Monday, 28 January 2008

Service Charge; Paying for Nothing.

'Tipped Off' by Pavan Shamdasani
HK Magazine, 25th January 2008, p.16

"What's up with the Hong Kong service industry?" wrote Pavan Shamdasani in last week's HK Magazine. Shamdasani, searching for reasons to explain Hong Kong's apparently terrible service asked if the city was too fast paced for decent service, if it's a cultural difference or if terrible service is due to the minimal wages received by waiters. The average monthly salaries of fast food and restaurant staff were compared to office assistants, janitors, telesales and retail workers, who all received noticeably more; though hotel waiters were a lot better off than their industry peers.

Many of the restaurants I visit are in Yuen Long; well away from the flash hotels and high prices of Central. Out here service is often uninspiring, yet strangely seems to be worse in Chinese restaurants. Even places that offer higher quality dinning, such as Wing Wah, still have shocking service. Is there a link between Chinese restaurants and bad service? Perhaps the process of serving the centre of table rather than individuals has created a culture of inefficient rudeness? Is it the disinterest of dinners or the nature of the job that cause a lack of enthusiasm? Or is it, as Shamdasani suggests, related to pay and working conditions? What ever the truth of this assumption one must ask why is service in many Hong Kong restaurants seen as being so bad?

I hate the 10% "service charge". This compulsory levy charged in virtually all Hong Kong restaurants is a counter productive lie. If prices can't cover the cost or running a restaurant put them up 10% instead of fibbing on the menu - if the service charge is compulsory it should be included in the price not as a crafty hidden footnote. Calling it service charge is another fallacy; it doesn't go to the serving staff so why pretend it does? If I'm asked to pay service charge I don't tip, if I'm not I virtually always do. Scrapping this dishonest 10% would mean putting up perceived prices, but all would benefit; consumers from actually seeing how much they're paying and service staff from clientele who are more likely to tip. Some Hong Kong restaurant have fantastic service - the New York Cafe, Olive and Pearl on the Peak are three obvious examples at different price brackets - so scrap the myth of a "service charge" and at least offer an environment in which those that do a good job can get rewarded.

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