Should restaurants add a service charge to bills, or is it an excuse to rip off the customer? The Earl of Bradford crosses forks with Richard Shepherd of Langan's


"My policy is that there's a 12.5 per cent service charge added to the bill. It's clearly marked on the menu, so the customer knows exactly what happens and where their money is going - they pay the total, and that is all they have to leave. If the service hasn't been good they have a right to say, `I'm sorry, I haven't been happy with the service', and not pay it. If you haven't been happy with the service and you're at an all-inclusive restaurant, how can you refuse to pay it, when it hasn't, technically, been added?

What `all-inclusive' actually means is that there is a service charge in there, but as they're not allowed to print how much on the menu, it could be 5 per cent or 15 per cent, you don't know. I believe it's more open to abuse when restaurants don't have to reveal the percentage. I also believe that if we went all-inclusive here, six months down the line it would all be forgotten and customers would still be expected to leave a tip on top. Which is exactly what happened to me in a restaurant in France at Christmas. When I got my bill I asked if service was included, and was told no. I asked to see the restaurant manager and said, 'I thought it was all-inclusive by law in France?' He replied, `Oh no, sir,' Now I know that's a lie. But people still expect you to leave a tip on top, so in the end it will cost the customer more. At my place, I hand back customers' credit-card slips, and leave the box open - the onus is on the card-holder to fill it in and sign it off. It's not a way of conning people into leaving a tip at all. In fact, I had more trouble when we did fill in the boxes, because customers would say, `Oh, you've filled the box in, I wanted to round it up. Would you do me another slip?' Everybody is so suspicious of the restaurant industry, but at the end of the day, if you're unsure about service or whatever, you only have to ask."

Richard Shepherd is co-owner of Langan's Brasserie, Stratton Street, London W1


"Eating out in this country would be a much friendlier and simpler business if there was no service charge and restaurant prices were all- inclusive, as is the case in France, where it's very straightforward - you see a price on the menu and you know that that's the price you're actually going to pay on the bill. At the moment, even with the use of a calculator, you can look at the menu outside a restaurant here, and you still cannot work out what your bill's going to be. In this respect, the restaurant industry is the total exception to the way that normal business is conducted. In shops or supermarkets, for example, you see the prices of the goods before you buy them, the total on the bill is the sum of the prices of these articles, and you make a transaction. Why should it be any different when eating out? It's totally confusing, especially for tourists.

If you are dissatisfied with the service at an all-inclusive restaurant which has no service charge, you can still complain and are perfectly entitled to have something deducted off the bill. It doesn't remove any of your rights as a consumer to object to whatever you want to, and to refuse to pay for whatever you want to. There are smoke-screens thrown up left, right and centre by the restaurant industry, and these exist simply to confuse and bamboozle the customer. Making a service charge and then leaving the credit card slip open or blank (instead of it clearly saying `a 12.5 per cent service charge is already included in this amount') and offering the bill back in the hope that the customer will leave an additional tip on top of this, is the most appalling trick of the lot. Basically, they're trying to get their customers to leave them money twice. It's just totally devious."

The Earl of Bradford is the President of The Masterchefs of Great Britain and owns Porter's English Restaurant in Henrietta Street, London WC2. Interviews by Fiona McClymont