SER­VICE CHARGE HAS DIS­CHARGED MY MIND

To give or not to give – now that’s the ques­tion. With guests and restau­rant own­ers slug­ging it out over the forced gra­tu­ity, we ur­gently need a crowd-pleas­ing so­lu­tion

Hindustan Times (Patna) - Live - - Time Out - Sonal Kalra de­cided to tell Mrs Chad­dha to make Chad­dhaji pay her ser­vice charge for feed­ing him ev­ery day. She says she takes it out of his wal­let ev­ery day, any­way. Mail your thoughts at sonal.kalra@hin­dus­tan­times.com, face­book.com/son­al­kalraof­fi­cial.

Chad­dhaji went to the Golu restau­rant to cel­e­brate his wed­ding an­niver­sary. The choice of venue had noth­ing to do with Mrs Chad­dha’s shape, he said. She any­way got the hint, and spilled the beans about how he fran­ti­cally sprinted to­wards the door when the siz­zler ar­rived. They fought for a while, and the dis­cus­sion then got di­verted to a big pain point. Not only for the Chad­dhas, but for a lot of us. Whether or not the restau­rant should have levied the ser­vice charge! The whole ser­vice charge de­bate, which was sparked off by the Con­sumer Af­fairs Min­is­ter say­ing that it isn’t com­pul­sory, had just be­gun to set­tle when the Ghor Sankat Tax dropped on us like a hot patato. Lo, the jhagda has started again in restau­rants, with staff say­ing ser­vice charge do, and cus­tomer say­ing no, no, no. That rhymed. Do you think I have a fu­ture as a poet? Any­way, let’s get some fact and re­al­ity check right be­fore we dive stomach-on into the ser­vice charge de­bate.

THE FACTS

Hazaar baar suna hoga, but will still say it. Ser­vice Charge There is no ser­vice tax any­more, it has changed to GST of 18% (9% cen­tral, 9% state), in case of restau­rants. Ser­vice Charge is what we in­for­mally call the ‘tip’, and is nor­mally added in your bill as 10-20% of the to­tal amount. No, it is not manda­tory to pay the ser­vice charge. The Food and Con­sumer Af­fairs Min­is­ter clar­i­fied in April that din­ers can ‘vol­un­tar­ily choose to pay the ser­vice charge, if they wish to’. If a restau­rant forces you to pay the ser­vice charge, you can sue them in the con­sumer court.

THE RE­AL­ITY

Most restau­rants have put up notices on the door, or printed on the menu that they levy a ser­vice charge, thereby im­ply­ing that if you are not okay with pay­ing the charge, you should not eat there. Legally they can’t en­force it, but if you en­ter and or­der at a place de­spite the no­tice, it is largely un­der­stood that you’re okay with pay­ing the ser­vice charge.

If you are un­happy with the ser­vice, you can refuse to pay the charge and ask for it to be re­moved from the bill. But such a re­fusal mostly re­sults in ver­bal spats with the staff. Hence, truck­loads of stress for ev­ery­one.

THE TROU­BLE

I have a lot of friends who keep crib­bing about the ser­vice charge. I also have a lot of restau­ra­teur friends who jus­tify the ser­vice charge cit­ing high costs and the need for staff mo­ti­va­tion. There’s par­tial merit in both ar­gu­ments, I’d say. If the dishes came cold and the waiter even colder, why would you want to pay 10% ex­tra as tip? And the whole point of go­ing to a restau­rant and pay­ing an ob­scene price to eat out is to avail of the ser­vice and the am­bi­ence. If even that is to be charged, what jus­ti­fies the high cost of the food bill, any­way? How­ever, if you look at the same ar­gu­ment from the side of the restau­rants, they’d quote in­ter­na­tional ex­am­ples and tell you that in Amer­ica, even though there is no ser­vice charge added on the bill, pay­ing close to 20% tip is usual. And how In­di­ans make such an is­sue of not pay­ing tip — some­thing that’s a valid perk for the wait­ing staff, con­sid­er­ing their low salaries and tough work­ing hours.

THE SO­LU­TION

Ghar mein khana khaa lo. Ha! Okay here’s the thing – while there are coun­tries like China and Ja­pan where tips are re­fused as they are con­sid­ered rude, in In­dia they are like a par­al­lel salary for restau­rant staff that’s not well paid. Also, while in coun­tries like Cam­bo­dia, where din­ers vol­un­tar­ily put a fixed amount in a tip-box re­gard­less of the cost of the meal, here in apna Bharat — whether we like it or not — we do not have the mind­set to dole out money wher­ever there’s the slight­est op­tion avail­able of not do­ing so. We also, how­ever, don’t want to be pay­ing for ser­vice that wasn’t up to the mark.

What per­haps should be done is for the govern­ment to have a clear, un­am­bigu­ous rule about the ser­vice charge. Marzi hai toh do, marzi nahi toh mat do kind of a stance puts ev­ery­one con­cerned in a con­fused, and even­tu­ally com­bat­ive mode.

A lot of un­nec­es­sary ar­gu­ments and stress can be avoided if the govern­ment works out a so­lu­tion, which is fair to restau­rants and cus­tomers and fixes it, once and for all. Bas ten­sion khatam karo ab.

is dif­fer­ent from Ser­vice Tax.

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