Service charge

FOOD FOR THOUGHT - Chit U. Juan - The Philippine Star

Do you ever wonder why they call it service charge when sometimes there really is no extra service rendered? How pleased are you with service in hotels and restaurants? Do you tip extra if you are extra happy with the service?

I often hear people say “there is a service charge already, no need to tip.” This becomes a problem because the service charge never tells the staff if what they are doing is good enough or needs improvement. It, however, assures management that they can pay minimum pay for staff, since they are assured of a service charge anyway. And it somehow assures the staff that no matter how mediocre their service is, they are sure to get an extra at the end of each month in the form of service charge. In hotels, the amounts are very high during peak season, especially during Christmas.

Besides the service charge, sometimes we like to give our friendly service staff a little more. We can slip it into a table napkin, secretly slip it into their hand or fold it into a paper receipt from another place. But beware, sometimes they could get fired for keeping these extra tips secret.

You need to ask if the tipping policy is “centralized” – where everyone gets a fair share, including kitchen staff who you do not see. If it is centralized, you will need to leave a little something on the tip tray or the check folder (even just P20) and then give your favorite what you want, no matter how much.

It is an art one should learn over time – how to surreptitiously tip a porter, a waiter or even a maître d’ or head waiter at a posh restaurant. I remember a socialite who slipped a bill into a waiter’s hands because she wanted an electric fan by her side. And she got not one but two electric fans at this fancy hotel. A friend of mine tips a waiter midway through a meal, not after, and therefore gets all the extra attention during the rest of the dinner.

No matter what you say is the restaurant policy, a little “grease” goes a long way. It could mean extra service, extra rolls, extra wine or anything a wait staff can do within his or her jurisdiction. And you will definitely make someone happier today than to have to wait for the service charge share at the end of the month. But it is an art to be learned through the years. You need to be quiet and clandestine and find yourself a waiter willing to be in cahoots with you.

At a hotel abroad a friend gives the bellman or porter a fat tip on the first day or upon arrival. That gives a signal that “I can afford to tip so take care of me.” And it works. Try it when you go abroad and stay in smaller hotels. They will surely remember you. In bigger and fancier hotels abroad, it is part of hotel policy for staff to remember guests’ names. The staff wear headphones or earpods to say who is coming through the front door and the other staff are warned or informed about your name. And here you are totally impressed that they know your name! Well, this is why you pay extra at these 5- or 6-star hotels. But you have paid for that flattery, come to think of it.

While that is good news, there have been mishaps, too, even if the staff mean to serve you well. There are wrong orders served, mistakes in getting your exact order or even the ability to say no to your requests no matter how simple. I once asked for an extra chair and the staff said they have no extra chairs. They are fully booked and the seats are all taken. Being a Hotel and Restaurant graduate, we were trained to look for solutions to such requests. I had to tell her to “go to banquet” where they have hundreds of extra chairs as far as I know. She did not budge. No extra chair for me. That is disappointing, especially when you know there is a service charge tacked on to your bill.

Next mishap, she gave us someone else’s iced tea and later wanted to take it back to bring it to the correct table. All these after we drank the iced tea! These are situations where experience and good training come in. Alas, this was at a five-star hotel. Now. Tell me, do they deserve the service charge? Or is it just the hotel’s other way to add to a staff’s daily pay because their base rate is minimum wage? Or have we lost the art of training staff before they are deployed?

I honestly do not mind paying a service charge on top of the bill, but please give us some service. I remember when even as a trainee concierge at the front desk, we would be given tips just because we pleased a guest. And it feels good to be the giver as well as the recipient. That is the true test of good service – when a guest goes out of his or her way to send you a gift or a little extra just because you also went out of your way.

Also, in a fine dining restaurant where you are charged top dollar, they should know who ordered what. We were taught to have small crib sheets to indicate customer number on a “seat plan” and what each one is having. But today, many of those tricks no longer work. Even if you pay top dollar, a staff will likely ask, “Who’s having the foie gras?” That is a signal of not only bad service but of bad training by management. If you charge top dollar, please train your waitstaff.

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