Podcast: Selin Kiazim on ditching the service charge

By Stefan Chomka

- Last updated on GMT

Podcast: Oklava chef restaurateur Selin Kiazim on ditching the service charge

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Selin Kiazim says the reopening of her restaurants post lockdown has given her a blank canvas on which to draw on, which is why the time is right for her to scrap service charge.

The chef and restaurateur recently announced that her London restaurants Oklava and Oklava Bakery + Wine would no longer add a discretionary service charge to the bill, believing that the post lockdown environment was the time to make changes she had thus far put off.

“We discussed it a lot when we opened the restaurant and were very sceptical about it, we didn’t   want to do the tronc system,” says Kiazim, speaking on The Restaurant podcast. “We had an in-house service charge system because we felt with service charge everyone can have a more consistent wage.”

However, with her restaurants due to reopen, Kiazim says the time is right for her businesses to scrap service charge altogether, despite admitting that there are risks involved with the decision.

“The way we see it we have a blank page here, everything that was is pre Covid and then there’s what that can come after it. It’s going to be incredibly difficult for every hospitality business, and it’s a big risk to take, but just opening the doors is a big risk to take right now.

“Some people will say this not the right time to do this, but I would say it’s the perfect time to do this.”

“The way that I see it, restaurants are going to go one way or another. I can only speak for ours but it’s either going to work or not. There’s a long road ahead but if we open the doors and there’s not a lot of trade it will be a matter of months [before we close].

“If we are going to go down in a ball of flames we might as well do this.”

Kiazim acknowledges that some types of businesses will be happy to keep the system yet she argues that no one in hospitality is entirely happy with the current situation.

“We’re learning a new normal in many ways and why can’t this be a new normal for everyone? We are not having judgment of others and I hope they will join in time if they feel it’s right for their businesses, but it is a very difficult choice to make and quite complicated.

“For bigger restaurant groups it can be incredibly difficult, it is slightly more straightforward for independent restaurants.”

“I haven’t come across anyone in hospitality who thinks the service charge is a great system and shouldn’t go anywhere. I think everyone has an issue with it. The whole system of service charge, if you ask five different people [about it] you will probably get five different answers. It’s very confusing for everyone who works in hospitality and for customers.”

Selin Kiazim (r) and co-founder Laura Christie

Raising prices

Prices at the restaurants will rise as a result of the change, says Kiazim, yet she believes this had to happen anyway because of rises in the costs of ingredients over the past year.

“It’s a thing that needed to happen anyway. As it stands, some fruit and veg costs more per kilo than meat and fish because we are buying the best at the peak of season. Prices are rising all the time and you’re scared of people not coming to you because they think you’re too expensive.”

At Oklava in Shoreditch the restaurant will switch from a la carte to instead offering two set menus - one £30 and one £45 – as well as a weekend brunch menu priced at £25. Kiazim says they will likely reassess their approach once three months have passed to measure public confidence see how the new model is working for the business and its customers.

She says she is also going to move away from using as many prime cuts of meat and fish for the new menus and will make her cooking more ‘process driven’. “This is how we will be able to manage prices to start off with.”

To download this podcast via iTunes, click here

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