Valuing the work of a server while eating out is a generally acknowledged practice worldwide. We go to restaurants for a convenient dine-in experience thinking little of the cost. However, there is a provision for you to save some per cent of the cost by choosing not to pay the service charge.
According to a recent statement by the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, restaurants charging for services is an 'unfair trade practice' that cannot be imposed on consumers. The ministry's 2017 circular stated that providing food and beverages ordered by a customer is a service component, "The pricing of the product, therefore, is expected to cover both goods and service components."
Despite this, numerous restaurant owners add service charges to the given bills. Moreover, some even declare that they would not wave off the service charges for any reason. Diners complain that asserting their choice of not paying the service charge, often results in unpleasant arguments with the staff.
We asked a few Delhiites to share their experiences and reactions to this.
Meghna, 22, an advertising professional who often goes to restaurants says, "Removing the service charges is an excellent decision as we already pay additional taxes and charges. Service charge is just a way of getting extra money from our pockets."
Sharing an incident she says, "I asked a person to remove the charges, and the server gave me judgemental looks making me feel as though I am being stingy. I don't think it's wrong to save your hard-earned money in any way. And if I have the privilege to get the service charge removed from my bill, then why not," says she.
Neha Chaudhary, 25, an MBA student while sharing an incident says, "My friends and I went on a dinner together at a posh restaurant near Mehrauli. When we asked for the cheque, there were huge service charges imposed on the total, when we had asked the waiter to remove it, the server asked us to choose between the 20% discount on the total bill or service charges. The manager was so bent that at last, we had to pay the service charges against our choice."
Nishitha Gupta, 18, a student at IP University, says, "I think all taxes come under CGST and SGST according to the government's guidelines. The service charge comes under SGST. No restaurants are supposed to charge any other taxes than GST. So, whenever I go out, and they charge the service tax, I ask for it to be removed from the bill. Half of the time, they agree but sometimes, they don't."
She continues, "When a restaurant does not include service charges, and I like their service, I usually pay a tip to the server. However, if the staff says that they won't remove charges, I think arguing becomes a waste of time. So I pay against my will and leave."
Srishti Thukral, 27, lawyer, says, "As per the guidelines, no restaurants and eateries can charge service tax by default in a bill. The area for service charge is supposed to be kept blank (without any amount) so that the consumers can pay (or not) as per their own will."
Thukral mentions that the guidelines note that the entry of a customer into a restaurant itself cannot be construed as a consent to pay the service charge. Any restriction on the consumer's access by forcing them to pay the service charge as a condition for placing an order amounts to "restrictive trade practice" under the Consumer Protection Act.
"I get anguished when they refuse to remove the charges without any of our say,” says Devika Verma, a Delhi-based artist. She adds, "One should appreciate the service and tip accordingly. I'm against being forced to pay a particular portion of the total bill as a service charge. How is it fair to us to pay extra other than the bill for the services?