It’s long been a tradition to leave a tip as recognition and appreciation of good customer service and has become quite the norm in the hospitality industry. The very nature of the word ‘tip’ implies that it is not expected and that it is a little extra to say thank you. The phrase ‘service charge’ on the other hand, suggests something far more obligatory. Unfortunately it’s often frowned on not to honour these service charges or offer a tip. Most people would rather try to avoid creating a scene by arguing over restaurant charges but surely a tip should only be given if service is above and beyond what is expected and that service charges should also be paid accordingly?

There are two head scratching bones of contention in this argument. Firstly, what is the difference between a service charge and a tip in the first place? And secondly, are service charges compulsory or discretional and if the latter, is it then not just a tip after all? Aaaaagggghhh!!!

What got me thinking was a visit in March to the Gatwick Hilton Hotel, superbly located directly on the doorstep of the airport, providing easy and quick access to the South Terminal. We were allocated a superior room in the new wing, which was lovely and spacious, quiet and well equipped. Check in staff were helpful, friendly and efficient- the epitome of excellent customer service. I was in my element, how fabulous!

In the evening, we chose to eat from the bar menu in the buffet area of the restaurant. Waiters were super attentive, the service was quick and they attended to our every need without a moment’s hesitation. I remember clearly gushing to my husband at how impressive the customer service was and how I wished it could be like this everywhere. For a couple of brief hours, I was indeed in customer service heaven!

But with the bill, came the realisation that I should really know better – with a nice big fat 12.5% service charge added to the bill. No wonder the staff had been so attentive and happy in their work. They were no doubt flying on the wings of the thought of that extra 12.5%. The waiter waved cheerfully as we left and I waved a rather less cheerful goodbye to the extra £10 I’d just paid!

So why did I pay it you may ask? Well the truth is, I don’t know. I think it took me by surprise and as usual, with these kinds of charges, you need to know your onions before you can argue your point. I was put on the spot without the time to check my rights and then the moment was gone- along with £10 of my money.

However, just for future reference and I think I’ll have this printed on my memory forever: You only have to pay the service charge if it is made clear, verbally or by written notice BEFORE the meal. I had obviously been too dazzled by the service to even notice any relevant small print on the menu and the waiting on staff were too busy being dazzling to impart this information to us. Next time, I’ll be donning some shades, not just so that I won’t be blinded by the light of golden customer service but so that I won’t be easily recognised again when I tell them what they should really do with that compulsory service charge! And I won’t be offering a tip either!

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