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Decoding your restaurant bill: Service charge, service tax and VAT

Let's understand the components that inflate your restaurant bills

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Not everyone is aware about Service Tax and VAT taxation details. So let's demystify these charges and understand the components that inflate your restaurant bills.

Service charge
Service charge is collected by the restaurant for rendering its service to you. It is not a tax and is not levied by the government but purely charged by the restaurants. They are free to charge any amount as there are no guidelines, but it usually varies from 4 to 10 percent. It is corresponding to the tip which you would typically give waiters for a good service, so there is no need to pay a separate tip. However, one has to pay this amount regardless of not being happy with the service if the menu card mentions the charges clearly. But you can always question the charges if the menu card doesn’t mention it.

Service Tax
Service tax is different from the service charges mentioned above - it is a tax levied by the government. This is 12.36 percent and payable on 40 percent of your total bill, which includes food, drinks, service charge and served in an air-conditioned restaurant only. In simple words, service tax would be 4.94 percent (i.e. 12.36 percent of 40 percent) of your total bill. Make sure that the restaurant does not charge you more than 4.96% (of the total bill) as service tax and that it is an AC restaurant. 

VAT (Value Added Tax)
VAT is only applicable on food items that are prepared in the restaurant as they add value before serving it to you. So make sure that you are not charged VAT on packaged food items or water bottles. VAT rates are different for alcoholic beverages and other food items and is applicable only on your final bill. Also, rate of VAT tax differs from 5 percent to 20 percent depending upon the state you are dining in, because it is levied and controlled by each state separately.

Let’s understand this with an example of a restaurant bill for an amount of Rs 1000/-. 

Items                                                                                  Amount
Your Total Food Bill                                                                  1000
Service charge (assuming 4 percent)                                         40

Sub Total                                                                                   1040

Service Tax to be levied on (40% of subtotal i.e. 1040)             416
Service tax @ 12.36% on 416.00    51.41
VAT (assumed) @12.5 of subtotal i.e. 1040                              130
Total amount to be paid (1000+40+51.41+130.00)                  1221.41

So the next time you visit a restaurant, your bill will surely make more sense to you. Keep dining and bon appetit​!  

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