Stephane's Will Drop Controversial Mandatory Service Charge Starting Next Week, Owner Says | Clean Plate Charlie | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

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Stephane's Will Drop Controversial Mandatory Service Charge Starting Next Week, Owner Says

In response to customer and server feedback, Stephane's American & French Cuisine in Boca Raton is dropping its unpopular mandatory service charge policy. The system as it stands automatically adds 15 percent to the check for parties of up to four people; groups of five or more pay 18 percent. The current wording on the menu says "Please reward your server for exceptional service with optional TIP. Thank you." More than a few reviewers on sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon were critical of the soon-to-be-axed practice.

On Thursday, September 6, the restaurant's Facebook page carried this announcement:

"Following the intense controversy provoked by our service charge system, we have decided to remove it starting September 12th, 2012. From that date forward, the traditional voluntary TIP system will apply."

Clean Plate Charlie spoke to restaurant owner Stephane Lang-Willar on Friday to see why his team decided to nix the policy (which is common in Europe, but rare in U.S. restaurants) less than two months after opening. Lang-Willar said he "reanalyzed the situation" before making a final decision to drop the mandatory charge in favor of a voluntary tip system.

Reading from a brief statement he had prepared prior to the interview, Lang-Willar said: "We found ourselves in the middle of an ideological debate, which is 'how people should be paid for their work and if it should be related to performance or not'..."

"The guests hate the idea of being deprived of the power to reward or punish the server and consider that the service they receive will be better as a result of them having this tool," he said of the voluntary tip system, which he believes is what the customer wants.

To summarize, Lang-Willar said: "Obviously, we are in the business of selling food and beverage and not in the business of angering our guests and our staff and that is why six weeks only after our opening, we have decided to remove the service charge system and switch to the traditional tip."

The restaurant posted a notice of the change on their front door earlier in the week. Already, Lang-Willar has heard back from customers who said they felt it was a smart business move.

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Tricia Woolfenden

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