Service comes at a cost

This post had first appeared in The Times of India Blogs

It was the end of a classy yet relaxed evening at a newly opened restaurant at Mumbai’s BKC…the ambience mellow, the dishes featured ingredients and influences from Europe and the Orient.

Things suddenly changed and I cringed as the waiter came and plonked down my cup of decaf cappuccino on the table.

A bit of the coffee spilt out. The waiter muttered ‘sh#@’ and then walked off.

I lifted a serviette and wiped off the edges of the cup. Then saw that the cappuccino was all milk and no froth. By then my mood was soured so I just returned the cup and left the chocolate cheesecake which was more caramel than chocolate half eaten and left.

The evening was blemished.

Was I being too particular? Wasn’t what happened human?

Well this place, like most of the new crop of premium restaurants at Mumbai, add a service charge to the bill. In most cases about 10 per cent.

There are differing points of view on what to with this. Technically this is a ‘charge’ and one can ask for this to be removed.

No one does that even if they are upset with the service. Most folks, including me, rarely add anything above the charge unless one has been particularly thrilled with the service. I know some who do. A biased sample but often those who do are women. They often end up tipping 20 per cent…10 per cent which is levied and what amounts to 10 percent over and above that.

The genesis behind the service charge phenomenon is not hard to figure out.

India doesn’t have much of a tipping culture and we are reputed to be a country of bad tippers. We don’t really have rules on when and how much to tip ingrained in us. If anything, given that till very recently, eating out was considered to be a rare exclusive indulgence, the idea of tipping over and above what one would pay seemed weird to many. The prevalent argument being ‘we are paying more at restaurants than what the same dish would cost at home’. Things changed as restaurants started going the ‘international’ way and it is primarily the ravioli and sangria places which levy the service charge. And now folks are learning how to make these dishes at home though now the Indian momma no longer says ‘I’ll make the same thing at home and save money’…eating out here is to stay!

The thing is that the moment you add a service charge it seems as if the restaurant owner is putting the onus of ‘paying’ for the service on the customer. It is made clear that you pay for this separately and not part of what you are paying for the dish.

Folks have told me that they wish that price was included and didn’t come as a rude surprise at the end. Especially if you didn’t remember that you have to add 10 per cent to every decision you make in a restaurant including if your dinner mate pops the question.

You begin to wonder what else the restaurant owner will wash their hands off. Will there be a 9 percent tablecloth charge…an 11 percent detergent charge…a 172 percent charge for entertaining journalists and bloggers…

I am not a very fussy guy and don’t like to get into a scrap but if you are going to charge me for your service then I am going to note if the waiter can’t answer simple question about food on the menu, if the waiter pours out water and doesn’t fill the glass as the jug was empty, or, worse still slips bottled water into the bill at a cost, if the cook gets my egg Benedict and leave it on the counter and I have to convince the waiters to get it to me, if the waiter gets mini burgers after the pasta to the table even if its obvious that starters are meant to be had before the mains, and if I have to sit and wait for my bill, or if my fish is rotten and the chef tells me ‘can’t be sir…we’ve served portions from the same fish to other guests’ and they are all right…I am going to note it if the water assures me that the ’my boss’s pasta’ is not tomato based and then get me a red pasta…or do not get the dishes together to the table leaving one person waiting for the others to get their food

If you are going to charge me for your service then I am going to see if I am getting my money’s worth…and one day I am going to stand up and not be so polite.


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