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Strange Experience at the RussianTea Room: Chowhounders Opinions Needed

Had lunch at the Russian Tea Room Today with GF. Review to follow. Alot has been said of the unevenness of service.However, we had a nice, pleasant waiter was a bit nervous and andward, but otherwise efficient a and affable. Here is where something quite unexpected and strange happened. When presented with the check I paid with my CC and as is my custom left the gratuity in cash. The waiter took the bill and thanked me profusely. He returned 5 minutes later and told me the manager is not accepting the gratuity as this was his first day and he is in training. Somewhat stunned, I insisted he take it to no avail. Upon leaving however, the manager asked me if everything was ok as i am not tipping. Being totally confused by now,I said fine, and explained to him I was told previously the tip was being declined as my waiter was in training. At this point I felt angry feeling I was maybe being manipulated at such a high level restaurant [was the maitre de expecting i should be offering it to him ?].. I told the him THEIR initial decision was now final and in the future come to an agreement before presenting a customer with this issue. I felt this was tacky and low class and ruined a very enjoyable dining exprience. My question is: 1-Did i do the right thing by not tipping ?
2- What are your opinions of what happened.

I would appreciate any feedback.

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  1. I would say that you are in the right. According to some, I usually overtip. But I will say that when I am impatient when the staff makes tipping difficult.

    I might have offered to give a tip but questioned the manager as to whether the tip was going to the server I had or whether it was going in the manager's pocket. Perhaps that's where the confusion started. Server might have been told that he can't take a tip on a table he handled but he misinterpreted it to mean that they couldn't accept a tip from the table period. Either way, they made it difficult for you, I would say that it's okay that you didn't tip.

    1. Thx magfitz.
      I agree with you.
      I was not going to get into politics at such supposed high end places.

      1. Totally bizarre and it strikes me as possibly illegal. Especially since waitstaff is often paid under minimum wage due to the presumption of tip income. But I don't know NY labor law.

        The only problem in leaving no tip is that in many restaurants the tip is shared among the waiter, the runners, the bus boys, etc. Just because the waiter can't take it, doesn't mean others weren't serving you as well.

        But given the circumstances I think you behaved reasonably with such an odd situation.

        1. Thx ks in la:
          Thats a very good point too.
          I felt very awkward as it also occured to me during this episode as if maybe the management were testing the waiter to see if he would eventually accept.
          I am going to write a letter to the owner tomorrow regarding what I felt to be a very disturbing and disconcerting experience.

          1 Reply
          1. re: DoctortedNYC

            Writing a letter is definitely a good idea! I hope you get a reasonable response or it provokes some thought on management's part.

          2. That is bizarre. I would have probably lost my temper and told the manager where to go and what to do with himself once he got there. I would not have left a tip [and I'm another "overtipper" for the most part]. Good for you keeping your cool.

            1. Why didn't you leave the tip on your credit card to start with? That way it would go into the waiters' pool and not to the individual waiter.

              5 Replies
              1. re: Brian S

                How does payment method have anything to do with how/if tips are shared? It is up to the house to set the policy on whether tips are all pooled then divided, or whether each server is responsible for tipping out the bussers, host, bar, etc from their personal earnings.

                1. re: Brian S

                  Tipping in cash actually helps any tipped staff (they don't have to claim it all in taxes) where as tipping on a CC means it's all reported. Having worked in restaurants years ago, I always appreciated when people tipped in cash, and I do so now whenever possible.

                  1. re: bklyngrl

                    Really? When I was a server I didn't keep any records of my tips, whether credit-card or cash - nor did my restaurants. Come tax time, I would just make up something plausible. Did you or your restaurants actually keep/report anything?

                    1. re: spigot

                      Absolutely. The percentage we claimed was small (3% of total?). With credit cards, if the IRS ever decided to audit a restaurant, the tips on the cards would show up as income to the servers on top of whatever their small hourly rate is. Even though cc tips are usually given to the server in cash at the end of their shift, it's still on the books.

                      1. re: bklyngrl

                        Why should I assist waiters to evade taxes by tipping in cash?
                        I pay taxes, as everything I make is on the books.
                        Furthermore, often I (legitimately) deduct it off my taxes, and I want a complete easy printout that shows all business entertainment expenses, including tip.

                2. Don't know if this applies, but when I "trained" as a waiter in the past, I received minimum wage ($4.75 at the time) during my training period because I wasn't accepting tips.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: fudluvr

                    "accepting" and "receiving" are different. if this waiter was training, he was under the hand of another senior waiter to whom the tip would have gone.

                    it sounds like garbled communication all around. however, i would have left the tip anyway. high-end places like that have lots of support staff (bussers, runners, etc.) who get a percentage of the day's tips.

                    for the maitre d' to discuss your tipping was very tacky, and a letter is assuredly in order.

                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                      I agree that it is garbled communication. Usually during training, you are under someone else's guidance and thereby in THEIR section, training on their tables. The waiter that has been designated as the trainer would loose money because they now have fewer tables since some are going to the trainee. That would be unfair: not only are you saddled with an additional task (training the new guy) but you are going to loose money in the process? That's why restaurants (who are too cheap to compensate the trainer some other way) make it so the trainee receives no tips. What is SUPPOSED to happen is that the diner leaves the tip and it goes to the trainer (and everyone he/she is supposed to tip out). I think New Guy knew he wasn't supposed to be tipped and told the diner without realizing the rest of the scenario.

                      1. re: chaddict

                        I understand the no tips while training bit, but I find it hard to believe the trainee wasn't made aware of the rules up front. It makes me wonder if he wasn't protesting in some way. Like maybe he wasn't getting the help he needed from his trainer, and didn't want the trainer to get any tip?

                        It certainly sounds weird all around.

                        1. re: julesrules

                          I would be really surprised that he did not know he would not be tipped. Unless...this was his first table ever at the restaurant and he didn't realize he wouldn't be tipped until then. Doubtful...

                          I agree with jfood below: the manager probably looked at the cc slip, saw no tip written in, and wanted to know if something was wrong. Trainee probably said something about "a" tip and the manager told him he wouldn't be receiving tips today. The manager probably took it as a general question, not a specific one, and therefore did not make the connection to this specific patron.

                          As a manager with a new employee on my hands, if I saw that no tip was left, I would want to know why. I would infer that the trainee did something wrong to the diner to make the diner feel compelled to not leave a tip. With that said, I would ask if the service had been good but I would NEVER have added "...because you didn't leave a tip." NEVER question a guest's tipping, only if everything had been satisfactory.

                  2. that is just the weirdest thing ever! I think you did fine not tipping - you shouldn't have to work that hard to give someone money. And as a customer you shouldn't ever have needed to think about the issue of tipping/not tipping/new staff etc.

                    I am completely bewildered on why the waiter couldn't/didn't take the tip, regardless of how many days he had been there or why mgmt would have said . . . anyhow, too strange.

                    1. Thx everybody for your input...When the waiter returned my tip he was quite explicit that he was told not to accept it by the management for the aforementioned reasons...My take was that management had instructed him so...I also thought that maybe they were giving him a "trial by fire" and wanted to see if he could be persuaded by me and maybe he would be fired. It was the waiter I really feel bad for. He was a young, pleasant fellow. Today i mailed the new owner of the RTR [who ,btw, paid a cool 19 million for it] explaining this incident. I will post if and when i get a reply.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: DoctortedNYC

                        Sorry -- I'm having a really hard time getting my head around this: Nineteen Million Dollars for a restaurant, any restaurant???? How much can this establishment possibly gross? (And of course I do mean gross).

                        1. re: aliris

                          According to wacky-peidia, the previous owner paid $6.5 million for it, closed it for four years, and did $34 million in renovations. All this ruined the place! However, it sits on what must be some serious real estate. It sounds like Carnegie Hall Tower was built around the RTR building. “The 20-foot-wide building goes all the way from 57th St. (restaurant main entrance) to 56th St.“ Only $16 million? SAD!!

                      2. The new owner is a real estate developer in NYC with deep pockets...Lots of wealthy people like to have restaurants to entertain their cronies and never expect to make money...Dont forget he is really buying it for the real estate which is probably some of the most valuable in the world. Wikipedia has an interesting entry regarding the history of the RTR. As you read it, you will see it is no stranger to controversey
                        I mailed my letter to Mr. Lieblich yesterday regarding the incident. Will keep everyone here posted.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: DoctortedNYC

                          I have a feeling that some one is going to get his tailfeathers burned, but you may never find out who.

                          1. I agree with many of the hypotheses regarding the waiter, but what is more difficult to explain are those of the maitre` de who's is supposed to be in charge.

                            1. I had a hard time undertstanding the circumstances after reading a few times, but as people posted I may have something that is obvious to others already.

                              1 - I would assume that few people pay the bill with charge and cash for tip (this may be incorrect but hear me out).
                              2 - The trainee give patron check presenter and receives card.
                              3 - Trainee runs card and present slip to patron.
                              4 - Patron signs and leaves cash in presenter.
                              5 - Trainee is now excited that he runs to manager and asks if he can keep it.
                              6 - Manager says no but DOES NOT ask trainee if patron placed tip on charge slip
                              7 - Trainee returns money
                              8 - Patron leaves and manager now realized his mistake (see 1 above) and confronts patron in hopes of correcting the manager's mistake in 6 above.

                              Major confusion because trainee and manager did not communicate properly

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: jfood

                                I think that this is all incorrect: first, lots of people pay the bill with a card and leave cash for tip, so I don't understand why the cash vs. paying tip on a credit card would be cause for confusion for the manager.

                              2. I dont think the card/cash had anything to do with it.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: DoctortedNYC

                                  I don't think LOTS of people pay the bill with a card and leave cash for tip, maybe 1-5% depending on the restaurant. I think the trainee misunderstood what he was told and refused the cash tip when he should have just left the cash in the folder with the signed credit card slip and not said anything.

                                2. The waiter stood by the table as i tried several times to hand the folder with the cash tip to him. I was not at this point going to leave it on the table for the maitre de to nail it.
                                  I leave cash tips as they are taxed in NYC.
                                  I find the wait staff is appreciative of this.