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Bullied into a 20% tip or just a sucker.

Went to Da Nico restaurant in NYC's Little Italy today. The food was very salty and was bothered by fruit flies throughout our meal and we had to wait forever for the check. When the waiter finally brought the check, i noticed that they added a 20% tip onto the check. Now I know that they sometimes add an automatic 18% - 20% tip for a large party but it was only the 3 of us. The busboy took the creditcard before we got a chance to ask the waiter what was up. When the credit card holder was returned, the waiter had put a dash in the tip area and took it upon himself to write in the total area with the 20% tip already added just as it was in the computer generated bill. As we were entertaining a guest, we didn't want to alarm or create an uncomfortable situation for our third party so we just left. We are pretty decent tippers, usually leaving 15%-18% and 20% for exceptional service (this by no means was exceptional.) I feel so angry about this. How arrogant of them! Can this be considered illegal?

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  1. You should call the restaurant. Any responsible manager would not stand for their server doing this.

    If it just happens to be a VERY disreputable restaurant (where this is the policy) you may want to call your credit card company and dispute the charge.

    1. Sounds like you had the opportunity to challenge the charge when you first received the bill. Unfortunately, not wanting to upset your guest is not a legal defense for not speaking up about the bill. At this point, your best recourse might be a call or note to the manager and/or the owner, and possibly to the Better Business Bureau if the menu did not put you on notice that there would be a 20% service charge added to the bill.

      2 Replies
      1. re: fsd1116

        I would suggest forgetting about the Better Business Bureau. For some reason that I cannot fathom, many people seem to think that the BBB is a government agency, when, in fact, the BBB is itself a business and as a result, it lacks any real punitive or regulatory power. The BBB solicits membership (for a fee) from businesses, and may help to resolve problems with those members.

        Please note that I said that the BBB MAY resolve problems, as there are many instances where the intervention of the BBB has no impact on the member business. The strongest penalty that the BBB can impose is to refuse to accept a member's dues for the following year. And, since this reduces the bottom line profit structure of the BBB, this is done only in extreme cases, with multiple offenders. The BBB sells local franchises, and thus, there is also a difference from one local BBB franchisee to another. Some local BBBs actually charge a fee to file a complaint.

        If you contact the BBB regarding a business that is not a member, there is absolutely nothing that they can do to entice that business to satisfy your claim. If someone wants to contact an agency that actually has regulatory and punitive powers, the agency to contact is the Department of Consumer Affairs. In NYC, this agency is actually quite effective in many situations, unlike the BBB.

        1. re: Ted in Central NJ

          You are so right about BBBs! When I was in my 20's (and naive) I started a business (non-food/restaurant). I thought it might be important to join the BBB, so I called my local BBB, spoke to a guy there who basically bullied me into joining. At that time I paid them around $ 300.00, which is a lot when you are just getting a business off the ground. He gave me a line of BS that I cannot believe now I fell for, but I am a stronger woman now and I have learned how to stand up for myself. He left me with a completely bad taste for this very unnecessary group. Never again would I join one and I now know what they are all about.

      2. If you signed the reciept, or if this was specified on the menu in large, up front, easily accesible type you may be stuck. It was, however, incredibly rude, arrogant, and inexcuseable. (I was in the restaurant business for years.) *Definitely* talk to the manager, and if satisfaction is not achieved, the owner(s). Heck, show them your post.

        Start politely, but do not be shy about this. Keep in mind that if they did this to you then they are indeed almost certainly doing it to others.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Richard 16

          "if this was specified on the menu in large, up front, easily accesible type you may be stuck. It was, however, incredibly rude, arrogant, and inexcuseable"

          How so? If it is specified on the menu, what is rude, arrogant or inexcusable about applying the charge on the bill?

          Should the wait staff repeat the charges on the menu? 'You do realize that steak you just ordered will cost you $27.95?"

          1. re: FrankJBN

            I should have separated the lines. If it was specified on the menu, it was not rude, etc. Annoying, maybe, but it is what they do. Since it apparently was not specified in advance, it was rude, etc.

        2. I am always totally amazed by post like this. A spine grew after the place was left. I grew up in the "business" And being a chow, for that long as well, I have had all sorts of things tried, like the automatic tip, the "send the busboy" (BTW most places do not let a busboy or even the non- resident server touch the chargecard) and yes, change the tip after I left.

          I have spoken to managers (while on "potty" break") in just such cases. Guest never knew, issue resolved. And sad to say, way more than a handful of times. Almost like dishonest servers pick up on vibes like a "guest".

          1 Reply
          1. re: Quine

            Sometimes the spine grows afterwards because in the beginning you are in shock so much that you can't think quickly and straight, especially when you are in a situation where you don't want to embarass anyone, want to "save face," or don't necessarily know if you're being reasonable or not. It's one thing on top of another. With time, you've had a chance to stew, discuss it your significant other, co-worker, whomever, and then you feel like you were ripped off. Then you come here to vent and make sure you're on the right track, and really, to learn what to do next time. I'm just explaining emotional toll I went through the last time I had a situation come up.

            I've done the "potty break" thing for other things when I can think straight or had similar experience before, but my response is a little slower when it's a new "scam."

          2. If the server just wrote in the dash and the total, which was completely inappropriate, why didn't you just cross those out and write in the amounts that you wanted to pay?

            1 Reply
            1. re: slacker

              I'm not so sure it was completely inappropriate. A service charge (which is the formal name of what we're talking about here) is *not* the same as a gratuity/tip when it's pre-added to the bill that's given to you. And if there's any grey area in your mind as to whether it's a service charge or tip, it's definitely not the same when it's pre-added as an itemized line by the computer, as yours was.

              The cost of the 20% service charge, if it appears on the menu, is no more negotiable than any of the food items that appear on the menu.

              Maybe the software is incapable of generating a charge signature receipt that doesn't have a tip line on it. A *really* sleazy restaurant would leave the tip line blank in the hopes that you wouldn't have noticed the service charge and might add an *additional* 15-20% on top of your meal, tax and service charge.

              In hindsight, that waiter may have been doing you a favor by crossing out the tip line. I've made that mistake (adding a tip on top of a bill with a service charge) before.

              Of course, all of this assumes that the 20% service charge is noted somewhere on Da Nico's menu. At a place as busy as Da Nico, I suspect the NYC consumer affairs folks would have paid them a visit by now if it's not on the menu.

              If you're convinced the 20% was not adequately disclosed, the NYC DCA's number is 212-487-4444.

            2. jfood is wondering if anyone knew that would happen if you did the following

              Suppose the bill w tax was $80 and the total he gave you was $96.Can you cross out the $96 on the charge voucher and write in $92 and then sign it. What is the amount that is owed to the resto, 96 or 92?

              7 Replies
              1. re: jfood

                i think if the pre-authorization was for 96 then you can't make it less. if the pre-auth was 80 and the server filled in the total for 96 you could cross it out and initial the change.

                i've heard of places that allow servers to add the autograt whenever they think it's appropriate. i don't know if it's illegal. here's a neat story though... http://www.mail-archive.com/basfa@bas...

                1. re: excuse me miss

                  sure you can make it less, the check can be reopened and corrected on any computer system. The full amount does not go to the bank until the end of day when the charges are posted so the customer's credit card has not been charged per se until later on usually after the restaurant closes.

                  1. re: smartie

                    So given EMM and Smartie's responses, both of whom are/were in the biz and jfood has grown to trust with truthfulness over the months, jfood would suggest as the answer to the OP question, just fill in the amount you want charged to the CC and keep a copy of the receipt. you may also place your fone number on the receipt if they want to call to discuss,

                    If the resto has an issue they will call. You also made your point without having a discussion in front of your guest.

                    1. re: smartie

                      i think it depends on the computer system. wouldn't the original have to be cancellled and a new pre-auth put through? that is what my managers have had to do when i've made mistakes on pre-auth amounts. no system i've been on has allowed me to settle a bill for less than the pre-auth.

                      i also think the better solution would be to discuss the "policy" with the manager before your card is put through. i know the OP was concerned about causing a scene- but if you're calm and matter-of-fact about the situation you won't embarrass anyone.

                      1. re: excuse me miss

                        yes to change a bill needs a manager or manager number - but all restaurants will have someone even at cashing up time. I checked every single one of my servers checks at close whilst they were standing with me and this is exactly the kind of thing that can be picked up. The check then got reopened and changed.

                        1. re: smartie

                          just curious- what system were you using?

                          regardless, that doesn't mean the restaurant WILL go in and change the amount. does anyone know- according to the credit card companies- if the customer is responsible for the amount the card is originally run through for- if they sign the slip- weather they change it or not? otherwise- what's to stop me from just giving myself a discount anywhere i use my credit card?

                          1. re: excuse me miss

                            we had a sable system.

                            if you sign the slip and have changed the amounts eg taken off the tip then I think it is unlawful for the restaurant to put in the full amount as anyhow you would do a chargeback when your cc bill comes in.

                2. With restaurants in tourist areas such as little Italy, I must say that this is not unexpected behavior. I would say that there is a thinking that tourists don't know any better. They would not do this in a place that serves locals.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: PeterL

                    I've heard reports of some NYC Little Italy places actually trying to levy a "cover charge" (analogous to the "coperto," which is standard procedure in Italy). In theory, it's actually separate from the tip if done here in the US, though I've never heard of places outside of NYC's Little Italy trying to get away with it.

                    Everything I've read about NYC Little Italy restaurants is that they're rife with these types of shenanigans. Some spots in Boston's North End have also been known to resort to questionable tactics, though not doing a "coperto." And there are restaurants in many cities where funny stuff gets pulled like this in tourist areas. I had it happen to me in Prague and Vienna in particular. Details available on the European destinations on request.

                    If it were me, I would watch my back fiercely in areas like this. Check the menu carefully to see if there's any mention of added cover charges, minimums, or anything else odd. If so, walk out. If not, they can't get away with charging you for stuff like this. Check the bill very carefully and dispute anything you don't think you owe.

                    1. re: bachslunch

                      "...see if there's any mention of added cover charges, minimums, or anything else odd. If so, walk out."

                      Or, since you've now been informed of the restaurant's policies, stay and enjoy a potentially great meal.

                      When a restaurant has policies like this in place that don't sit right with you, it may give you some comfort to try and understand why it is the way it is--in this case, a restaurant whose servers have been burned too many times by customers ignorant about American tipping practices. Put yourself in the business' shoes and ask a manager to explain why a particular policy is in place. You may be pleasantly surprised at his candor. He may be pleasantly surprised with your interest and comp you an appetizer, drink or dessert.

                      The *only* questionable ethics or legality in cases like this should arise when you're not informed in advance of extra charges. Read the menu.

                      1. re: tubman

                        No thanks. I don't wish to patronize places that espouse policies I don't agree with -- and I vote with my feet. There are plenty of excellent restaurants that don't do things like this, and that's where I take my business.

                        1. re: tubman

                          "Or, since you've now been informed of the restaurant's policies, stay and enjoy a potentially great meal."

                          Probably not, if you're in NYC's Little Italy! Those are some of the worst Italian restaurants I've ever been to.

                          1. re: Kagey

                            I agree about Little Italy--I meant it as more of a general statement without applying it to any specific restaurant mentioned.

                            There are some gems out there where the food is so good, you won't mind putting up with bad service or Draconian policies. The Soup Nazi, while semi-fictionalized, was a perfect example.

                            1. re: tubman

                              Absolutely agreed. With your previous points, too.

                    2. Whoa! This is so wrong, it's highway robbery. I wouldn't stand for it.

                      1. Technically, yes, it's illegal unless there's notice somewhere obvious (like on the menu.) But since you didn't say anything at all, I think it elbows it's way more toward "shadiness" than "illegality." You could say it amounts to passive-aggressive-passive bullying, but no one's going to do anything about if you didn't even say anything. It's like the resurgence of credit card minimums in NY. It's totally illegal (you can legally demand a business take your CC for a $.75 candy bar), and for a while, they did enforce it, but seriously, it's kind of silly unless the minimum is unreasonable. I'll spare everyone what I "really think" of people who want to charge $2 items on a regular basis, but let's just say I don't think highly of them. ;)

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: MikeG

                          Once in a while I end up going into a restaurant with $10 cash knowing they take credit cards, but NOT knowing they have a minimum. Do I leave? Do I eat up to $10 when I really need to eat $15 or even just $12 after tips, but NOT the $20 minimum? Sometimes you're in a situation where you don't want to go somewhere else because it's inconvenient or there's not another restaurant next door. I hate to leave because technically, it's against VISA and M/C rules.

                          1. re: boltnut55

                            I have to say I've never seen a CC minimum as high as $20 - not sure what I'd do, it would depend on too many factors including mood and whim. ;)

                        2. You're not a sucker - you had to roll with it because you were entertaining...

                          If it's a restaurant you care about/want to go back to then I would call and let them know what happened. Otherwise, not worth the effort IMO.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: missfunkysoul

                            Da Nico is not exactly a budget breaker--how much was a meal for three anyway, something around $100? It sounds like you would have left 15% as a tip for marginal service--are we talking about getting worked up over $5?

                            Whether a service charge was disclosed or not--and I'm willing to bet it was--as a practical matter, there's only so far you can stand on principle. I wanted to rip someone's head off when the tip line was empty after a service charge was included and I put another $30 on top of it all for service that wasn't all that spectacular (see my post above). This was ten years ago, and to this day, I look just a little more carefully at fine print in menus and in reviewing my bill because of this one incident. Live and learn, consider this a very inexpensive lesson. Just my 2ยข...

                          2. I'm familiar with Da Nico Restaurant because there it has a large backyard patio. I had a whole pizza. don't recall being hit with a 20% 'service'/tip charge but I haven't been there in a couple of years.

                            I'm not sure if they did anything illegally if the 20% charge is listed somewhere. You have to keep in mind that Da Nico is in the heart of Little Italy on 'restaurant row' also known as Mulberry Street. Mostly tourists frequent these restaurants and some are from European countries that don't tip as they're used to service being included. This might be the reason Da Nico started adding the 20% charge.

                            I'm not sticking up for the restaurant but I guess there's a lesson to be learned here for everyone: scrutiinize your check before you release it for payment. All in all your got burnt for a 3-5% additional charge on the tip if you usually give 15-18% I say let it go although I do realize it's the principle and not the money.