Leave service charge column blank: Centre tells restaurants

Leave service charge column blank: Centre tells restaurants
No hotel or restaurant can force its patrons to pay service charges that are “totally voluntary” and not mandatory, the Centre said on Friday in guidelines issued to state governments for implementation.

The guidelines in service charge, issued by the Consumer Affairs Ministry, state that restaurant may leave the service charge column of the bill blank for the customer to fill up before making payment.

“Hotels/restaurants should not decide how much service charge is to be paid by the customer and it should be left to the discretion of customer,” Consumer Affairs Minister Ramvilas Paswan said.

He made it clear that levy of service charge without the express consent of the customer would amount to unfair trade practice as defined under the Consumer Protection Act.

Paswan said the guidelines were being sent to the state governments for necessary action at their end.

However, a senior official made it clear that penalties or stringent action against errant restaurants was not possible at the moment as current laws do not have such provision.

The official said that customers could move consumer courts if restaurants force them to pay a service charge.

The Centre was drafting a new Consumer Protection Bill that will have provisions for action against those violating the provisions of the Act.

The guidelines make it clear that service charge, tip or gratuity is a “separate transaction between the customer and the staff of the hotel or restaurant, which is entered into, at the customer's discretion.”

The Centre said the issuance of guidelines was necessary at it had received complaints of hotels restraining customers from entering the premises if they did not agree on paying the mandatory service charge.

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