When you leave a tip at the end of a meal you expect it to go to the restaurant staff, but unless you leave cash that might not be the case. So where is service charge going?
I’ve always found the idea of tipping low-paid workers troubling and condescending. Frankly, people should be paid a fair wage for a fair day’s toil and not have to rely on gratuities.
However the world is not ideal and I feel obliged to tip hospitality workers because the chances are they aren’t paid adequately. For this reason I’ve always paid the optional restaurant service charge when it was included on the bill with barely a grumble – until I learned where the additional payment actually went.
Where service charge goes
I’d always thought that the service charge, along with any non-cash tip paid by credit or debit card, would find its way as an extra payment to the hard working restaurant servers and kitchen staff. How wrong can you be?
A look at the British Hospitality Association (BHA) website soon corrected that misconception. The service charge and non-cash tip can, it seems, pay for credit card and bank charges, payroll costs and credit card fraud, but there’s no guarantee that any of it will end up in the staff’s hands as a gratuity.
Another interesting snippet of tipping information on the BHA site is that cash tips are deemed by law to be the property of the staff, whereas the service charge and non-cash tips belong to the restaurant.
Always leave cash
For me it was a no-brainer then; the service charge had to go. For some weird psychological reason it took a bit of courage the first time I asked for the charge to be removed from a bill in favour of paying a cash tip, but now there’s no stopping me.
By leaving out clear and accountable information about where the service charge goes, I believe restaurants are being inherently dishonest with their customers. If they want to charge an extra amount for service (even if it is discretionary) they should clearly spell out exactly what they are going to do with our money.