Experts & Views
December, the month of new promises and festivities brings with itself joy and smile on the faces of everyone- the reasons being but obvious: Christmas, weddings, New Year’s Eve and much more. The atmosphere in offices and at homes is merry and laid back with people looking forward to Christmas holidays, plans and the New Year’s Eve.
Also frequent restaurant and lounge visits with families, colleagues and friends increase in this part of the year owing to the cool weather and less work and study pressure.
I happened to visit a popular food joint on my birthday and was visibly surprised and annoyed to find the service not as expected based on the experience of my past visits and the reputation of the food joint. But the thing which pissed me off was the 14% service charged levied by the restaurant. I stared at the percentage for about 2 minutes before paying up for the bill leaving no tips.
What we don’t know is “Service Charge” is a smart alternative to the “voluntary tips” being used by the restaurants, pubs, lounges which gets clubbed in your final bill amount which usually varies from 5 to 20%.
What’s funny is it is not a tax unlike “Service Tax” and is not demanded by the government. Unsuspecting and ignorant customers usually ended up paying the service charge thinking of it as a “Tax” levied by the government.
Furthermore, there are no set regulations or guidelines to govern the percentage of the service charge a restaurant could levy. Hitherto, this service charge was a thing of compulsion, heavy on the customers’ pocket, irrespective of the fact whether he enjoyed the meal and the service rendered.
In the wake of several complaints filed by the consumers on the compulsory payment of service charge, the government announced that a consumer can now refuse to pay the service charge if he/she is not satisfied with their dining experience. Furthermore, according to the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 the Department of Consumer Affairs called for clarification from the Hotel Association of India, which in revert said that the service charge is completely discretionary and, is therefore deemed to be accepted voluntarily. The Central Government has asked the State governments “to advise the Hotels/
Restaurants to disseminate information through display at the appropriate place in the hotels/restaurants that the ‘service charges” are discretionary/ voluntary and a consumer dissatisfied with the services can have it waived off.”
The National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) representing independent restaurants and food chains had a different view to the issue whereby it issued a statement implying that customers were free not to eat at a restaurant if they did not wish to pay the service charge levied by it. According to NRAI levy of service charge is a “common and accepted” practice by the restaurants.
The statement of NRAI was criticized on social media and was found to be insensitive and arrogant.
The next time you happen to visit a restaurant or a café/lounge/pub and if you’re dissatisfied with the experience, remember — you have the right to say no to that service charge printed on your bill.
Bon Appétit !!