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automatic gratuities [Moved from Manhattan]

hey all, i just got back from tour in chelsea. after a night of disco fries and drinks, i got our bill and noticed that an 18% gratuity was automatically added to the bill--even though we were only a party of 2. i asked to speak to the manager about this practice; i felt that it was a very ungracious coda to an outing and quite inappropriate for such a small group. the manager argued that all restaurants in manhattan (e.g., cafeteria, pastis, 7A) charge this automatic 18% after midnight to keep their waiters from getting stiffed by drunken patrons. i disagreed and asked why was it arbitrarily set at 18% versus 15%? (moreover, it's not noted on the menu) anyways, i'm usually in LES or East Village and i've never ever encountered that practice.

so, what do you guys think of that practice? the manager was completely unapologetic for the practice. my fiancee actually just thought it was an opportunity for the restaurant to get people to double tip.

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  1. I think it's a good practice, except that I normally tip closer to 20% and would tend not to do so if I were automatically charged 18% for service.

    1. If you paid in cash rather than by card, you could refuse the unannounced service charge and tip as you prefer. If it was announced in advance and you disagreed, your option would be to leave first. Very simple; in either case, you have a choice.

      1. I think it's a great practice, but in the U.S. it absolutely has to be stated on the menu since it's not standard.

        1. without noting it on the menu in advance, it definitely leaves a dirty taste in my mouth. and while i'm sympathetic to waiters getting stiffed, what about the customers who accidentally over-tip? do you think these restaurants/servers tell them? it reminds me of the classic tourist rip offs in europe.

          1. I think people misunderstand the purpose or meaning of tip. TIPS means To Insure Prompt Service.IMHO an automatic tip is inappropriate. If you have a server who is rude and dismissive they get a tip of 18%? I tip 15 to 20% if the service is good and not so much if it was bad. I know what servers get paid and I know it's usually not alot but a tip/gratuity is a reward for good service not because you showed up and sat down. Sorry feel pretty strong about this had some BAD servers with auto tips and find it adds insult to injury. Am I completely out of line?

            4 Replies
            1. re: JMEB

              I've read that meaning about TIPS, but I'm not sure it's actually true. But, I agree with your principle; namely that an automatic tip is never appropriate.

              In Europe though, it' very common, but by law, it MUST be stated on the menu as EITHER a percentage OR a flat fee (e.g., a service charge).

              Back in the U.S., it's not as standard, especially for small parties , and so I agree that it should be posted on the menu. My advice, when surprised with hidden charges, is to pay by cash and then leave what you think is appropriate.

              Conversly, I'm a 20% tipper, so in London, for example, where 12.5% is routinely added, it actually SAVES me money!


              1. re: JMEB

                "To Insure Prompt Service" is a backronym (the making of a word into an acronym when it wasn't originally an acronym). "Tip" in the service sense comes from the same place as "stock tip" -- the passing of something from one to another.

                Besides, if it really were to insure prompt service, you'd tip in advance, not after you've eaten and experienced the service.

                In Europe it's called a service charge and it's standard -- if you felt the service was acceptable, you leave the small change from the bill.

                Do you really know what servers get paid? Two-fifty an hour's about the average these days. There are some places that require full minimum wage to servers, but not too many. Theoretically, the restaurant is supposed to do maths (8% of its gross receipts for the night must go to tips) in order to ensure that no server has made less than minimum wage for the night. This happens more successfully in some places than others.

                If you feel you had bad service, call the manager over, explain the problem, and refuse to pay the automatic tip. Theoretically you've called the manager over as the bad service was happening so that he or she has a chance to save your evening.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Where did I say that service charges were optional? You can challenge any charge if you felt that you didn't get what you are paying for -- just as if you were served a plate of raw chicken and still charged for it, you could refuse to pay for it.

                    That doesn't mean you'll be welcomed back in the restaurant, but that wasn't the point.

                    Ah, now if we just had the complaint book that is required in Spain...

              2. I personally think it's a great idea. Not only do waiters get a crappy wage. My buddy in NY is a waiter and makes NO hourly wage, just a shift pay if his sales are below a certain amount. So, if he gets stiffed it's a big deal.

                In LA, though, we still (hopefully it will remain, I hear it may be going away) have a living wage standard, so tipped service staff get actual minimum wage, not tipped minimum wage as in most states.

                What's interesting to note is that in order to pay a lower tipped wage, all an employer has to do is prove that you are making at least minimum wage after tips. This is frequently abused in the midwest, where I learned at a couple of restaurants where I worked.

                So, if the service was crummy and the food bad, go ahead and protest an auto-gratuity. But if everything was fine, let it go.

                Don't like tipping? Protest your government, not the waiter. They are taxed based on their sales.

                4 Replies
                1. re: therealbigtasty

                  In San Francisco, the way the local "living wage" law affected moderate and expensive restaurants was that the highest-compensated employees (waiters who get tips) got more money, while the lowest-compensated employees (low-level kitchen staff) got nothing more, since they were already getting minimum wage.

                  Places that switch to service charges sometimes do it so they can use the money to fund an employee health insurance plan.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Point well taken, I've worked in both back and front of house and am aware of the inequities.

                    Actually I'd be more than happy to work in a place that did as you speak. It's been ten years since I've had health insurance...

                    1. re: therealbigtasty

                      I knew someone who worked at Chez Panisse (which has a 17% service charge). She liked the health insurance, but was constantly pained by how much more she'd be taking home if she'd been getting full tips.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Yeah man, it's just a toss up. I find myself torn about it as well.

                        Not to brag, but I'm REALLY good at waiting/bartending and frequently walk home with 25% plus after tip outs--I don't give anything away either. It's just a job I really enjoy, sometimes I think about that, though.

                        It would be cool to see the cooks making more money, though. It would be nifty because there'd be less difference between front and back of the house, but the greedy guy says, "I'll just buy them beers and food!"

                        Great point.