Why restaurants and staff should stop begging

Is it me or are restaurants getting worse and imposing on diners what now seems the norm and ‘Begging’ diners to pay extra by adding a 10-15% ‘discretionary’ so-called ‘Service Charge’ automatically to the bill?

Personally, I refuse to tip or pay a service charge and will always ask for it to be removed, without question. I simply don’t agree with the ‘American-styled’ practice that seems to have become ingrained and a compulsory part of dining out. However, what angers me more than just waiting staff expecting a tip, for more often than not ‘poor service, is the now common practice of restaurants automatically adding a service charge! What is that about? They say it’s discretionary, but many diners probably just pay it as they feel embarrassed to ask for it to be removed from the bill. After all, we are ‘British’.

In my opinion, this is just a way for many restaurants to charge 10% more and get away with it. If the government increased VAT by 10% tomorrow there would be outrage, but in effect adding a 10-15% charge is a tax!

Studies have also shown it is a self-defeating practice that can have a negative impact on your employees, business and customers.

I recently visited a Coal restaurant; please don’t judge me it was by far one of the worst dining experiences I have ever had. Coal is a small chain with around 9 restaurants across the UK. The menu is poor, the food is inedible and the service is diabolical. Yet they have the audacity to add to every bill a 10% service charge! Imagine my horror, it was shocking, they had already removed several items from the bill as it was inedible, and they expected a 10% tip for that? I am not alone in this opinion as a quick flick through TripAdvisor reviews on Coal restaurants and you will see mentioned several times that people were shocked by the crap service only to be presented with a service charge automatically added.

The question for me is why is it so prominent in the restaurant industry and becoming forced upon diners? If you get good service in a shop, do you tip? Probably not. If you travel on the bus, train or tube and they got you to your destination on time would you tip? Again probably not. If you asked a person on the street for directions and they helped you out, would you give them a tip for their service? Would you tip the fire brigade if they had rescued your cat from a tree or put a fire out in your house? Or even the nurse who has taken care of you in hospital. These are all examples of times, people and places that we receive service and more than likely don’t tip.... So why in restaurants?

I simply argue it is the person’s job, they are being paid to do the job, we have no reason in this day and age to tip. I argue that the expectancy and almost compulsory notion that everyone should tip in restaurants is damaging not only our culture but the quality of service and in the long-run is damaging to your employees, business and customers.

Restaurateurs need to understand it is not good for business to tax people with this unnecessary 10-15%. You should stop the practice immediately and you will start to reap the benefits.

First and foremost you should be paying your employees a decent living wage. If your business can’t sustain that then your prices need increasing, probably by 10-15%, If you did this you would probably notice very little downturn in business. Your employees would be happier and your customers would be more receptive. The beauty about not adding a service charge and actually effectively communicating the message to your customers that they shouldn’t tip will put your diners at ease. As your employees aren’t driven by tips they are less pressured and aren’t comparing who earnt the most in tips that shift. You eliminate conflict around sharing out the tips or sharing them with back-of-house staff as well. Your business performs better as a result.

In Singapore, it is illegal to tip and in countries such as Fiji, Iceland and Japan they cause embarrassment and offence!

Another visit to a Loungers bar recently also shocked me further. They had a number of brightly coloured tubes on the counter, each with a different member of staffs name on with 'Staff Tips' labelled below. This is just blatant begging. Although I am against the idea of tipping and service charges. I see no place in the hospitality or any other industry for the need to blatantly beg customers for more money, just for doing your job!

Some restaurants have already made the move and banned tipping and they ensure customers know this. I would like to see more restaurants move this way and maybe incorporate an alternative strategy that instead of asking for a tip or service charge they ask for a contribution to a cause such as planting a tree to offset the carbon footprint of the customer’s meal. Imagine how powerful a message this becomes to your customers. It tells your customers that you value your employees and pay them a decent living wage and they don’t need to beg and have charitable handouts. Secondly, it adds value to your brand as you are giving something back socially that has a lasting economic effect.


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Jonathan Butler is the Author of Business Recipes for Success: Four Steps to Building a Successful Restaurant and Hospitality Business available now on Amazon

More About Jon

An award-winning chef, hotelier, restaurateur, and author Jon has over 26 years experience in the hospitality industry. Having successfully operated his own businesses as well as helped many others to grow theirs. He launched OutSauced Consultancy in 2010, and since then, has helped a number of start-ups, entrepreneurs and SME’s within the hospitality sector, become more efficient, customer-oriented and profitable.

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JON BUTLER - OutSauced Consultancy

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