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At your service

You, as a consumer, have the discretion to not pay ‘service charges’ added to your bill by any hotel/restaurant, according to the government. In a statement issued on Monday, the Department of Consumer Affairs asked the state governments to advise the hotels/restaurants to prominently display that “the service charges are discretionary/voluntary and a consumer dissatisfied with the services can have it waived off.” However, predictably, it didn’t go down well with several restaurant owners. Many believe that making service charge optional is equal to “opening the Pandora’s box”.

“The restaurant’s profit won’t be affected as the money which we get through service charge directly goes to waiters and washers. At the end of it, they might get affected with the ruling,” says Ajay Malla Reddy, owner, Flying Spaghetti Monster, and adds, “The government, on the other hand, is levying compulsory taxes like Swachh Bharat and Krishi Kalyan tax on every bill, but wants service charge to become optional! That said, I’m not worried as our service is good enough to garner tips from our clients.”

“The concept of service charge is equivalent to tips which people happily give if satisfied with service at the restaurants. We are confident about our service but it may get difficult to maintain the staff. The waiters calculate their monthly wages along with the service charge bracket,” says Vikas Passary, Little Italy.

Ajay of Karampodi, says, “We have taken it off from our billing already. I believe that the customers will happily pay as we never got any complaint regarding poor service. But yes, the amount will be not fixed; it may go up and down. The service staff will have to bear it sadly and not move to greener pastures.”

“We stopped charging customers of service charge and we only take service tax now. The move does affect the employees here, but only to an extent. Waiters are still tipped by customers, so they don’t really have a problem, but other employees like the sweepers and cleaners do get affected by this,” says Manish Pandey, restaurant manager of Ohri’s Pickles, Secunderabad.

The Union Consumer Affairs ministry said that this decision followed several complaints from consumers that stated hotels and restaurants were seeking ‘service charge’ in the range of 5-20 percent, in lieu of tips, which a consumer is forced to pay irrespective of the kind of service provided to him.

Food blogger Sahiba Gursahani, says, “A comfortable experience and satisfaction at a restaurant is very subjective. I have seen many restaurants in Delhi that charge a hefty amount of service charge, despite unsatisfactory services. So an optional service charge is going to be great for customers.”
— With inputs from Reshmi Chakravorty and Nikhita Gowra

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