/ Money

Should the ‘optional’ service charge be barred?

Wallet on bar with drinks

Restaurant service charges are a bone of contention for our community, but what about extra charges at the bar? Have you ever checked your bar receipt to see whether an ‘optional’ service charge has been added?

About a month ago I visited a London hotel with some friends and proceeded to order a couple of cocktails at the bar. The bartender diligently made the drinks and gave me my change along with a receipt that I tucked into my purse.

It wasn’t until a few days later when I was clearing out my purse that I noticed I’d been charged an ‘optional’ 12.5% service charge. Surprised at this, I phoned the bar and spoke to the manager. I told him that my receipt said the charge was ‘optional’, yet it had been taken without my permission. He told me it was customary to add a service charge to all drinks and food served and that it said so on the drinks menu.

I said we must be using a different dictionary definition of the word ‘optional’.

To make a long story short – he refunded me my £1.74. However, the entire experience left me wondering whether others have been caught out in the same way.

‘The barman opened the bottle and charged for service’

Most people will pop their drinks change straight into their pocket or purse without checking the receipt, yet some bars could be making a small fortune from ‘optional’ service charges.

We decided to take this question to Which? members. Although around a third told us that they always check bar receipts, three in 10 said they rarely or never do. Interestingly, women are significantly more likely to check their receipts than men, and the older you get, the more likely you are to do so. We heard some interesting stories as well, such as this one:

‘About seven years ago, I arrived before anyone else for a meal in Leeds, so ordered a drink. The barman opened the bottle, handed it across the bar, and gave me a bill including service charge. I refused to pay this, and gave him the money for the drink only.’

But not everyone is willing to complain:

‘A hotel in London a couple of years ago… we bought a small wine and a single spirit and mixer at the bar. The man serving us added service charge automatically and gave us change based on this being mandatory. We didn’t complain as it was the first time we’d experienced it and thought it was the norm in London.’

So, have you fallen victim to the ‘optional’ bar service charge? Did you complain, or were you happy to pay the added charge?

Louise says:
6 February 2016

At the end of a day out in London my friend and I ended up in the Grosvenor Hotel cocktail bar for a very quick cocktail before catching the train home.
Cocktails £12 each but bill was £27……
Just greed!!!

Ashish Gaba says:
19 October 2016

It’s my first time in bar in UK & I ordered glass of wine & they charged me £10 bar charges & i think it’s complimentary