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Should cocktails carry service charges?

Should cocktail orders carry compulsory service charges, or are tips something that should be earned? Let the debate begin…

Should cocktail bar orders carry compulsory service charges?

While some bartenders believe that cocktail-making is a service no different to any other in on-trade, others see it is a skill which takes greater amounts of time, talent and creativity than mixing a standard rum and coke, and should be rewarded as such.

Opinion is clearly divided in the industry, with many others even claiming that mandatory service charges will deter consumers from enjoying cocktails, which some members of the on-trade have long-been attempting to democratise.

So, should service charges by applied to all cocktail orders, or should the consumer decide if their service deserves to be tipped?

Arguing the latter point is JJ Goodman, co-founder of London Cocktail Club, and arguing the former case is Imants Zusmanis, bar manager of Kensington Palace.

Which of our judges do you agree with? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

JJ Goodman – co-founder, London Cocktail Club

JJ-Goodman-Debate“Service charges cause quality cocktail bars to appear exclusive and out of reach”

Realistically, there should be no reason why bars should have compulsory service charges for cocktail orders. To me, it makes no sense to apply service charges to cocktails and not beers. I suppose some people believe these drinks should carry an extra charge due to the craftsmanship involved, but this is the essential role of the bartender and should not be viewed as an extra service.

At London Cocktail Club we do not add service charges to cocktail orders, or include table service on tabs, and we would never do this. Our initial idea was to create a neighbourhood-style bar where visitors make themselves at home and don’t feel restrained by the usual etiquette associated with high-end bars. Service charges add to this unnecessary sense of formality, creating a less relaxed and friendly atmosphere. This isn’t the sort of reputation I wanted my business to have.

I don’t actually think bartenders see the sense in adding service charges to bar orders; it’s more bar owners who want their establishments to have a sense of grandeur. I can see that some places that provide table service might be more inclined to add a compulsory service charge, but in my opinion you should just cut out the middle man, save the business any superfluous costs on staffing and save charging the customers any more than is necessary.

In my experience, customers do not like to feel as though they are being taken for a fool, which can often be the result of implementing service charges. But, If you insist on having these charges, then they should be added to everything and certain drinks should not be discriminated against.

For London in particular, there is a huge, thriving cocktail culture, but staffing is always the biggest cost for bars. Trying to maintain high standards of customer service can be a very significant cost, especially for popular high-end bars. But adding service charges is not doing the industry any favours as this will drive people away and cause quality cocktail bars to appear exclusive and out-of-reach.

Imants Zusmanis – bar manager, Kensington Palace

Imants-Zusmanis-Debate“Service charges encourage skilled individuals to stay in the industry”

i stand in favour of service charges being applied to cocktail orders. Bartending is a very skilled profession and adding service charges to cocktail orders not only supplements a salary that is often quite low, but also adds a sense of worth and appreciation to the industry.

Many bartenders strive to provide the best customer service possible and they should be recognised for this. Chefs and those who work in the food industry are shown appreciation through a widely embraced tipping culture, but this attitude does not always extend to skilled mixologists. It is acceptable for compulsory service charges to be applied to cocktail orders when these drinks are brought over to the customer’s table by staff. I also generally think that in 75% of situations, a service charge should be applicable even when there is no table service.

Bartenders these days go above and beyond for their customers in an attempt to give them the best experience possible. Good mixologists endeavour to find the perfect drink for their visitors, telling them about the history of their listed cocktails and the character of their base spirits. It’s all about going that extra mile for the customer. Anyone can mix a rum and coke, but the job of a bartender is to open up the consumer’s drinks repertoire and find out what cocktail would suit them best. This is something that I believe should be rewarded and, after all, if a chef came out of the kitchen to make sure that one of their customers received the perfect dish to suit them, they would probably be tipped handsomely. I don’t see why the rules should be any different for bartenders.

For many people who tend bar as their full time profession, service charges can supplement a large part of their salary. Service charges, therefore, also encourage those skilled individuals who want to excel in their profession to stay in the industry.

As more and more people understand mixology as an art, the more leading mixologists will receive the same recognition as top chefs. Hopefully then the taboo surrounding compulsory service charges will fade.

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