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Stop this madness – we’ve reached the tipping point of ‘optional’ service charges

Posted at 3:20 pm, November 18, 2014 in Food & Drink, News

Is this is a new low for the ‘optional’ service charge? At Lobster Kitchen in Bloomsbury, we queued at the counter, paid the bill, then took our seat at the rough-hewn tables of this new seafood diner waiting for our dishes to be brought to the table. Then we noticed on the bill: ‘optional service charge’ of £6.12, which worked out at 12.5 percent.

Now we’re not against service charges – clearly stated on the menu and then bill, they avoid confusion about any need for tipping, or how much. Which works fine if you’re in a restaurant which actually has table service, with waiting staff taking your order. But queuing at a counter and paying at the till? 12.5 percent? Err, we don’t think so.

We prefer the truly optional system, for example at the all-day vegetarian café Ethos in Fitzrovia; or at DF Mexico, which also has counter service, and has a similar system; leave a cash tip when you leave.

The key word, of course, is ‘optional’. But what if the amount’s already added, and you have to make a fuss to query it? If you’re British, you probably won’t. Which, of course, is exactly what some sharp operators rely on.

Our advice: tip where it’s due, don’t where it’s not. And always check your bill carefully before paying, to avoid paying for service you’ve simply not had. By Guy Dimond

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