So, as well as the service charge, the restaurant wanted a tip too, but did not even ask for it directly
What is wrong with the restaurant bill below, from my dinner at The Lansdowne in Primrose Hill last night? Take a second.
No, it's not that three gay guys all ordered burgers (with bacon). One friend and I saw the tip slot and started calculating 12.5 per cent of £72.56, while my other friend (who works in finance and is thus much better at reading a balance sheet) noticed the line marked 'Service Ch' and pointed out that the tip (as generally understood, a gratuity for appreciation of service) was already included.
So, as well as the service charge, the restaurant wanted a tip too, but did not even ask for it directly – they hid the service charge in a smaller size to nudge our attention away. Naturally, one looks at the large number then adds service,
This causes both customer-service and restaurant-philosophy problems. First, I'm unlikely to go back to The Lansdowne not just because the burger was average but because I feel like I've been tricked.
Secondly, in England it has always been the case that the service charge functions as the tip, which you can increase or decrease depending on the quality. Some restaurants add a service charge, others present you with the plain food and drink total, but before last night I had never in London seen another slot for a tip. What, then, is the service charge, if not a reward for service? And any idea of it being optional has been wiped out.
I should have been wiser to this, because I did see it in New York restaurants last week, but over there I understand it more. While service is a more respected profession there, it is also worse paid, so tips are vital. Indeed, bills often carry a calculation for service at 15, 20 and 25 per cent, to help you as you pony up.
If this trend for sneaking in the service charge and expecting an additional tip starts to creep into London's restaurants, I say we refuse to give in – not through meanness but through this unpleasant unexpected extraction, which runs contrary to what we've always done.