Sun | Feb 5, 2023

Restaurants and service charge

Published:Tuesday | February 16, 2010 | 12:00 AM


I RECENTLY spent nine lovely days in Jamaica and during this time I became aware of a confusing and disconcerting practice at some restaurants in Kingston and Ocho Rios. These restaurants advertised and added a 'service charge' - ranging between 10 per cent and 12.5 per cent - to the bill.

In my experience a 'service charge' added to the bill is a gratuity or tip for the service staff, and there is nothing wrong with this practice. In New York, a service charge added to the bill MUST go to the service staff.

Different practice

But some Jamaican restaurants seem to follow a different practice. When I queried the service staff at these restaurants they reported that 'service charge' does NOT necessarily go to the workers. In a few restaurants, the 'service charge' goes to the owner; in others it was divided among all the staff, not merely the service staff (including managers, cooks, etc.) In no case were we told that the 'service charge' went solely to the service staff.

We also learned that if you use your credit card to leave a tip, the enterprise might give LESS than the amount you had intended to the staff.

Giving a tip

When we mentioned this experience to Jamaican friends they too told us their assumption in seeing 'service charge' on the menu or bill is the same as mine - that this goes to the serving staff. They were surprised to learn that this is not the case.

So Jamaican diners should beware. If you want to leave a gratuity DO NOT assume that the restaurant's 'service charge' will, in fact, be going to the service staff. And DO NOT assume that the tip you put on your credit-card payment will in its entirety go to the service staff. You will have to first find out what the policy is. And if you want to leave a tip it might be best to give it directly in cash to your server.

I am, etc.,

Carl Feuer