London chef and restaurateur Selin Kiazim has publicly announced that her Oklava restaurant will scrap a discretionary 12.5% service charge, and instead incorporate the charge into its menu prices when it re-opens on 17 July.
Making the announcement on social media channels, the chef from the modern Turkish grill and bakery said it's something that they had wanted to do for years, but they'd never had the confidence until the coronavirus lockdown gave them "ample time" to rethink how they do things at the restaurant, and the push they needed to "break the mould." An official statement can be found on the restaurant's website.
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We will no longer be adding the customary optional 12.5% service charge onto our bills. Instead, it will be incorporated into our menu prices. The optional service charge has always gone to our staff, in full. However, this service charge, while optional for our guests, has never been optional for us. Without it, we would not be able to pay our skilled staff the wage they deserve and would simply not have survived as a restaurant. The furlough scheme introduced by the goverment during lockdown brought this issue into sharp focus: for many restaurants, their tronc (the service charge portion of the wages they pay their staff) was not taken into account for the furlough pay. Hospitality employees faced up to a 50% reduction in their take-home wage during lockdown. We want to continue looking after our staff as best as we can and sustain the restaurants we love. Therefore, the service charge will become a part or our menu price. What you see on the menu is what you pay - and you (and us too) will be confident this goes towards a healthy restaurant with staff that are paid what they deserve. Hospitality is a career as valid as any other, and we will no longer be making a large portion of our staff’s wages open to discretion. We have wanted to scrap service charge for many years, but in all honesty we haven’t had the confidence to take the step. It can be hard to break the mould, but the coronavirus crisis has broken the mould for us and we would like to embark on this new ‘normal’ of the post-lockdown world with policies we really believe in. As an industry we run on very tight margins, often putting our craft, passion and love of hospitality before the bottom line. This can’t be the case any longer.
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The online response has already been overwhelmingly positive, with over 1000 likes in response to the tweet from chefs, journalists and diners.
London restaurants have widely applied a 12.5 per cent service charge for many years, but the coronavirus pandemic has paved the way for change, allowing restaurants to re-consider staff working conditions and wages among other business practices.
Oklava is joined by other London restaurants, including Broadway Market and Hill and Szrok, who have also announced plans to re-structure their pricing after lockdown.
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As things begin to go back to normal, we've realised that normal wasn't working. These weird times have given everyone a chance to pause for thought, to re-evaluate. As we begin to open up the restaurant for our private dinners and get back to normal service, we’re scrapping service charge. There won’t be a discretionary 12.5% included on the bill, there won’t be an option to add a tip when we hand you the card machine, there won’t even be a jar by the till. The furloughing of restaurant and FOH teams up and down the country has laid bare a system that is at best, unfair, and at worst, total bullshit. The standard practice at most restaurants (including, until recently, ours) is to pay all staff on a base rate, usually nothing more than minimum wage, and then top this up with tips to get to something that people can actually survive on. This allows businesses to spend as little as possible out of their own pocket, skimming the rest from service charge. The furlough scheme has seen restaurant staff receiving less than a 1/3 of their normal pay - without service charge to beef out paycheques, they’ve been retained on 80% of the national minimum wage. Whether you’re the KP, or you’re the Manager. Meanwhile, some restaurant owners escaped to the country to lockdown in their second homes, doing vids for the gram on how to nail your sourdough and master your handmade pasta. As businesses, we’ve been cashing in on a system that’s meant to be a gesture of gratitude. Tips should be a way for customers to say thanks to staff for looking after them, not to pay them for coming to work. So we’re scrapping our old ways. As we absorb the extra cost, prices will be going up, but so will the wages of our team. Customers will need to accept the slightly higher prices, staff will have to take a small hit on their taxes and restaurant owners will have to stand up for the people who make their business run.
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The coronavirus pandemic has already led many industry leaders such as Amanda Cohen to call for change, with some restaurants planning to pay their chefs higher salaries.