The Truth about the Service Charge

By Emma Darcy

In Ireland, there are no set rules or etiquette for tipping wait staff in restaurants. Some restaurants add a service charge which is a 10 to 20% charge added to your bill automatically, typically seen on larger tables. This service charge can be disputed but is normally an obligatory addition to the bill. Other restaurants add no service charge and leave customers to tip at their own discretion.

Regardless of the way in which tips are collected, tipping customers expect that their gratuity will go straight into the pocket of the server that encouraged their tip in the first place, or perhaps distributed among all the staff evenly. Customers do not, however, expect that their tip will go to the owners or towards making up the staff’s wages. Unfortunately, this is often exactly what happens.

Caoimhe Glynn from Ballyhaunis, county Mayo, moved to Dublin in 2017 to attend college in BIMM Dublin music college, where she retained a part time waitressing job in the Hard Rock Café, Temple Bar. A job which she kept for a little over a year. Here she found that the 5% service charge added to all bills never went to the server or any of the wait staff. Instead, this service charge went directly to the owners.

“When someone left any additional change, that was mine to keep. Often though, a customer would note the service charge added to the bill and presume that would be going to me, their server, and they would not leave any further tip which was frustrating. Towards the end of my time working there, a customer asked if the service charge went to me, and I admitted that no, it actually went to the owner. The customer then demanded to see a manager with a view to remove the service charge from their bill, I then got in trouble,” said Caoihmhe.

Helen Sparrow worked for a year in TGI Fridays on St. Stephen’s Green where she had a similar experience with the system of tips. She said: “it seemed fair at first in that everyone keeps their own tips that they are given in addition to the service charge, including tips given on cards. We gave out a small percentage to the kitchen staff, bar staff and hosts so we went away with a small bit less than what we received but that seemed only fair to me. It was just the service charge of 5% that meant sometimes people wouldn’t tip because they would assume the service charge to be our tip. TGI Friday’s argument behind this was that the service charge went towards paying our wages which I found quite unfair.”

“TGI Friday’s argument behind this was that the service charge went towards paying our wages which I found quite unfair”

Both Helen and Caoimhe recall giving about 10 % of their earnings in tips to the bar staff, 10% to the hosts and around €2 per shift to the kitchen staff. They both thought this to be fair, as a lot of the staff who don’t take orders or serve the food work just as hard as floor staff and don’t get the opportunity to interact and make their own tips.

“For a group of eight or more” Caoimhe said, “there was a 10% service charge added onto the bill, and half of that went to me, the server, and half to the owner. I would rather no service charge on any table and for the owners to get no portion of the tips, and even if that means some people never left anything, at least we would keep what we worked for.”

Since stories about the mentioned two restaurants and restaurants such as The Ivy have been under fire for unfair distribution of tips, many restaurants have displayed signs stating that all tips are fairly shared between all staff. Many customers have become more conscious of the antics of these large chain restaurants, and indeed smaller independent ones, and simply asked their server how their tip system works before leaving their gratuity.

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