The Problem With Optional Service Charge in The UK.

“Can you take the service charge off the bill please?”

The idea of saying this probably fills you with dred.

Don’t worry, it’s very British of you.

Now let me set out from the beginning that I do not have any issue whatsoever with receiving the bill for what I ordered and paying the server a tip for their good work. What I do have a problem with is restaurants adding on service charge to the bill automatically in the UK. This “optional” service charge is usually 12.5%, which can add up to a decent amount.

Now this isn’t the servers fault, it’s the companies themselves who decide to put it on the bill. The funny thing is, you are perfectly entitled to have it taken off the bill. You Don’t have to pay it as along as it was not made aware to you that it was a ‘compulsory service charge’ somewhere on the menu or verbally.

The 4 main reasons for my utter dislike of this “optional” service charge included on the bill are as follows;

1. Servers might assume that their tip is safe.

Now I know many servers work bloody hard in their job. However, I am sure that if some know that the tip will be included on the bill no matter what, that some may drop back a little on their enthusiasm and effort. It’s just natural not put in as much effort if there’s no reward. I’ve been to plenty of restaurants where this optional service charge has been included and the service is average at best!

2. It rewards bad servers.

The optional service charge also rewards bad servers just as much as the excellent ones. Now anyone knows that this isn’t fair. How can a miserable server who doesn’t smile and doesn’t pay you any attention get the same tip as someone who is bubbly, conversational and helps you out whenever you need it?

2. They get payed a decent wage in the first place.

In the USA I don’t have a problem with paying the optional service charge which is included with all bills. The reason I don’t have a problem with this in the US is because the servers literally need it to survive. You see, servers are paid differently in the US; in many states they’re allowed to be paid as low as $2.63 per hour. The tips and gratuity are expected to make up this short fall and bring wages up to, or above the minimum wage. As a result, in America you can blame the sates and the government for paying so little, not the restaurants. However, in the UK servers have the same minimum wage as every other profession in the whole land (£7.50/hr). Now I know this might not be much, but again, let tips that the customer CHOOSES to leave bring this wage up to a higher level.

3. It takes advantage of the fear of embarrassment.

If you’ve never said the sentence at the beginning of this post, you’ve probably wanted to at some point in your life, but you haven’t. This is absolutely fine and it’s very British of you. However, restaurants take advantage of this fear of confrontation/embarrassment by knowing that not many people will question the 12.5% optional gratuity, even if the service was poop.

Now, if you feel like your waiter didn’t deserve the tip, or you just cant fathom the idea of paying someone extra for a job they’re already paid to do, then you can ask for the optional service charge to be taken off. Because it is just meant to be that – optional! Restaurants cant refuse to take it off unless it was made aware to you before that it would be added and it was compulsory.

I remember one time I went to the rip off that is Busaba Eathai. As soon as we sat down and before we had ordered we were brought food, either the servers were mind readers or it wasn’t our food. The glass for my drink had lipstick on, the portions were tiny, and we had about 13 different servers during our time there. At the end I asked for the service charge to be taken off. They then asked why!? As if I had to give a good enough reason or they wouldn’t take it off. I kindly reminded them that it was optional and they removed it. I haven’t been back since!

I’ve never really understood service charge in the first place. Waiters are doing the job they’ve been employed to do. You don’t see a lifeguard rescuing someone then asking for a £10 tip for the pleasure. I don’t know how this “optional” tipping culture has come about. But it needs to stop. If restaurants took off this optional service charge i’m sure there wouldn’t be much of a dip in tips. Even if there was a dip, it would be a dip for the bad servers who would have to up their game, while the good servers will keep on bringing in the tips. Restaurants need to remove these “optional” tips from the bill and let the customer chose the tip, they will see an increase in the standard of service and it will reward the good servers.

To the restaurants: We’re not in America, we’re in the UK, so stop taking advantage of the brilliant British shyness.

16 thoughts on “The Problem With Optional Service Charge in The UK.

  1. I too wonder about the history of tipping, espeically why this mainly occurs with restaurant wait staff. Crossing cultures (USA to Europe to Africa, etc.) add more complexity. I recently had a conversation with a bartender and waitress in the USA (where I live). They mentioned that our customs for tipping came from the Prohibition era a hundred years ago. Prior to that time wait staff were paid as were other service staff. But, during the Prohibition, the Speakeasies could not acknowledge that they were selling alcohol, thus they could not put this on the bill and leave a written record of the transaction. Thus, customers tipped the wait staff a higher percentage to make up for the unaccounted expense that the wait staff had to put into the till. As often happens, traditions remain even whent the situation changes. Thus, when Prohibition ended, the wait staff were left with low hourly wages and the expectation that the customer would bring up their income by tipping them. I have not verified this account, but is makes sense, and for a good story. You know how we in the USA like fake news… -Oscar

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow. Thanks so much for this detailed insight. I had no idea about that tradition and I’m sure it had something to do with the current situation! The government wouldn’t just decide servers should get a lower wage for no reason!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I dont know if the law has changed now in the uk but my biggest problem is restaursnt owners usung the service charge to pay the wages and not as service charge. It used to be standard practice… there were talks to change this, so maybe they can’t anymore. Otherwise, i have asked to take it off and left cash instead or none at all. Nobody shaming me into doing something 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I totally agree! I think the US needs to step up their game too!!! Minimum wage should be minimum wage and that’s that. Tipping should be optional and based on getting great service. How is serving at a restaurant any different than checking out someone’s groceries, or like you said, being a life guard, or a nurse, or any other service position? I don’t get the point of forcing someone to pay some kind of gratuity. Doesn’t it stop being “gratuity” at that point? If your worried about your profits, go ahead and up the prices a few cents. I’m not going to notice that my hamburger is a dollar more as much as I’m going to notice the extra 5 bucks tacked on to my bill for (in my opinion) no reason!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Didn’t know so many people thought the same! Thanks for your comment! I agree about the US situation, people just accept it as the way it is for some reason, even though it makes no sense! Totally agree that minimum wage should be minimum wage!

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  4. I completely agree – this “optional service charge” nonsense drives me round the bend! It really does play on shyness and fear of embarrassment, which is unfair as customers shouldn’t feel pressured into paying extra for sub-par service. I remember asking for it to be removed once and my boyfriend cringed as I asked them to take it off!

    Liked by 1 person

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