First, I will say that I have visited Aruba 5 times at this point. I love it. And I love the people. And I love the fact that this is a tourist destination and that the locals are such nice people and that they are good at what they do. They take pretty good care of us tourists and Aruba fully deserves to be the successful tourist destination it has become and remained over the years.
I also have to give kudos to the business community for doing a good job. This would not be the successful destination without them. HOWEVER, it is with the business community with which I have a complaint.
This "service charge". Ugh.
Let me say that I fully understand that an international tourist destination, such as Aruba, that services different cultures (some that tip and some that don't) has to make a decision as to whether to impose a service charge or not. The staff has bills to pay and obligations to meet. The restaurant cannot ensure a stable work environment unless it ensures a stable income environment.
A restaurant must make a choice as to how it will cover the cost of service:
A) The restaurant can directly pass the cost of service on to the customer in the form of a fixed service charge. Here, the establishment forces the customer to pay this fixed percentage of the bill regardless of whether the customer receives acceptable service or not.
B) The restaurant can pass the cost of service onto the customer INdirectly by increasing their workers salary and increasing their prices. Its a simple solution. Here the workers are not dependent on tips and it neutralizes the difficulty posed when servicing both cultures that tip and cultures that don't.
C) In the US, the restaurant covers the cost of overhead for everything, except the wait staff, in the check charges. The cost for delivering the final product (the food and drink) and ensuring good service to the customer is passed to the customer in the form of a tip. If the wait staff does a good job, you as a paying customer have the power and control to reward the waitstaff for that good service with a good tip. If the wait staff is rude, unpleasant, inattentive, it will be nobodies fault but their own if they do not make a good tip. Yes, occasionally, you may get the unappeasable customer that does not tip regardless of how good the service is, but this is the exception. Most people will tip appropriately and will reward good waitstaff with stable good income. I would say that the American custom is straightforward, easy to understand and effective.
Any of these options are perfectly fine. What is NOT fine is when the establishment chooses option (a) but then tries to be deceptive in an effort to hide, or not be upfront about, the fact that they included a service charge on their bill. That is what happened to me the other day at Gillian's.
And it was this experience at Gillian's that prompts me to spend so much time on such a long post. This was never intended to be such a long post, but the further I got into explaining things the more I wanted to address the responses or comments that people would inevitably have. I'm doing nothing here other than trying explain this service charge nonsense and try to protect newbies from getting screwed over by it.
Simply stated, if the establishment, imposes a 15% service charge and you want to leave a 20% tip, calculate the 20% based on the food charges, deduct the service charge and add the difference on the tip line.
However, it is not always so simple and some establishments are very sneaky. If you're interested to hear about the sneaky people at Gianni's read on.
My family of four went to Gianni's last night for dinner. We ordered 4 plates of fettucine alfredo . After we finished up, i asked for the check. the waitstaff brought the itemized bill that had a little line on it called "SC". It didn't say 15% service charge, just "SC". Despite the abundance of room they had to print "service charge" they chose to abbreviate this little ditty to SC. thankfully, I am not a newbie to Aruba so I knew what this was. I approve the itemized bill, give the server my credit card. He returns without the itemized bill and hands me only a signature copy that shows the total bill (no reference to any service charge that has been imposed), another line with "TIP", and then the total and a signature line. This bill was thoughtful enough to provide a little "TIP GUIDE" at the bottom where it said 15%=23.11 20%=30.82 25%=38.53.
Basically, the restaurant was suggesting I tip an additional 23.11 to 38.53 on top of the 19.80 service charge that had already been imposed on my $132 bill. So apparently Gianni's thinks a total of anywhere from 42.91 to 58.33 is appropriate on a $132.00 bill! That would work out to a tip/service charge equal to 32.5% to 44% of my bill. Is this deceptive? WHAT?
What's worse, we were already paying a hefty price of 18.50 each for four simple plates of fettuccini Alfredo. We did not even order something like chicken parmigiana. $18.50 for a small plate of pasta. There also charged an additional $2.50 for any refills of coke. My son said he would never have ordered a coke had he known it would cost $5.00 for two fills. But I digress...
First, let's get this terminology right. Your so called service charge is either a TIP; or a sneaky attempt to get me to pay your chefs salary. Sorry, but you need to cover your chefs salary in the $18.50 bowl of pasta. Stop calling this nonsense a service charge in a deceptive way in order to get me to separate it from the tip. And If you are charging a service charge, don't try to hide it either.
I run a business. In my business, I have overhead too. Payroll, cost of goods, rent, electric, phones, insurance, etc etc etc... Your payroll and whatever other overhead you have should be included in the cost of your product. It's ludicrous to try to pass on your cleaning services or your cooks salary to me in a hidden service charge. If you want to sell me a plate of pasta for $6.00 then fine, but don't try to sell me a plate of pasta for $18.00 then tell me the service charge you are imposing is not a tip to the server and that I should tip them separately. Nonsense! And worse yet, don't be sneaky about it the way that Gianni's is.
This post is more about me venting abut a shady business that any expectations that it will be read. but if you did choose to read this long post, please remember many people are showing up in Aruba for the very first time and many of them are getting duped into double tipping. While I think I understand the underlying reasons why a lot of Aruba restaurants impose service charges, I think the lack of uniformity and the occasional deception by "some" restaurants is at the root of the problem of people having so much trouble understanding how to deal with this "service charge". Aruba, either have a service charge at every establishment or don't. Be clear about it, be upfront about it and what it is and stop leaving things up to our imaginations.