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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.

              1. When eating out with friends of mine (large group) which all work or have worked in the hospitality industry, it happened a few times that the waiter actually lost out with this policy. We asked if it was possible to tip separately, and were turned down. Most of us would have given more than 15%. i hate it, but SO and i are chronic over-tippers! we know what it is to work that type of job...

                5 Replies
                1. re: alixium

                  I never heard of not being able to tip more. With large parties I don't mind the 15% but always add extra. How can they turn you down.

                  1. re: kchurchill5

                    because we paid by credit card, so their total amount was what they handed us over to sign.

                    1. re: alixium

                      On credit card slips you can always add tips, every restaurant I have gone to

                      1. re: kchurchill5

                        And what about leaving additional cash on the table? The simplest solution yet.

                        1. re: LindaWhit

                          That is what I always do, simple as you said. Absolutely

                2. Today at Claim Jumper an old western theme restaurant I noticed at the bottom of every menu page.

                  "A 17% service charge will be added to parties of eight or more. Tips are always discretionary"

                  Claim Jumper is known for its large big as your head portions and as a place which serves many large parties because people go there for all kinds of celebrations.


                  8 Replies
                  1. re: monku

                    A few years ago we were in a diner in Baltimore County which had a notation on the menu about an automatic 15 percent gratuity for groups of eight or more. There was a group of about ten teenagers and they all got separate checks. They loudly insisted that they didn't have to leave any tip at all because they were not a group of ten, they were ten groups of one.

                    I suspect the reason that a diner has this policy is precisely to avoid wait staff getting stiffed. I suspect there was nothing wrong with the service, these kids just didn't feel like tipping. Any way, the manager came over and the argument escalated and got quite loud and I was afraid it might turn violent. All the while, one of the teens looked very nervous and said, let's just pay the tip and get out of here.

                    Because I was afraid that things were going to get violent I discretely called 911 from my cell phone. The police showed up soon thereafter and cuffed and searched a couple of the guys in the group, including the nervous one who said to leave. It turned out he had good reason to be nervous as he apparently was in possession of some sort of illegal substance.

                    1. re: ravchaz

                      so now not wanting to tip is an arrestable offense?


                      i feel sorry for all those kids, especially the one carrying.
                      they were idiots for not wanting to tip, but that's kids.
                      to threaten them, or call the manager over to threaten them over it is bad enough - to call the police one them, and perhaps ruin a kid's future because of it, is not a civic duty to be proud of, it something to keep you awake at night wondering what harm you caused.

                      1. re: thew


                        The kids were under obligation to tip. Being "an idiot for not wanting to tip" isn't a good excuse. It's precisely groups like this that automatic gratuity was enacted for. If kids learn they can get away with things (example: not tipping) just because, does that really benefit anyone?

                        The kid's future wasn't potentially ruined because he didn't tip- he had his own choice to be carrying whatever he had.

                        Does carrying drugs make someone not expected to tip?

                        1. re: thew

                          I didn't call the police because they were refusing to tip. I called the police because they were threatening to use violence. Ten teens screaming and cursing may be fine to you, but it wasn't to me. I happen not to want to be in a restaurant if a fistfight breaks out.

                          1. re: thew

                            Thew- huh? I think Rav made it pretty clear he/she was afraid violence would flare up and that's why the police were called. I think you're way off base assuming the police were called b/c of the tipping. The kid was arrested b/c he was carrying drugs. Totally not Rav's fault, ENTIRELY the kid's fault. I wouldn't lose a minutes sleep over it.

                            1. re: mjhals

                              carrying drugs doesnt bother me. being self righteous about getting kids busted like its a good thing, does.

                          2. re: ravchaz

                            Ravchaz: this sounds like an urban myth.

                            1. re: Leonardo

                              What sounds like an urban myth? The diner was the New Town Diner on Reisterstown Rd. in Owings Mills, Maryland. I am sorry I cannot give you the date of the occurrence but it would have been in 2004 or 2005. Sheesh.

                        2. I think there's a bit of equivocation going on here, perhaps deliberate, perhaps not. I suspect the "law" is simply that they must disclose on the menu (or otherwise prominently) if they have a policy of adding a service charge automatically. Not that a service charge must be added by law.

                          Thus, if they said they disclose it because they are required by law, see how it could mean what I suspect was meant?

                          1. It could be something as simple as a mistranslation from the French. Lord knows I've seen enough examples of bad translations from Chinese or Japanese to English.

                            But I'm OK with the practice in general. Back in my serving days, I hated getting tables with more than 6 people. The ordering practice takes longer, since everyone seems to want to discuss what each other is having, or after you've taken one person's order, they change their mind after hearing what someone else wants. They never order their second drinks in unison, so you end up making a lot of single purpose trips. And getting everything plated and brought out to the table on a busy night can be problematic. They do "camp" a lot, ordering endless refills of coffee, so as another poster pointed out, you get fewer turns. And, yes, on big bills, you tend to get a lower tip percentage, and there's always one cheapskate who orders $28.65 of food and drinks, and leaves $30.

                            Well, OK, not always, but often enough that we would tip the hostesses NOT to give us these tables.