waiter, there’s a fly in my soup
I am an unabashed fan of MasterChef, and, not that many of their creations, or ingredients for that matter, ever make it to my table, follow each delightful twist & turn of the cooking series. This year’s competition was won by a short ginga from the north of the country – what’s not to love! Furthermore, for all the nonsense they talk, I hang on every word the judging chefs spout on about as they all seem to have come from humble backgrounds and appear to have started at the very bottom, as chief-pot-washer, and worked their way up. So it was with shock that I read one of the first-ever judges, none other than Michelin-starred, owner of Le Gavroche, Michael Roux, keeps all service charge automatically added to the bill, for himself as opposed to sharing out the cash to his staff.
Thankfully, the good chef has been keen to clear-up the apparent confusion his clientele have over the difference between the service charge and a tip, and I’m assuming he did this whilst also apologising for flagrantly breaking the law in paying staff only £5.50/hour for a 68-hour working week. Michael has been kind enough to subsequently explain that a tip is cash given to a waiter in a very personal transaction displaying personal gratitude. By contrast, the service charge is a massive scam put in place by the restaurant to gain control over the tips the underpaid staff might otherwise have expected to receive. How could it possibly have been any other?
Just think about it for a second. The service charge is now billed as a service that a restaurant charges for the order taking, preparation & serving of the food you’ve decided upon. WTF. Isn’t that the whole point of going to a restaurant? Do they offer an alternative whereby you can discuss your choices & preferences directly with the kitchen and they’ll give you a quick shout when it’s ready for you to pop in and collect it yourself, thereby avoiding the cost of service? Once upon a time, wasn’t this merely called the price? Not one to miss a trick, restauranteur Roux, along with many other establishments it has to be said, saw the opportunity of controlling this payment via the increased use of debit & credit cards and lack of hard cash in our pockets, and they’ve never looked back.
Apparently, in a case of arriving at the gate as the horse bolts through it, the government is now considering making it illegal for the restaurant to take any slice of the service charge it levies. I’d love to see them try and police that one. Perhaps I’m just an old fashioned Marxist but wouldn’t it just be better for the wage to be paid at a humane level whereby neither the diner nor the waiter feels either obligated by or dependent upon either the service charge or tip. God forbid, an effective labour contract with versatile social justice?
Meanwhile, it turns out Mr Roux is actually Roux Jr. Born into restaurant royalty, young Micky learnt his onions at the knee of both his father, Albert and his uncle, Michael, and “never once looked at his payslip”. On a completely unrelated note, in researching this piece I see Le Gavroche has lost its third Michelin star. Oh, how my eyes water.