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Mar 8, 2009 09:28 AM

Auto-tip on large(ish) parties [from Boston]

I got into a 'debate' with my DC last night about restaurants that add the gratuity to the check. I explained that it is standard operating procedure for tip to be added to parties of 6 or more (I waitressed during my college/grad school years, which weren't that long ago) and that I was shocked this was 'news' to her. Our whole crew (12 total) agreed with me, but she was adamant that this was not the case. I found this to be rather funny and wondered what others thought of this auto-tipping practice for large(r) groups?

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  1. The practice is widespread and well-established, designed to protect servers against the inevitable cheapskate or two in a large party who "doesn't believe in tipping" the customary amount, or otherwise shorts their share of the bill at the server's expense. That is grossly unfair to the server, who typically works harder serving one party of eight than two four-tops or four deuces.

    As long as the restaurant discloses the practice clearly up front (it's usually right there at the bottom of the menu, next to the "undercooked foods" warning in MA), it's totally kosher. I'd go so far as to say it's such a standard practice at the fine dining level that places that don't do it are pretty rare. If you dine out regularly at all, you have come to expect this.

    It's still a good idea to look closely at the bill. I've been in more than one situation where the server was happy to allow the customers to tip another 20% on top of the bill when they didn't notice the auto-tip charge on the check.

    I've also noticed some higher auto-tip percentages at certain places recently: 18% has long seemed standard, but I've seen 20% and 22% at some establishments fairly recently (can't recall where now).

    Interesting article here about a movement (largely unsuccessful) by a few restaurateurs to replace customary tipping practices in the US with a flat service charge for parties of all sizes: Thomas Keller, for instance, has long charged a flat 19% service charge at the French Laundry, and moved to a flat 20% service charge last year at Per Se. (But not everyone's Thomas Keller.)

    1. It's not only normal but it's sensible for the customers as well - as long as service isn't affected by a guaranteed tip. You don't have to hassle with how much each contributes and, if you know the policy exists, you can estimate beforehand what it will cost per person, information that is sometimes useful.

      6 Replies
      1. re: lergnom

        yeah but sometimes the service is affected! Case in point: at a dinner a few nights ago with a party of 7, the Auto-grat was 20% for 6 or more. Service was so minimalist as to be borderline nonexistent. We saw our waiter 4 times total.......give us menus and take drink orders, bring drinks and take dinner orders, bring dinner, bring check. No water refills, no asking if everythings is good, no secondary drink orders......and the place wasnt busy!? but we were forced to tip him 20% which ended up being over $50. for what? struck me as a case of, "well I KNOW im getting 20% of this table......".

        1. re: nkeane

          Did you bother to ask for a manager before paying the bill about the service issue? Or even during the meal? If your service is that awful throughout the evening, look for someone in charge to remedy it. If they then don't do so, then you have a gripe.

          1. re: LindaWhit

            meh. Normally I would agree with you, but this restaurant was a lost cause and I knew I was never coming back. Bad Food, Bad Service! I just wanted out of there.......

            1. re: nkeane

              but this restaurant was a lost cause and I knew I was never coming back. Bad Food, Bad Service!
              Then you can't really complain, can you? I'm sorry - even if I wasn't ever planning on going back, I think I'd still mention it to the MOD as to why I was completely disappointed in the meal AND service AND the fact we had had to pay a 20% gratuity for said crappy food and service. Maybe it would make a difference for future diners; maybe it wouldn't. But it would at least get it off my mind and let management know that it was losing potential business.

              1. re: LindaWhit

                I can complain because it happened, and I didnt/dont like it. I needn't voice my displeasure there, to be able to voice it here.

                This restaurant is surrounded by a handful of other restaurants. On a busy saturday night, all of the others were slammed and had a wait list. This restaurant had a 3top and a 2 top in the house. If the management doesnt already know that they are doing something wrong, me telling them probably isnt going to sink in either. wasted breath.

                1. re: nkeane

                  And with everyone doing what you did, perhaps they *don't* know they're doing something wrong, for whatever reason. So without voicing your opinion at the restaurant when it happens, your complaint is essentially bitching without reason here. You didn't do anything to try and rectify the situation at the time.