Aoi, Lemon Grass and Pot Pourri, among others, says this is where the role of the senior management comes in. “They need to keep the staff motivated. And at the end of the day, the staff knows that if people don’t come in to the restaurant, there won’t be any service charge for them to earn from,” says Rangras.

Miranda (41) has been part of the hospitality industry since 1988. He has served at numerous eateries around Mumbai. Ask him if he feels that the addition of service charge has truly helped those in his profession and he says, “When there was no service charge, we used to get tipped individually, which might have been more, but at that time employees who work in the back-end — the kitchen staff, dishwashers and doormen — they lost out on the tips,” he adds. “This way, everyone benefits from the service charge.”

Unfair share

While most restaurants split the service charge among their entire staff — including the front desk, kitchen, back-end employees and valets — there are many that don’t.

“Since the diner thinks he’s already paying service charge (which is 10 per cent of the bill here), he doesn’t leave a tip. But we don’t end up getting anything. It’s not fair but what can we do,” says an anonymous server, from a popular Chinese restaurant chain in the city.

Rangras adds, “It’s sad, but it’s true that there are places that do not pass on the service charge. More than cheating the customer, they cheat their own employees. We split our service charge into half for the servers and half for the kitchen staff.”

According to industry estimates, a mid-level eatery in the city pays a employee (like a waiter) anything between Rs 5,000 to Rs 7,000, while a top level restaurant can even dole out Rs 12,000 to Rs 15,000. Though most places now count service charge and tips as a component of their servers’ salaries, it does remain variable and dependent on performance.

“After including tips, the Rs 12,000 to Rs 15,000 pay package can become Rs 18,000 to Rs 20,000,” says Fernandes.

First Published: Jun 28, 2013 11:45 IST