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17 October 2008

Star of Bombay, 157 Westbourne Grove, London W11

If you bought some goods and then had a mandatory 30% charge slapped on them without warning you'd probably be pretty annoyed.

Restaurants do this with alarming regularity, nowhere else indulges in such a dubious practice so why do restaurants such as the Star of Bombay and indeed about 90% of other restaurants annoy and mislead customers like this when 99% of non restaurant businesses are open and honest about their pricing?

Supposing the price of the food is £20. On top of this slap the 10% mandatory service charge whether you like the food or not and even if it's just you eating. So the price of the food is now £22. Rather than an honest price for the food of £22, it's a dishonest £20 with an extra £2 even if the service was rubbish.

On top of that, as a VAT registered business I should be able to claim back the VAT by getting a VAT bill. So the real cost to me should be £20 * 100/117.5 or £17.02. Instead, because the restaurant just issues a piece of paper with a VAT number and a total on it, this is not a VAT bill and as the VAT isn't separately itemised, it can't be reclaimed. Combined with the dishonest 10% mandatory service change (little more than a table ordering charge, since pub bring the food to my table and don't charge a tip) the cost of the meal is £22 instead of £17.02, a mark-up of over 29% and nearly £5. Eat out 5 times a week on business and approx 1.5 meals equivalent cost is due to rip off charges and poor billing practices by restaurants rather than the actual price of the food which I need to eat. When I registered for VAT, one of the first things I learned was how to issue a correct VAT invoice for customers and all it takes is a piece of paper, a computer or till, a printer and calculator/excel/word or similar so that the invoice has the total, vat total, date, address, and VAT number. Hardly rocket science, so why do restaurants think they are the only sector that can do what it likes in terms of billing? It also makes me wonder if a restaurant can't meet its VAT legal obligations, do they have the same laissez-faire attitude towards legal obligations towards food hygiene which require more skill to meet?

Anyone that rips me off by nearly 30% doesn't deserve praise. So in a recession where places are competing for customer business, I will be sending more business the way of pubs because 95%+ of pubs can produce a proper VAT receipt and don't rip me off with a mandatory service charge, whereas 90% of restaurants do (and they are more expensive). I note most restaurants, especially midweek, are pretty quiet just now. They might be busier if there wasn't a 29%+ surcharge in the bill.

As for the food at the Star of Bombay, well it may be the favourite restaurant of The Chemical Brothers, but I found the food fairly ordinary, the poppadoms were too crispy and disintegrated on touching and dumping the sweet menu in my face without asking me if I would like to see the sweet menu meant the mandatory 10% "service charge" was taking liberties with the name of service.

As for the Star of Bombay, I'll leave the Chemical Brothers to it and eat elsewhere in future. There's no chemistry here for me.

'Craig ate here' on 16th October.

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