Can Restaurants Charge A Service Charge?

Service charge is an additional fee that restaurants add to your total bill to compensate staff for the service provided. It is included in the menu prices and is usually a percentage of the bill.

The purpose of the service charge is to pay for the salaries and benefits of the front-of-house staff like servers, bussers, and hosts, who provide you with an enjoyable dining experience.

In this article, we’ll explore the concept of service charges in restaurants, why they exist, and whether or not they are mandatory.

What Are Service Charges In Restaurants

Waiter serving in a restaurant.
Waiter serving in a restaurant.

Restaurants have different models when it comes to charging customers.

Some restaurants price their menus with all charges included, including labor and service charges, while some don’t.

In general, a service charge is intended to cover the restaurant’s overhead costs, such as staff wages, training, and equipment.

Restaurants that charge a service fee often do so to ensure that they have enough money to cover their expenses while maintaining a sustainable profit margin.

Profit margins in restauarant’s are notirously tight, which is why sometimes restaurants will even charge for tap water!

Service charges differ from tips in that tips are voluntary, while a service charge is usually required.

Tips can be as low as $5 and all the way up to $20, but it depends on the percentage – that’s a debate for another day!

Customers are expected to add a gratuity to their bill at their discretion but must pay a service charge because it’s a mandatory fee.

Are Service Charges Mandatory?

Whether or not service charges are mandatory depends on the restaurant’s policies. Customers should always look at the menu or the bill to check whether the restaurant includes a service charge.

In some countries, like the UK, it’s customary for restaurants to add a service charge to the bill.

In other countries, restaurants may choose to include a service charge, but it’s not always a requirement.

Can Restaurants Legally Charge Service Charge?

Yes, it is legal for restaurants to charge a service charge. However, it is not mandatory.

It is at the discretion of the restaurant owner, who determines whether to include a service charge, leave it out, or add a tip line to the bill.

In some US states, service charge is mandatory, but the customers must be notified beforehand.

Service Charges vs Tips

There’s a significant difference between service charges and tips.

Tips, as mentioned earlier, are voluntary payments that customers leave to appreciate good service.

In contrast, service charges are mandatory fees, and customers must pay them regardless of the service quality.

The key difference is that tips are paid directly to the staff, while service charges are paid to the restaurant, and the staff receives a percentage or share of this fee.

Additionally, tips are generally exempt from taxation, while service charges are not.

Can Restaurants Use Service Charge To Pay Staff Minimum Wage?

No, service charges cannot be used to pay staff minimum wage.

Restaurant owners must comply with the minimum wage laws set by the federal government or the state they operate in.

The service charge can only be used to supplement the salaries of front-of-house employees who are in jobs where tips are customary.


Is It Mandatory To Pay A Service Charge In A Restaurant?

Whether or not a service charge is mandatory depends on the restaurant. Customers should look at the menu or bill to see if the restaurant includes a service charge.

Can I Refuse To Pay A Service Charge?

If a restaurant includes a service charge on the menu or bill, the customer is required to pay it. If you’re unhappy with the service charge or the quality of service, you may discuss it with the restaurant management.


In conclusion, whether or not a restaurant can charge you a service charge depends on the restaurant’s policies.

While service charges are mandatory, tips are voluntary. When dining out, it’s always best to check the menu or bill for any charges.

If you have any concerns about the service or charges, you should speak to the restaurant management to resolve any issues.

Remember to always read the restaurant’s policies and fees thoroughly before dining out to avoid any confusion or surprises.

Norah Clark

Norah Clark

Norah Clark, the founder and editor of YummyTasteFood! She's a seasoned food writer and editor with over a decade of experience in the hospitality industry as a former pastry chef, sous chef, and barista. When not writing about food, she explores new recipes or travels the world for culinary inspiration.