I'm having problems with restaurant bills.
There seems to be an increasing dissonance between what I am paying and where it is going. In particular I am puzzled by the economic model on which restaurants are run. There was a time when I believed, in my innocence, that this was along collegiate, and please excuse me America, socialist principles, in that a command driven product was provided; the customer purchased the product; and the income then divided between costs of raw material, infrastructure and staff with whatever remaining as profit for the owner/collective. However I have a feeling that this model has seen be replaced/usurped by the rampant capitalist one piloted by our inestimable financial sector and its proven ability to get away with anything.
Why have I become increasingly vexed by this issue? It's not as if I have to eat out. It is not an essential life giving part of my existence although I have to confess that I did find it, until recently, life enhancing.
I initially became both interested and intrigued by how our local restaurants were bucking the trend during the recent recession. Being lucky enough to be a baby boomer with a decent and secure income I grandiosely expected that I would be able to book a table at any restaurant and time of my choosing. Instead I frequently found my telephone booking enquiries rebuffed leaving me ultimately with that old reliable- the drive through burger bar. At first I put this down to a 1920's you only live once type of hysteria but then it persisted and remained unabated 5 years after the crash from which we are only now just recovering. So surely other market forces had to come into play but what were they?
When times are tough and demand for a commodity drops then prices must fall. Have restaurant prices fallen? Get real! Certainly from my social network's anecdotal evidence prices are rising. And I don't mean in line with inflation or even food inflation which I am sure restaurateurs will blame but really by quite significant double digit amounts. I have no issue with this. I am a man of the world who recognises that utility bills, property rentals and likely taxation have gone up so I will let this pass. But now, at last, I come to my point. Surely some of these increases should also be going towards providing staff with at least a modest increase above the minimum wage under which most seem to be labouring. The minimum wage in the UK increased from £5.73 to £6.31 per hour from 2008-2013 inclusive, with a sizeable chunk of that increase coming in the last year. Mathematically challenged as I am, I make that equate to an average 9 pence per hour per annum.
I know that if I were to challenge a restaurateur on the minimum wage that they would riposte with "but that is what your tip is for Sir". Which again I understand to a degree but I want my tip to be rewarding excellent service not to subsidize a rapacious employer by allowing him/her to take a bigger slice of a fruit cake that they are pricing as a wedding one.
As if to drive the point home that tips are an income stream to cover staffing costs; increasingly the service charge is included at 12-15% rate on the bill. No other business does this. A bus ticket does not have a service charge element. Neither does my supermarket receipt. Or a pub. Or any high street shop. Or- I could go on because literally no other business does this. So why has it become the norm in restaurants?
And most of all I resent being made to feel responsible and guilty for my waiter's dire straits and for providing him/her with a living wage. It makes the good food stick in my craw to be put in this invidious position. Surely some of the blame should be shared with his/her employer.
So here are my tipping points for all you curmudgeonly foodies.
• Score out the inclusive service charge and leave your waiter cash.
• Write on the back of the receipt ( so that they don't hopefully notice it until you have long departed the premises) that you think it would be nice if they paid their staff a living wage from their inflation busting price increases.
• Never go back to that establishment again- the owner might remember you!
Or- I could eat at home? Maybe I'll just keep tipping after all.