To Tip or Not to Tip? That’s the 15% Question

The meal was great but now comes the moment you’ve been dreading; whether to leave a tip or not? The business of tipping in restaurants has always been a messy one, and it’s about to get messier still. As well as more expensive.

‘The Sunday Times’ Travel Desk reported last weekend it had been presented with a bill from upmarket Brasserie Zedell in Piccadilly with a ‘discretionary’ 15% service charge added to it, so a further 2 ½% on top of an already whopping – but more customary – 12 ½%. That extra 2 ½% represents a 20% increase and an extra £2.50 for every £100 paid.

Those that eat at the restaurant can probably afford it (its owned by Corbin & King, better known for their signature watering holes, the Wolseley and the Delaunay), but for the majority of us, that 15% is a big deal.

Of course, many of us wouldn’t mind paying if the service had been exemplary and if we knew it was going into the pocket of the person serving us, who we intuitively know isn’t being paid much.

But the chances are they won’t see it. And if you eat out the STK restaurant in London, you can guarantee they won’t see it. That particular restaurant is part of the Spanish-owned Melia Hotels International, which, despite signing a global agreement with the International Union of Food, Agricultural and Hotel Workers to promote ethical standards,  suffered the ignominy of having the trade union UNITE mount a noisy protest outside their restaurant.

Their beef? The trade union accused the hotel group of using the 15% service charge intended, remember, for front of house and kitchen staff to top up managers’ wages!

The restaurant uses the widely used ‘tronc’ system, which is supposed to ensure that tips are split equally between staff. The reality is most staff are kept in the dark as to how their share is calculated and regularly accuse the management of rigging it in their favour.

That’s not to say that all restaurant owners are dishonest. All of them have had to adjust to the Government-enforced hike in the national minimum wage to £7.20 per hour and passing on those increased costs to customers in one form or another is probably their only way of staying in business.

Either that, or paring back on their employees’ perks, which is the route taken by the popular high street restaurant chain, Zizzi, which recently told its staff that it would introduce a discounted menu for all staff, but pare back the free food menu available for those working six or more hours.

“The range of dishes available for the free staff food will be reduced to either a margherita pizza or a spaghetti pomodoro,” it wrote in a note to its staff. Good news for those who like their food plain.

Typing in the question ‘how much should I tip in a London restaurant? into Google returned 61,200,000 results. Further proof, if it was needed, as to how confused we all are.

And if only a fraction of those asking had taken part in the Government’s recently concluded Consultation on the subject, Business Secretary Sajid Javid would have had the mandate he needs to introduce a Bill that would ban restaurants from adding a service charge to bills altogether. The trouble is, the government only received 183 responses!

According to a government website, it says that  “Analysis of the call for evidence submissions showed that there is broad agreement that intervention is required to improve the treatment and transparency of these payments”. In other words, expect to see some sort of legislation being passed in the future.

You can read the ‘Government consultation on tipping, gratuities, cover and service charges’ Report published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills by clicking here



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