Has the service charge reached its tipping point?

23rd Dec 2016

When the many UK diners who’ll enjoy a festive meal in a pub or restaurant over the coming days get the bill, they’ll check to see whether there’s a service charge. But even if there is, there’s no guarantee the money will go to the people who served them – an issue that came to the fore this week when the famous chef Michel Roux Jr revealed that the 13% added to the bill at his Le Gavroche restaurant in London does not go directly to staff.

Roux Jr added that he intends to scrap the charge, telling The Guardian: “For me, tipping and service charge are two different things, but by removing the service charge and incorporating it into the cost of the menu then it is clear, clean and unambiguous. And then if diners wish to leave a tip on top of that it is up to them. I think this is something we should do in the restaurant industry.”

Scrapping the service charge is something that would be widely welcomed by the nation’s diners, according to research published earlier this year by The Institute of Customer Service, which found that most Britons (63%) believe that service charges should no longer be added to bills in restaurants, pubs, cafés or hotels in the UK, while 58% think the entire tip (minus tax) should go to employees.

Many (83%) also want to see the Government change consumer protection laws to ensure there is greater transparency about service and cover charges in the leisure, hospitality and tourism sectors.

Greater trust

Commenting on the research, which was part of the Government’s consultation on tipping, gratuities and service charges, Jo Causon, chief executive of The Institute, says: “A new normal is needed, where greater transparency inspires greater trust between consumers and organisations.”

Whether restaurant owners will allow waiting staff to receive tips directly remains to be seen, but Causon believes that doing so would benefit the sector in the long run.

“Customer priorities are changing,” she says. “They are more concerned with employee attitude, behaviour and competence than they are with price – and they want to reward great service properly. We also know that engagement increases when employees feel they are treated fairly, meaning that a transparent approach to tipping is more likely to build engagement and, with it, excellent levels of service.”

Click here to read more about The Institute’s research into tipping.

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