Let’s talk about the service charge

credit card machine

The divisive Service Charge

This “discretionary” charge used to linger at the bottom of menus usually attached to the words “when serving groups of 6 +”  Now it seems that it is automatically added to the bill regardless of the number of diners.

receipt showing service charge

What is a service charge?

A service charge is what restaurants charge to cover everything other than the food. Such as cleaning glasses, replacing napkins, overheads, that sort of thing.

What is the difference between service charge and a tip?

Service charge is an amount added to your bill before it is given to you.  It is usually based on a percentage of the bill.  It is often listed as “discretionary” or “suggested” you are free to make the payment or not.  It’s not really discretionary is it if it is automatically added to your bill?

The service charge is received directly by the business who can decide what to do with it.

A tip is a voluntary payment to staff.

credit card machine

Can I ask for the service charge to be removed?

Yes, you are free to ask for the charge to be removed.  However, I feel that many businesses know that customers won’t say anything and just pay it.

Why don’t businesses just increase their prices?

You’ll probably notice that they have, however, it’s that situation where a price looks better lower on the menu when being compared with another restaurant.

So, it’s like everything else in the world.  It’s how you spin it.  The addition of a service charge is being seen in more restaurants, customers don’t question it, so more restaurants do it. Add in a bit of British awkwardness to ask for it to be removed and you’ve added a layer of income to your business.

Personally, I think all the costs involved in providing a meal at a restaurant should be factored into the price and not an additional charge.

Just don’t start me on the tip button especially when you are buying a takeaway coffee!

What do you think?









I am Emma and with my husband Mark write Foodie Explorers, which is a food and travel website.

I am a member of the Guild of Food Writers and British Guild of Travel Writers.

We have a wide range of judging experience covering products, hotels and have judged, for example, for Great Taste Awards and Scottish Baker of the Year.

Along the way Mark gained WSET Level 2 in Wine and I have WSET Level 2 in Spirits as well as picking up an award with The Scotsman Food and Drink Awards.    

Usually I can be found sleeping beside a cat.

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