Restaurants have been forcing customers to pay a service charge despite it being voluntary, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs said in a statement on Monday.
The ministry added that it has noted the significant consequences of the problem on the rights of customers, and so a meeting has been planned with the National Restaurant Association of India on June 2.
They will discuss matters such as eateries adding service charge in the final bill in the guise of other fees and not telling the customers that the charge is optional.
The decision to meet was taken after Rohit Kumar Singh, secretary of the Consumer Affairs Department, wrote to the National Restaurant Association of India about restaurants forcing customers to pay a service charge. In his letter, he also noted that the charge fixed by the restaurants is often arbitrarily high.
“Consumers are also being falsely misled on the legality of such charges and harassed by restaurants on making a request to remove such charges from the bill amount,” the ministry said.
The government also cited guidelines about service charge issued by the Consumer Affairs Department in April 2017.
“The guidelines note that entry of a customer in a restaurant cannot be construed as a consent to pay service charge,” it said. “Any restriction on entry on the consumer by way of forcing her or him to pay service charge as a condition percent to placing an order amount to restrictive trade practice under the Consumer Protection Act.”
The ministry also encouraged customers to approach redressal forums to seek action against restaurants that force customers to pay a service charge.
“The guidelines clearly mention that placing of an order by a customer amount to his or her agreement to pay the prices displayed on the menu card along with the applicable taxes,” it said. “Charging for anything other than the aforementioned amount without the consent of the customer would amount to unfair trade practice as defined under the Act.”