I am writing this article, my first for this year, at the risk of eating spiked meals for the remainder of my dining out life. Spiked with all sorts of sickly bodily fluids that can be voluntarily egested and added to my mains, much to the victorious vindication of their venomous vengeance and to my distasteful displeasure. They are employees of the hospitality industry, and me is the collective conscious of the consumer at large. I am talking about that loathsome service charge which has so far been added to our bills like a godly ordinance. That last sentence clearly leaves no doubt as to which side of the line I stand on the matter.
I have argued this before, much to the chagrin of several friends in the industry who found my rant acrid, bitter and perhaps even unfair. To me, service is the art that separates the good ones from the rest, it distinguishes places that are passionately invested in the hospitality business rather than the greed-driven business of hospitality. Service was something that only years of experience could afford and, like a chef's prowess in the kitchen, a skill that managers acquired and honed over time. It was something we expect when we walk into a swanky place and commit to paying top dollar for food that could otherwise be had for lesser elsewhere.
To be imposed with a service charge that didn’t account for the quality of this service was to equate the sub-standard with the superb. It’s an unfair advantage which takes away the desire to improve on one’s service flair. The idea of incentive only works if it is up for judging and marking before rewarding.
I have always argued that the word ‘discretionary’ be inserted before service charge, a much-needed prefix to keep them frog-legged service staff on their toes. That way the onus of performance rests on them, not on the consumer who often felt short-changed for being made to dole out money for service that wasn’t adequate.
The argument that Indians are bad tippers looms large. Many among us, especially the rich kind, only flip out the big bills when others are watching them tip. We don’t mind lightening ourselves of a good few wads as we bend over the dholwala (making a public fool of ourselves) but tipping when dining out makes us more miserly than demonetisation did.
What’s the solution? Salaries need to be fixed and service folk need to be made aware of this. Raise the price of your dish, but the service charge is the cream and cherry on top—it needs to be earned. It is our privilege as a diner to bequeath and nothing should take away this right to choose how and upon whom we bestow it. The windfall is for the owner to bear. If that's too much, get your offsprings and siblings to serve but don’t pass on the burden to either employee or guest.
With all this said, I will now go and look up a site with 365 simple recipes; dining out for me henceforth chances on being an injurious venture.
(The writer is a sommelier)