Service charge can't be forced

Representative Image (Photo: Reuters)
Jai Jeet Singh, an Indian Police Service Officer, working as Additional Director General of Police, Railways, had gone with his wife to Punjab Grill Restaurant at Phoenix Mall at Lower Parel, Mumbai. The restaurant, run by Lite Bite Foods, included Rs181.50 towards 10 per cent services charges in the bill. Since the Singh couple was neither happy with the food nor with the service, they requested the restaurant to exclude this amount. However, the restaurant's staff and even its manager became rude and insisted that this amount would have to be paid. Not wishing to create a scene, Singh cleared the entire bill, but later filed a complaint before the Central Mumbai Forum seeking a refund of the service charges along with compensation and costs.

The restaurant, which had flouted government directives by forcibly extorting service charges, displayed gross indifference to the consumer case and did not bother to file its reply or appear and contest the case.

The Forum decided the complaint ex parte and ordered the restaurant to refund the service charges along with 9 per cent interest. In addition, Rs5,000 towards compensation and Rs5,000 as litigation costs were also awarded.

The restaurant appealed against this order. In a volte-face, the restaurant claimed that it had always been ready to refund the service charges. After learning about the Forum's order, it had promptly sent its cheque for Rs200 which Singh had refused to accept (as compensation and costs were not paid). The restaurant denied any deficiency in service and argued that the compensation and costs imposed were unjustified. It wanted the Forum's order to be set aside. The State Commission observed that the restaurant's staff and even the manager had behaved rudely and compelled the Singh couple to pay the amount. So, Punjab Grill's contention that it was always willing to refund the service charges was not believable. Had that been the intention, the amount would not have been charged or would have been refunded at the restaurant rather than after the case was filed and decided. The refund was offered only after the Forum had ruled against the restaurant.

Accordingly, by its order of July 7, 2018, delivered by D R Shiraso presiding over the Bench along with A K Zade, the Maharashtra State Commission dismissed the restaurant's appeal. It confirmed the Forum's order for refund of the service charges along with interest. The Commission also held that the compensation and costs imposed were reasonable.

The writer is a consumer activist

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