Drop Service Charges!

In London earlier this week, my wife and I stopped off at Bills Restaurant in Brewer Street in Soho (above) for a late lunch. After a shared starter of Pitta Bread and Hummus, we went with the 'Specials Menu' - the Super Salad for Jane and the Cumberland Sausage with Cheesy Mash and Onion Gravy for myself (below). The service was slow, despite a very friendly and chatty waiter who let me taste the house white wine before ordering a bottle. When the mains finally arrived, long after the bread, most of the wine and our first bottle of sparkling water were finished, they were okay, if over-priced. The 'super salad' was not 'super' - apart from the flakes of tuna and the beetroot, there were no other 'super foods', such as quinoa, pumpkin seeds or pomegranate. It was very disappointing. My sausage was tasty and tender, the cheesy mash smooth and the onion gravy quite delicious. I opted for a warm pecan pie and banana ice cream for my dessert, with my wife taking a black coffee. Sadly, I needed a microscope to see the pecan pie and at £4.95 a portion, it was extremely overpriced considering the size.

The big shock though came with the bill. It had a 12.5% service charge on top of a bill of £51.45. This was the second restaurant I had visited in three days that had tried to charge me automatically for service and not great service at that! I was in Cardiff at the weekend and the Italian restaurant Bellinis in Cardiff Bay had tried to charge me 10% on a bill of £139. That is £13.90 for serving a bottle of Prosecco and four pasta dishes!  Why O Why do restaurants try to do this?

Let me pose a simple logical case for NOT levying a service charge, to restaurants like Bills and Bellinis and many more -

We had two bottles of sparking water with our meal at Bills, at a charge of £2.35 per bottle (total £4.70) and were levied a service charge of 12.5% on top for this. Yet many diners sensibly ordered tap water with their meals, at no charge and hence no service charge. Yet, Bill's staff still had to serve their water, wash their glasses, wash their carafe and refill their carafe from the tap - but there was no service charge. Meanwhile, I had to pay an extra 29p per bottle for the waiter to serve our bottle of water, or should I say place it on the table, and to wash our glasses afterwards. Hardly fair or logical!

Restaurants should drop these service charges - optional or not. It does not make sense and only alienates the customer, particularly those younger and less confident clients who can be embarrassed to ask for the optional service charge to be removed, and so pay it to avoid any confrontation with the waiting staff. Customers should choose themselves whether to, and what rewards they want to give for restaurant service!


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