Most shopping malls will see a boom in their trading during the festive season and food courts seem to brimming this time of the year. The wait at your favourite restaurant is longer as more and more people have money to splurge and indulge in their favourite food. Waiting for a seat or for your dish to be served can make you agitated and the last thing on your mind would be to check your bill.
It is not often that we notice the service fee or gratuity that is added to the bill without our knowledge. Sometimes due to not wanting to create a scene about the bill and just the need to leave, we never question why the gratuity or service charge is added. Is this acceptable in the world of consumer law?
Wendy Knowler, an award-winning consumer journalist, says it all comes down to disclosure.
“If a restaurant has a policy arbitrarily including a tip or a service charge of 10% or sometimes a bit more, then it needs to be disclosed upfront either when a booking is made or when a person walks in, strictly before they order.”
Having a small little printed line at the bottom of the menu is not good enough because that can be easily missed.
“The practise of including gratuity in the bill began as an introduction for large tables for like 8-10 or more. However some restaurants around the country have started introducing it like a set thing, be it for one person or 20. I know that the restaurant association of South Africa does not condone this,” Knowler said.
This would mean that we are not obliged to pay the service fee.
“If you were not told about it and then suddenly you see this service fee included in your bill then you would very much within your right not to pay it. A tip is a discretionary thing and it should not be compulsory,” she stressed.
Knowler also said that the other danger in this is that people who are out having a good time and not paying attention to their bill in many cases end up paying a double bill because they do not notice that extra charge being put on their bill.
“Patrons would look at their bill and add the extra 10% or whatever amount they feel appropriate as a tip and in that leaving a double tip which is really not on.”
To tip or not to tip?
What many restaurant food lovers may not know is that paying a tip that is 10% of the bill is not obligatory.
“There is no set percentage at all. If a consumer does not want to leave a tip at all then that is entirely up to them. It is not for the patron in the restaurant to pay the ‘wages’ of the serving staff. That is for the owner of the establishment to do out of their takings,” she explained.
Knowler went on to add that waiting tables has become a way for young people to earn some money with tips but it does remain up to the patron entirely as to whether they want to pay a tip and how much they want to pay.
Often we are exposed to a bad eating experience which makes us think twice about leaving a tip. However often as a customer when we have bad service we are not sure what needs to be done. Perhaps you had a drink which didn’t taste as good or your chicken in your burger was under cooked. Lately, the trend is taking to a social platform to vent about the experience. Is this effective?
“I think social media has its place however I also believe in being fair. To complain constructively I feel first one should raise it with the manager or the owner of the establishment. Give them an opportunity to put it right on the spot. To go straight to social media with a complaint without having raised it with the establishment, I don’t think it is being entirely fair,” Knowler suggested.
“If you did raise the complaint and you aren’t treated appropriately, then by all means share that as a warning to others.” VOC (Najma Bibi Noor Mahomed)