New Delhi, April 21: Service charge could no longer be decided by the restaurants or hotels. A couple of months after Centre turned it voluntary for customers, the Union Food Ministry issued specific guidelines, instructing restaurants to not to charge any amount of service charge. The amount of service charge to be paid should be left to the discretion of the customer. There would remain no liability on the customer to pay the additional charge.

“Government has approved guidelines on service charge. Service charge is totally voluntary and not mandatory now. Hotels or restaurants should not decide how much service charge is to be paid by customer. It should be left completely to discretion of customer,” Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan said on Friday.

Service charged was turned voluntary by the government in January. The state governments were instructed to ensure restaurant owners inform their customers about service charge not being mandatory. However, the order could not be implemented efficiently due to lack of specific guidelines. The Department of Consumer Affairs received complaints from several customers across the nation, against restaurant owners not adhering to the order issued by Food Ministry. Heated arguments and turbulent scenes broke out in restaurants, with several customers refusing to pay the service charge, whereas, a section of hoteliers were firm to add the same in the bill.

“Our Department’s view is that imposing service charge is an unfair trade practice and consumers need not pay. There is no definition of ‘service charge’ in law but taking service charge without discretion of consumers is an unfair trade practice,” Paswan had earlier said, while defending his move to turn it voluntary.