Sometimes they call it a “service charge.” Sometimes they call it a “gratuity” or “cover.” We all know that it’s a tip for the wait-staff or bartender BEFORE service has even been rendered. What is the meaning behind this? Why do restaurants and bars feel the need to add this “tip” to the regular bill? Do they feel their wait-staff isn’t up to snuff, and they must protect their precious tip? Did they hire subpar people so they can pay them less, on the premise that they would have a guaranteed tip? Do they just wish to make the poor, innocent consumer pay more for food or service that might have been below standard?
All these questions enter my mind whenever I see that “service charge” on the bill at the end of the meal. It always comes without warning right at the end, as if they planned it that way. They never warn you about it. It’s never written in the menu. They just tack it on like “oh yeah…..we must have forgotten to tell you that you’d be paying extra for us to do our job correctly.” This extra money is usually a surprise to most of us. Maybe the service wasn’t good enough to warrant a tip as large as the “service charge” may be. Maybe the water could have been refilled more quickly, or maybe the server wasn’t quick enough when asked for the check. All these things factor into the amount of money one is willing to pay for a meal. When restaurants do that factoring for you, it’s like they’re saying they haven’t hired the right people and they have no faith in their staff to perform to a high level of competence.
Also, the existence of this guaranteed tip means the wait-staff doesn’t have to do their jobs well. They are guaranteed extra money at the end of the meal. Why should they go out of their way during the meal to make the diner feel comfortable or to serve the diner with the utmost competence? They shouldn’t! They don’t need to make the diner feel comfortable or to provide good service. They aren’t trying to get the diner to reach in his pockets to take out that extra cash for good service rendered, they are guaranteed it already! I wonder if you can refuse the service charge….or ask the proprietor what the service charge is actually for. If the service was bad, can you refuse to pay it? I have had some pretty bad service in restaurants only to find out at the end of the meal that the server was getting a tip regardless of their gross incompetence. On the contrary, I have also had very good service in restaurants and have wanted to leave a large tip, but when I see the service charge there (even if it’s less than the tip I was planning to leave) I don’t leave anything. Is this right to do to the competent server who makes diners feel comfortable and works hard? No!
In the last one, the poor guy even included a tip…..I guess he didn’t see the 15% gratuity already added on!
The addition of the “service charge,” “gratuity” or “cover charge” is also an incentive for the wait-staff to work only well enough NOT to get fired. They don’t go above and beyond for their diners. They are not the happy, vivacious, chatterbox tip whores that we see in places like TGI Fridays or Applebees. In “service charge” restaurants, they are sullen, unhappy and surly. The gratuity/service charge guarantees them that little something extra at the end, so they don’t need to put the smile on and chat up the customers. These restaurants are not very happy places. People go to them because the food must be good, but the atmosphere could use some happiness!