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Feb 14, 2009 12:47 PM

the "law" about automatic service charges (?!)

Dear foodies,

I was in a restaurant last night with a group, and printed on the menu was a notice about 15% service charge for groups of 6 or more. And it stated that this was per "the law".

Service was spectacularly poor (I will not bore you with the details) and because of that I asked to have the charge removed. Our group organizer intervened at my request and assured me the charge would be taken off, but when the bill (finally) came that charge was handwritten onto the bill. It took more than 10 minutes of prolonged discussion with two rude staff members, but finally the charge was removed. (They claimed the manager was not there.)

All this time they kept hiding behind this mysterious law. The city of Montreal 311 hotline says there is no such law, and referred me to the Quebec government. Since their hotline isn't open on the weekend, I prowled around their website. The closest I can find are regulations at Revenu Quebec about employers with tip earners and how to calculate their payroll deductions, with employees reporting 8% of sales.

This is not the first time I have had disputes with staff about service charges, but this is the first time a law was mentioned. Would someone please point me to said law, if indeed it does exist?

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    1. Can't say I know about any law, but I have often seen restaurants that state they have that policy (mandatory X% service charge for groups over Y). Always found that supremely lame.

      Come to think of it, there may be a law against seriously claiming something is a law... ;)

      2 Replies
      1. re: bopuc

        Not lame in the least. One group of 16 is likely to be at least as much hassle to a server as four tables of four, and usually a lot more so - and is likely to stay sitting and chatting longer, thus reducing the turnover - and thus the chance for more tips - for the evening. Plus on a large party, at the end of an evening (and a few drinks) things can slip in the tip department.

        To use an example I've given before, say the total per person for food & drink comes to $100. Someone who normally has no trouble leaving a $20 tip on a $100 tab might look at a $1600 tab for 16 people and think (fuzzily), "Wow, $320 is a lot of money - surely $150 or $200 (or even $100) is a good tip!" So the server gets stiffed. Trust me, this happens a lot, and accounts for the popularity of mandatory service charges on large parties.

        Saying it's required by law, though - that's just bogus and they should be called on it.

        1. re: BobB

          And that is exactly it. Once a check goes over $100, the tip percentage drops. I assume it is the same rate.

      2. There is no such law,I have inquired because once in Montreal had the same problem. The only thing is that if you are in a hotel restaurantor in some restaurants and a large group they will ask you to add the service. You can say yes or no in a restaurant but in a big hotel since the waiters are syndicated in a banquet function you will have to add the 15%. VoilĂ 

        1. I work in the industry. That being said, there is no law like that. Some restaurants just try to scam you by saying that there is.
          You would do us all a favour here, by naming the establishment.

          8 Replies
          1. re: bigfellow

            I worked in the industry, and can second bigfellow, especially insofar as this restaurant should be named here on the board, plus reported to the appropriate government agency.

            There's no law about service charges, but there is a law against fraud.

            1. re: Shattered

              The included tip is added before taxes so there has to be some kind of law about it since the employers/employees have to report it for income tax purposes.

              From what I read on a few websites, the government would love to make it compulsory since all tips would be reported.

              This restaurateur association might answer your questions,


              1. re: superbossmom

                No such law, my friend owns a restaurant and I called him. Really nothing the only place the the 15% is added for service is in a hotel for an event or for a caterer. In a restaurant no and this restaurant should be named here.

                1. re: phyero


                  DNA has it on their menu - and it seems it's not up for discussion with them. That's just the way it is. Now mind you, I haven't been there with a group and did not discuss the automatic 18% service charge for groups - but it seems pretty clear that discussing it would be a moot point.

                  1. re: maisonbistro

                    yup, and there is nothing to say they cannot make such a policy. It's stated, you either accept it or move on. Places I have encountered this policy make it very clear to you well before they will seat your group (or take the reservation).

                    But to claim it is a *law*, that's just a lie.

                    1. re: bopuc

                      I have had such policies in places that I have run. It is common sense. BUT and it is a big BUT, it is not now nor has it ever been the law in Canada. To claim so is fraudulant. as well as being just plain stupid.

                2. re: superbossmom

                  I called the ARQ and they would not talk to me at all because I am a consumer, not a member (restaurant) of their organization. I was referred to a consumer protection office.

            2. Most restaurants I worked in MI and FL and TX and GA and well as ate in all, and almost everyone had an automatic 15% charge for parties of 6 or more. They didn't claim it to be a law, just a disclaimer on the bottom of the menu stating for parties of 6 or more the charge would be added.

              I did work at one restaurant where that wasn't the case. I was a server then and got shorted so bad. No one realized how much more work goes into large parties and fell short of 15% when I should of got more than 15%. So did many of my co workers. So I can see the restaurants policy, they can't claim it as a law.