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Champor Champor delight

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Tuesday 25 April 2006 11.50pm
i know i'm a little slow to join the throng, but i love Champor Champor and have been twice in quick succession recently. Great atmosphere, great decor, great service and most importantly great food!

OK i used to review restaurants when i worked as a journalist, but never got to the heady heights of writing for the Times. (or even the Metro - Marina O'L is rapidly becoming Londons most respected review) And neither did i have a famous dad.

So C-C keep up the good work!!

Thursday 27 April 2006 8.29am
To add my 2 cents on the tips discussion, I don't mind when 10-12.5% is added to my bill as a discretionary service charge, but I am put off by the presumption of 15%. I would like to be the judge of whether the service was worthy of the extra 5% service charge - an extra which I consider completely discretionary, because in London standards, tipping above 12.5% means you're really happy with the service.

Thursday 27 April 2006 12.53pm
Service charges have partly come about due to people's stingy nature. I can't believe how reluctant people are to tip generously if the service is excellent- the attitude is 'oh whats that divisible by 10 and that should be enough, the service wasnt THAT good'. I get exasperated at how often I have to coax colleagues at work to chip in a bit more. CC should be applauded for their immaculate service- it's one of the reasons I love the place.
Thursday 27 April 2006 12.57pm
It's cultural as well though (ruudgull). As someone's pointed out above, it's impossible to tip in Japan and I assume that service staff there don't starve.

There's more than one way, etc...

...if you press it, they will come.
Friday 28 April 2006 5.22pm
My partner took me to CC for my bday. I was so excited about going. The decor was very exotic and atmospheric.
Our meal was very good.
I thought the supplements were steep and the one thing I was very unimpressed by is that when we were seated we were given the standard 3 course menu. My partner was under the impression that there was a taster menu and was keen to try that. Once we ordered we discovered other people ordering from the taster menu!
The granitas are very good and they do a mean Singapore Sling.
All in all a very enjoyable experience. Can't wait to go again.
Friday 28 April 2006 6.01pm
Well,we of the dinner gang are going tomorrow night and I'm all of a twitter.
Saturday 29 April 2006 11.00am
I found one of the reply messages from Champor Champor slightly confusing.

So let me ask my question directly: do Champor Champor service staff get 100% of the value of the service charge on the bill IN ADDITION to their hourly wages?

If not, then the restaurant should say so directly. People pay these "discretionary" charges on the assumption that they are for giving an additional reward the staff, not a tax efficient way of covering overhead expenses, and certainly not on the assumption that they are used to cover the wages that staff are already owed as a matter of course.
Saturday 29 April 2006 12.16pm
Tipping is complicated. Some restaurants use the credit card tips to take the waiter/waitress wage up to the basic minimum (legally allowed to do this) such as Pizza Hut, Chilies etc. So no its not extra treat/cash in their pocket it is cutting down on the restaurant overheads. A few years back I was a waitress for TGI Friday's you will be surprised at how many people don't tip or leave just £1 and you maybe have served 10 people on this table for most of the night. I know it's the nature of the job but sometimes you do more than is required, extra birthday treats, laughing at customer's bad jokes ;) and you still get nothing in return. Generalisation but I found that most Europeans don't tip, people in their ‘later years' are the worst as they are not used to the tipping system.

I got embarrassed to present a bill with service charge added (which the computer automatically did and I had no control over) however I felt hard done by when I worked hard for a table and got not even a thank you in return. Even £1 is worth so much to a waiter/waitress, of course more is nicer but at least something is nice.

I agree that if its bad service don't tip, however if its great service then tip well. Remember Waiters/Waitresses are generally on a basic wage of £13,000 a year so tips are gratefully accepted.
Saturday 29 April 2006 9.33pm
Weeee.....lllll, I thought Champor Champor was very charming, the atmosphere very nice, the service good and discreet, the food. very nicely presented and ordinary. And not cheap. We had a jolly evening,but wouldnt say it's such a big deal gastronomically.
Monday 1 May 2006 9.59am
Thanks for the ongoing comments. Looks like I have opened the proverbial can of worms by encouraging views on tips/service charges. As slock points out, the whole tipping/service charge issue has become rather complicated in this country for at least two different reasons:

1. The lack of clarity of what actually happens to tips and the lack of clarity of whether or not even to leave a tip;
2. The bizarre rules and various changes of mind of Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
This whole topic is something that most restaurants don't really want to discuss in public because it has been such an unclear and difficult situation, but since cyoung66 has put us on the spot, I will have a go...

Firstly, there is no clearly defined ‘norm' as to the approach taken by different restaurants in this country - a few other people have noted this point earlier. As a customer you really don't have much idea what happens to the ‘tip' or ‘service charge' that you pay. Does it go to the floor staff only, or the kitchen staff as well? Are the kitchen staff paid at a higher rate because it is expected that tips or service charge only goes to the floor staff who are paid a pittance as a basic salary?

As a customer, you may not be clear on whether or not you should leave a ‘tip' in the first place unless you have looked carefully at the bill. The French generally operate a ‘servis compris' approach, so you know you don't need to leave a tip unless you received ‘extra special' service (or you particularly fancied the waiter/waitress!) The Americans don't add any service charge, so you know that you do need to leave a decent tip if you are not going to be abused by the staff as you walk out.

In this country some restaurants don't add any service charge, and hope that customers will be kind, others add 10-12.5% discretionary service, others like us (horrors!) add up to 15% discretionary service. Others, confusingly, impose a service charge for groups of more than so many people - and when I say impose, it often appears that this is not discretionary. I have even noticed that some restaurants add a ‘compulsory' service charge, because the ‘discretionary' word is not there on the menu. (I think there is one on Borough High St that does this).

Secondly, the rules operated by HMRC have been very unclear over recent years about the issue, and different restaurants have gone about protecting their interests in different ways - hence the muddle and lack of a ‘standard procedure' in this country. There are, however, a couple of points that make it highly desirable for everybody concerned (diners, the restaurant, and the staff) to operate a ‘discretionary' service charge system. While prices for food and drink sold have to include 17.5% VAT, service/gratuities/tips do not attract that same 17.5% VAT as long as they are discretionary - and that means that the discretionary word has to appear on the menu and the customer is not required to have to pay it, which implies that it is a ‘recommended tip'.

Furthermore, as long as a proper TRONC scheme is operated, whereby the tips/gratuities/discretionary service money is distributed amongst the staff by an allocated TRONCmaster (a senior member of staff - not management) there is no requirement to deduct National Insurance contributions, although tax at 22% does have to be deducted.

As slock and ruudgull point out, service charges have become increasingly common in this country partly because of the stinginess of many customers. When we first started back in 2000, we did not add a service charge, and hoped that the floor staff would make up their wages from tips, but it was soon clear that was not going to work (and not because the service was bad). While some customers tipped well, others left nothing at all, or a derisory amount. We very soon started operating a service charge and TRONC scheme.

So, how do we do it? Well, firstly, all of our floor staff and kitchen staff receive a share of the TRONC - this money is service charge money paid each month into a separate bank account, administered by the TRONCmaster and paid out only to the staff (and Gordon Brown). And the TRONCmaster does not allow either of the two directors to have a single penny of the TRONC money!

We do not pay the kitchen staff a higher basic wages than the floor staff - our view is that the kitchen and floor staff work together to create and serve the food. (After all, if it is the kitchen that is slow in producing the food, it is the floor staff that might get the blame for ‘poor' service, when it is actually the kitchen's fault). The distribution of the TRONC is thus relatively ‘equitable'.

Our revenue is fairly constant, but if it has been a good month then the TRONC will obviously be a bit bigger than in leaner months. All of our staff are thus paid through two separate payrolls and from two separate bank accounts - the main restaurant payroll/bank account (which is a fixed salary) and the TRONC scheme payroll/bank account (which varies a bit from month to month depending on the level of business).

This complies with a ‘strict' interpretation of operating the scheme, but HMRC have decided that it does not actually have to be operated in such a strict way now. We are currently awaiting their third attempt to produce a document explaining what can and can't be done with tips, gratuities, service charges and TRONCS.

Our objective is to ensure high quality service - and I'm pleased that nobody on this thread thinks that our service is bad (even though Giles Coren was apparently not impressed). To do that, we need to ensure that the kitchen and floor staff are working together in a happy environment, are motivated, enjoying their jobs and are earning as much as we can afford to pay them to live in such an expensive city as London.

We do, therefore, try to ensure that our staff are paid in the most tax-efficient way because - to look at the big picture - if we did not operate a TRONC scheme and paid all the staff wholly from the business payroll our food and drink prices would have to rise drastically, since we would have to pay a considerable amount of extra VAT. Worse still, the poor staff would actually end up with less, because they would have to pay National Insurance contributions on the portion that currently comes through the TRONC.

As a number of you have already noted, we are not a cheap restaurant. That is because we employ a lot of staff (both in the kitchen and on the floor) compared to the number of customers we can serve. The last thing we want to have to do is to increase our prices even more, just to pay more to Gordon Brown in VAT and NI contributions, while the staff would actually end up with less in their pockets. And we would probably end up going out of business in the end as well. The only winner if we removed our service charge and TRONC scheme would be HMRC. Obviously we are not the only restaurant to have worked that one out. You can bet your bottom dollar that most decent restaurants operate some sort of similar scheme.

The fact that we have a very slow staff turnover shows, I think, that we look after our staff and they are happy in their jobs. We do that in a way that complies with the ‘strict' interpretation of the HMRC rules and yet allows us to continue to operate viably, but I am not prepared to discuss the precise detail of how we achieve this.

My personal view is that intuitively I like the ‘servis compris' approach, as in France and presumably Japan/Korea etc. If you go out for a meal, unless it is in a self-service cafeteria, you are obviously going to have to be served. So, surely the cost of the meal should include the service, just as the cost of your air ticket includes the costs of the staff that go towards making the plane fly (behind the scenes) and serving you on board (direct contact with the customer)? This, I think, is what some of you are talking about when you say the staff costs should be ‘built in' to the price structure of the meal.

Unfortunately, it is not economically viable or sensible to operate a full ‘servis compris' approach in this country because of the bizarre HMRC rules. This, coupled with the ‘stinginess' of many customers, has led to more and more restaurants to adopt this rather strange procedure of adding ‘discretionary' service charges to the bill.

We actually find that many customers are happy to have a service charge included or added, as it removes any awkwardness or embarrassment at not knowing how much to tip. And as someone else mentioned, if the meal is being charged as a business expense, it is actually preferred since if the service is not included the ‘tip' can not always be reclaimed as a business expense - which may be another reason for ‘stinginess' in tipping.

Having said all that, for the diehards who still feel uncomfortable about having a ‘discretionary' service charge added to the bill, our till is programmed to remove just as much or as little of the service charge as you like, but we hope that our service will normally justify the 15%.

I am now feeling quite maxed-out on the subject of tips/service charges and hope that you all are too!
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