Went to watch the Dark Knight and had a kebab (a relatively healthier shish and not a greasy doner) – a nice change from the past couple of days of gastronomic indulgence. Today, I wish to discuss an issue I feel quite strongly about – service in a restaurant and the issue of tipping. Before you doze off into thinking this is a continuation from yesterday’s rant (and yes I am still appalled) I am speaking about service in general, and not only posh places. In fact, why is it that good service is almost synonymous with posh, expensive dining?

Coming from a Malaysian/ Chinese background, I find people underestimate how important good service is to the dining experience. A lot of chinese people always go about how everything is alright as long as it is ‘peng, leng, jeng’ which literally translates to cheap, good looking and tasty – with the most emphasis placed on cheap. You’d be surprised how many malaysians would turn a blind eye to poor service and appalling hygiene (we are talking about restaurants infested with rats here…) as long as the food is good.

I come from a relatively small town in Malaysia where good Western cuisine is very limited. There is one particular restaurant which serves ok’ish food (I’m lowering my standards here) although the prices they charge are quite eye-watering. Yet the biggest problem for a restaurant trying to be a posh dining venue is the lack of properly trained staff – most, if not all of the staff here are students, waiting tables as a part-time job and staff turnoever is consequently very high. There is no coordination between front of house and kitchen – food gets served as and when they are produced, a common trend in Malaysia. Due to such inefficiencies, food takes ages to arrive on the table when the restaurant is anywhere near full. Upon enquiry as to why food is taking so long to arrive the common response is ‘It is coming’. Well that is reassuring until you realize that the waiting staff have not bothered to check with the kitchen.
Indeed, I personally feel that good service is as important to the restaurant as the food itself. The celebrity chef Tom Aikens once said that ‘As a chef, although it is your name on your restaurant, it is your waiting staff which defines it’s character and reputation.’

Another issue I feel strongly about is the addition of the ‘discretionary’ 12.5% service charge to your bill. One of the flaws with this is that the tips is entirely dependent on how much you end up spending at the restaurant. For example, if your food cost £30 and you had a £15 bottle of wine, service would be around £5.63. However if instead of the £15 bottle of wine, you opt for one which is £80, then service is £13.75. So what gives? Does the person who orders the most expensive bottle of wine get preferential treatment? Is it more difficult to pour a more expensive bottle of wine than the cheap table wine? What if I don’t go care for any wine – am I simply going to be ignored?

I was having a discussion with Steve today and he tells me he does not tip unless absolutely necessary. The same goes with my ex who does not understand the need to tip. I do not however take such an extreme view. I am a strong advocate of tipping although it should be at your discretion as to how much you give. If I’ve had an excellent meal with the waiting staff providing excellent service (and that includes the sommelier not being a twat and topping up my glass after every sip), I more than often will tip more than the discretionary 12.5%. However, it is when I get appalling service *cough* Pied-a-Terre *cough* that I feel that I am extorted out of my money. What am I supposed to do? Kick up a fuss and refuse to pay until they take it off my bill? This is blatant thuggery in broad candle light (excuse my pun). Tipping should be the customer’s way of expressing in no two ways how satisfied they are with the service provided.

Anyways, I think I have spoken my mind and am looking forward to some nice Indian food tonight (hopefully) at Benares.

p/s the Dark Knight was AWESOME!