Restaurants 'should abolish tipping'

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The Independent Online
GLENDA COOPER

Tips and service charges should be abolished in restaurants as they often leave customers with a sour taste at the end of an evening, the Consumers' Association said yesterday.

Unwelcome charges can add as much as 15 per cent to a meal - and the association's call came as the Earl of Bradford introduced a Private Member's Bill into the House of Lords to sweep away the "absurd unjustified" anomaly.

Lord Bradford, the owner of Porters restaurant in Covent Garden, wants restaurants to charge fully inclusive prices, with notice that staff do not expect anything in the way of a tip or a gratuity. Exceptional service could still be rewarded.

The Bill would also outlaw cover charges, unless they included specific entertainment, and make restaurants fill in credit slips in full so diners aren't misled into paying twice.

At present, there are four different ways in which restaurants can charge for service. They can incorporate a charge for service and VAT into their prices, add a percentage charge for service, add a percentage for "optional" gratuity on to the bill or say that service is not included, leaving it to the customer's discretion.

Restaurants usually charge between 10 and 12.5 per cent for service, but the Good Food Guide 1996 lists 19 restaurants which charge 15 per cent for service, adding pounds 4.50 to a pounds 30 bill.

Such restaurants include Au Jardin des Gourmets, which the Guide describes as "one of Soho's bastions of culinary tradition", The Connaught Mayfair "there is nothing wrong with this wonderful restaurant except for the prices" and Neal Street Restaurant, Covent Garden "varies according to member of staff you deal with but comes in at 15 per cent anyway".

Confusion about whether you can refuse to pay a service charge is rife, said a Consumers' Association spokeswoman.

At present, if service is at the customer's discretion, you do not have to pay anything. If it is included in the bill - and it has said so on the menu - you cannot withhold payment without good reason, such as the service not being up to scratch.

The association claims the answer is for menus to be written on the "what you see is what you pay" principle, with all-inclusive prices. "Service is one of the things you go into a restaurant for - it ought to be good," said Helen Parker, editor of Which? "Singling out service for special payment is absurd."

"Buy something in a shop and a shop assistant wouldn't accept a tip. Restaurant charges are an unjustified anomaly."

David Harrold, chief executive of the Restaurateurs Association of Great Britain said he was in favour of cover charges being abolished and credit card slips being filled in, but that legislation was necessary for the abolition of the service charge to work.

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