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Non tippers taken from restaurant in handcuffs


Okay this is scary.
The Lehigh Pub in Bethlehem Pa is pretty hardcore apparently. Hope the link works for awhile for people to read. You can't make this stuff up.

  1. The bill was only $73 for 8 people? And the argument was over a $16 tip?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Sharuf

      This incident REALLY went viral! I've seen it on four other food related sites in the last day.

      Can't wait for the lawsuits for false arrest, and false imprisonment to be filed. Somebody's going to get rich. A lot of somebodies are going to lose jobs.

    2. They'll probably charge the owner with fraud for charging services that they did not receive.

      1. I just read this and had to come to chow to see what people think. I'm sorry, an HOUR for wings and a salad to arrive? Having to get your own silver and napkins??? waitress? what freakin waitress? I wouldn't have tipped either.

        1. Theft? Ridiculous. If anything, this is a civil matter (however, I don't think it even rises to that level). They never even left the premises, but simply refused to pay a gratuity b/c of terrible service. The owner even conceded that the service was slow and offered to comp some of the items on the bill. A simple case of everyone, including the police, over-reacting. The charges will most certainly be dismissed.

          As a side note, $73 bill for 8 people is ridiculously cheap - sounds like maybe they got the quality of foor & service they paid for.

          3 Replies
          1. re: lynnlato

            This place is fairly near me and I'm sure not patronizing it. I don't know too much about law and the police and all but the article said “Obviously we would have liked for the patron and the establishment to have worked this out without getting the police involved,” said Deputy Police Commissioner Stuart Bedics. I'm not sure how much discretion the police have in these matters. Sounds like they weren't too thrilled about being called.

            1. re: givemecarbs

              You're right, I can't blame them for not being thrilled. They often get called into situations needlessly. Its a shame. I am familiar w/ PA law, and sometimes the cops file the wrong charges. As is probably the case here. The DA will likely drop the charges or the judge will dismiss it.

              I was just thinking... I wonder why only two people in the party of 8 were charged? And the tip amount is more than 18% of the bill. There must be much more to the story than what's been reported.

              1. re: lynnlato

                Correct - I should think. A restaurant bill is a contract. Refusing to pay a portion of a bill is a potential breach of contract which is settled in civil court. Heavens knows why the police should be involved.

          2. Something's not adding up here.

            The link said the bill was $73 and the gratuity was 18%, which would be around $13. Where did $16 come from? I smell a rat...

            1. I hear ya invino, there’s probably more going on then they’re telling.

              What do you do in a situation like that?

              X% gratuity for parties x or more…why should I have to reward a lousy server with a big tip? Is there ever any negotiation? Sure, they can comp the meal, but does the server still get an x% tip? I don’t think jailtime is in order for something like this, that could have been worked out verbally.

              Sometimes it seems the system is designed to make criminals of us all.

              1. I, too, as a restaurateur, will be following this case very closely. It could potentially set a precedent for restaurants that impose an auto-gratuity.

                I just can't believe the owner or manager of this place called the police and didn't just lump the loss of the auto-grat. The place is a pub; I haven't the slightest idea how eight people ate and drank for $73 -- perhaps they weren't drinking, but that's still a ridiculously low per-person rate for a night out at the pub. Heck, when we go out for burgers and drinks at a pub, after all's said and done, the bill's closer to $30-40 per person because of the drinks.

                I appreciate that the owner/manager stuck to their guns in what appears to be a battle that became charged with emotion - the autograt, as indicated on the menu, is combined into the bill and is due and owing at the end of the meal. The customer said "I ain't gonna pay it." -- But unless someone's brandishing a gun in the restaurant, for goodness sakes don't call the police! Let the few dollars go out the door with a customer who's trouble and who's not going to return.

                At least in my state, the police file an incident report with the State Liquor Authority *each and every time* a squad is called to a licensed (liquor license) premises. I certainly don't see the wisdom in putting a mark on one's license over less than twenty dollars.

                Of course, in ten years of business, we've encountered customers who dispute not only the autograt, but portions of their bill. Of course, those customers who've been wronged are respected -- typically given a full or generous comp. Customers who're just plain cheap -- we let 'em go and hope never to see them again. Some customers are just so completely *wrong* -- it'd be really nice to get our side of the story affirmed by law enforcement -- it's just not worth it, though.

                A web search revealed a business-news page that says the current ownership took over the Lehigh pub in May of '09. Sadly, all that remains of the page is the abstract. The rest of the hits are filled with the story of the horrible bar that had patrons handcuffed... and the comments are overwhelmingly in favor of the customers.

                I wonder if there are enough people who're tired of tip cheapskates, for one reason or another, to keep the Lehigh Pub in business. If the reaction on the internet is any indication, the place's days are numbered.

                Again, I can't wait until this hits a court of law.

                18 Replies
                1. re: shaogo

                  "the autograt, as indicated on the menu, is combined into the bill and is due and owing at the end of the meal."


                  I'm a consumer. My understanding is that a gratuity or tip is always expected, but can NEVER be demanded. No basis in law (at least in my state).

                  1. re: RedTop

                    You're of one opinion and I'm of another. The menu "offers" that parties of 6 or more will pay a service charge -- the diner "accepts" the offer by placing an order with the server. Isn't a binding contract all about offer and acceptance?

                    I'd hazard a guess that case law is lacking -- that's why it's going to be so interesting when a court of law examines whether or not an autograt may be rejected, legally, by the customer. The judge's decision will settle a whole lot of arguments, on this site and on others!

                    1. re: shaogo

                      In making that offer, the owner/server contracted to provide a service they failed to provide. Contract broken.

                      I fully sympathize with your complaint about people who abuse a situation solely b/c they are cheap. But it doesn't sound as if that applies in this case.

                      And for those questioning the price, the article says it was a happy hour. Cheap grub and cheap beers could mean $73 for 8 people.

                      1. re: Cachetes

                        You are right about it potentially being a contractual agreement. However, the basic necessary elements of a contract require an offer, acceptance and an exchange of money/goods. Did the customer know of the added gratuity for larger parties before they ordered or only at check presenting time? Lots of issues that need to be sorted out.

                        Either way, if its a breach of contract issue, that is a civil matter not a criminal one.

                        1. re: lynnlato

                          I have no clue if it's contractual or not, only that if it is contractual, then it seems as if the tippers were not the ones to break the contract.

                          You clearly know a lot more about this than I, so I defer to your much better judgment!

                          1. re: Cachetes

                            I was agreeing with you - not sure if I articulated that clearly. :-)

                            Yep, sounds like a hot mess of a situation. Wouldn't it be awesome if they could appear before the Chowhound Court of Appeals, Judge Judy-style. They could each present their sides and then we could vote on who holds the majority of fault. Ha!

                            1. re: lynnlato

                              You were very clear, it was my response that was wobbly. As for Judge Judy, I love it! In this case, I think she'd say "$17?!? $17?!? You should both be ashamed of yourselves!" before reaming the server out for being irresponsible.

                              1. re: Cachetes

                                Oh you know Judge Judy would get all ugly over this one - it would make for some entertaining tv, no doubt!

                                I just saw that the Yelp listing for this pub is inundated with negative posts aimed at the pub. Check it out: http://www.yelp.com/biz/lehigh-pub-be...

                                1. re: lynnlato

                                  wow...the vitriol is severe with thre ones not deleted.

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    Indeed. Seems as though everyone is jumping on the bandwagon to run this place into the ground. Mob mentality maybe. Its interesting to watch though.

                          2. re: lynnlato

                            Great points, lynnlato and Cachetes.

                            lynn, wouldn't it be theft of services, a misdemeanor, if the "service charge" is indeed construed as part of the bill.

                            It's interesting to look at this as a contract that was broken when the server basically abandoned the table, leaving them to fend for themselves. But at what *time* did the wait become "unreasonable," or a "hardship" for the diners... isn't something like that required?

                            1. re: shaogo

                              Its all pretty gray, shaogo. There's a lot we don't know. I really haven't heard anything to justify a criminal charge, IMHO. From what's been reported, the customers never left the premises - and to allege that they stole a tip, well that's just a contradiction of terms. Again, just my humble opinion. A lot would weigh on whether the pub staff told the customers of their mandatory tipping policy for larger parties when they were seated (which I doubt). But I really think its a civil matter and not a criminal one. After all how can you steal services you never received? Just a thought. :)

                              1. re: lynnlato

                                Interesting discussion regarding the legal issue(s).

                                Two things that are horrifying to me about this: 1) *Somebody* has to pay for the man-hours represented by the police officers' time spent on this, as well as that of the DA's staff and court employees; and 2) While the police officers answered this call, did someone in the city who needed assistance more urgently go unaided? So far as I know, most major city police forces in the U.S. are understaffed.

                                Whichever side wins this legally, it's disturbing to me that neither side seemed mature enough to attempt a compromise.

                                1. re: Normandie

                                  I'm guessing that in most jurisdicitions, a good chunk of police calls fall into the category of situations that could have been avoided and aren't terribly urgent. If it's not an unpaid restaurant bill, it's someone calling because their neighbor's stereo is too loud or someone else calling 911 because their mailbox was bashed in by drunk joyriders overnight.

                                  1. re: taos

                                    True, taos. Not that that would justify in my mind this proprietor and these patrons not being able to come to a compromise without calling on the police, but...very true, what you point out. So shame on some of those other folks, too! ;-)

                          3. re: Cachetes

                            They specifically said they refilled their own 'sodas' due to poor service. So no beer included in that tab.

                          4. re: shaogo

                            There is a difference between service charge and gratuity. By definition gratuity cannot be mandatory (from Merriam Webster: gratuity = something given voluntarily or beyond obligation usually for some service). If a menu states there is a service charge for large parties, then it's fair enough to be expected to pay it, and not paying would be stealing, but if a menu states that gratuity (or even "mandatory gratuity") will be added for parties over 6, gratuity payment is still at customer's discretion.

                            There is precedent already set in NY: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/15/nyr...

                            1. re: shaogo

                              I hope my post didn't offend you, shaogo, I didn't mean it to.

                              I've had five kids work in food service, one still in it. I've heard horror stories from them about being stiffed on a tip. I've heard outrageous stories from them about receiving "legendary" tips. Because they have experience in the business, they know there is no such thing as an autograt. That's just the way it is, in life.

                        2. If it was me, after about 10 minutes (or 15 if I was feeling generous), I'd track down the manager. And if I didn't get immediate attention (or a damned good reason for the delay), I would have made quite a deal about leaving. Not sreaming or anything, but making sure that everybody else in the room saw us get up, put on our coats, etc. If I'd been drinking and was just waiting for the food, I would have said to the server, manager, or whoever: "If I don't have the check for those drinks in two minutes, I'm leaving without paying for them, either." (This more to get their attention than anything else -- I wouldn't steal from them).

                          Even if the place is crowded, there's no excuse for the server's not checking in on the table, explaining and apologising for the delay, and maybe offering some sort of compensation.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Muskrat

                            indeed. my assumption is that the autograt for large parties is to compensate for the additional service required for several people, not for the simple parking of X number of butts.

                          2. I'm assuming that $73 was this couple's share of the bill and that the other couples paid the 18%, as they were not arrested.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: pikawicca

                              agreed. sounds like an 8 top with seperate bills(who knows how many) and that the other parties just sucked it up and paid it. To that I say, good going to this couple!

                              fwiw, $73 sounds like A round of drinks for 8 people!lol

                              1. re: nkeane

                                If there were separate bills, then a large party autograt wouldn't apply. Right?

                                1. re: Sharuf

                                  Sorry, Sharuf. In most if not all restaurants a large party autogratuity gets split up as many times as there are bills.

                            2. I read their reviews on yelp, and this oub is being raked over the coals hard. However, more disturbing is the fact that the place got horrible reviews before this incident. Horrible. I suspect this will put them out of business.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: DallasDude

                                You can never tell about these things DallasDude. Perhaps the pub will get an uptick in business. Or no effect at all. Perhaps people from Penna (like me) have some strange ideas. There is a thread on the Penna board right now about the pub at the new wegman's supermarket in Collegeville. The policy for dining at the pub is no tipping but many people tip anyway. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/663471

                              2. The manager sounds fishy. I believe he said he was willing to comp their food. This I assume would have been more than the 16 dollar tip. Yet he called the cops on a lower amount. This after acknowledging that they had bad service.

                                Sounds like he's trying to cover his own stupidity.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Withnail42

                                  That's exactly what I was thinking, too. He was willing to comp the $73 but called the police for the $18 tip? How much did this incident cost the tax payers? I think he should be charged for that, too.

                                2. Is Bethlehem, Pa a sleepy little place or something ? I know that police have to respond to calls, but handcuffing and taking into custody over something like this seems a little bit over the top and makes me wonder what else might be going on. I've seen cases around here where people have jumped out on a cab fare and an argument / police call ensued, and people weren't taken into custody. Charged and given a promise to appear in court, yes. The lock-ups and the handcuffs are reserved for the more dangerous folks.

                                  In any event, unless people were running out on the entire bill or causing a security concern, calling the police to begin with is ridiculous, and this place should be ashamed of itself for using up much needed resources like this. No better than the chicken nugget lady calling 911.

                                  Quite honestly i'd be a bit surprised to see an auto-grat in a pub to begin with (and I never have), which is typically a place where larger groups tend to gather anyway. Seems like a good way to alienate a lot of clientele.

                                  1. This guy named Chuy tried that autograt stuff at a taco truck the other day and I refused. He said "I know where you live cabron!"and I said "Bring it on pendejo!"This autograt crap is really getting out of hand.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                                      Being from Dallas, that my friend is hilarious.

                                      1. re: gryphonskeeper

                                        Who would be sued? The restaurant didn't arrest anyone. They don't have that ability. They called the police and police arrested the pair. I'm not a lawyer but the only party open for a lawsuit is the police and I think there are probably laws that give the police a lot of leeway on who they arrest.

                                        1. re: KTinNYC

                                          I'm guessing it might fly under the whole "pain and suffering" damages type deal. If the case is not found to have any merit, or if the restaurant was found to have misrepresented themselves to police or something, it could happen. Getting carted off in handcuffs in a police car isn't an everyday activity for most people.

                                          1. re: im_nomad

                                            I can call the police on anyone and if there we no laws broken the police would make no arrest so the restaurant owner seems immune. It was the police that made the arrest. Police arrest people that never get prosecuted and the police don't get sued. So I ask, who would the pair sue?

                                            1. re: KTinNYC

                                              well, while I can't really understand why the police would have immediately arrested them in this situation...................... there is a difference between someone calling the police legitimately, and making something up/exaggerating and calling the police. Lets just say someone knocks on my door one day, and I let them into my porch and immediately start screaming and calling the police that someone has broken into my home. The police might arrest them based on my statement, and via the investigation they find out the visitor was innocent, and I simply lied for whatever reason. I'd think the visitor would have the grounds to sue me for making their life pretty miserable for a while, and the police could charge me for falsifying a statement.

                                              Also, police have power of arrest yes. They have to have reasonable grounds to do so. The police are not the courts however, so whether an offense makes it to trial is not something they are legally responsible for.

                                              1. re: KTinNYC

                                                Police who arrest an innocent person are immune from civil liability under the doctrine of governmental tort immunity (unless the arrest falls under an exception to such immunity, such as the deprivation of civil rights under color of law). But a civilian who has another person arrested by falsely accusing that person of a crime may be liable for false imprisonment.

                                                Each state's law is different, but In Taylor v. Johnson, 796 So.2d 11 (La. App. 3 Cir. 2001), a pharmacist believed that a prescription for narcotics was a forgery. He called the police and stalled the customer until their arrival. The police arrested the customer, who subsequently proved that the prescription was legitimate. The trial court found the pharmacy liable for false imprisonment; the appellate court reversed.

                                                Even if there's no cause of action for false imprisonment, the customers may have viable claims for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and other causes of action.

                                                  1. re: lynnlato

                                                    Hey, it's what I could come up with in 30 seconds on Lexis.

                                                1. re: im_nomad

                                                  Let's say that the pair handcuffed and arrested decide to file a civil suit. (or two). And let's say that they hire an attorney who just so happens to be "influential" with every circuit court judge in the Bethlehem jurisdiction--and happens to be a terrific lawyer as well. And lets say that this attorney brings the false arrest/false imprisonment/defamation of character cases up before one or more juries...

                                                  Result: multi-million dollar awards for the plaintiffs.

                                                  This I would do!

                                                  1. re: RedTop

                                                    I may be the densest person on the board but who is the pair suing? The restaurant owner never falsely imprisoned the pair so he can't be sued. So that leaves the police, right? But if the police felt that a law was broken, theft of services, then they have the right if not obligation to arrest the pair or at least issue a citation.

                                                    1. re: KTinNYC

                                                      From experience I can say that what can happen is that someone will just try to sue everyone (owner, police, server, handcuff manufacturer) who is even tangentially involved in hopes of getting the insurance companies to each kick in a little bit each to make it go away.

                                                      1. re: KTinNYC

                                                        They have been falsely accused of theft (no service, ergo no theft of which to speak) I see $$ in their future.

                                                    2. re: im_nomad

                                                      The restaurant can be held liable for the police carting them off in cuffs. Pain & suffering cannot be a damage by itself.

                                                      It's all much ado about nothing. I'm pretty certain the courts will see that way as well.

                                                2. I doubt that anyone can successfully sue the restaurant, or the police. But, ya know what? This is the worst PR for the restaurant and the lame local police that the poor arrested couple should feel vindicated. They've trashed the reputation of the restaurant, cast doubt on the judgment of the police department, and have a priceless story that they can dine out on for years to come.

                                                  1. I'm wondering if or when the pub will drops the charges.

                                                    1. This unpleasant situation could have been avoided if the customers and simply paid the bill with a credit card, then disputed the charge with their credit card company.

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: pikawicca

                                                        Not everyone has credit cards though.

                                                        1. re: pikawicca

                                                          However, there are people like them (and also like me) who say "this gratuity is wrong". I don't care if they are going to call the police. The service is a mockery. I'm going to refuse to pay. Let them do what they will.

                                                          And, of course, something like this happens. Or you are ejected out the back door by an all-in wrestler.

                                                          1. re: pikawicca

                                                            According to the Yelp listing, the restaurant does not accept credit cards.

                                                          2. At this point the who;e thing can go away if the restaurant drops the charges. As far as I know they haven't

                                                            4 Replies
                                                            1. re: Withnail42

                                                              If this is a criminal matter, the charges are brought first by the police, then by the prosecutor; the restaurant has nothing to do with "dropping" the charges.

                                                              1. re: pikawicca

                                                                except if they will not testify Sam Waterson will drop the charges.

                                                                1. re: jfood

                                                                  You are so subversive, j. This matter would make for good TV drama -- imagine the outrage!

                                                                2. re: pikawicca

                                                                  The police chief said that he hoped that the parties could come to an agreement on their own. This makes me think the that restaurant has some control in the matter.

                                                              2. Here is an update with more info on the incident: http://www.philly.com/philly/news/bre...
                                                                The charges are expected to be dropped. Here is a quote from the link, in case the link not working:
                                                                "I've never seen or heard of any circumstance like this," said Pat Conway, president of the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association, which represents 7,000 dining places. ". . . I'm surprised local authorities would even level charges."

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: givemecarbs

                                                                  More importantly, I think, is that the DA said the charges would be dropped tomorrow when the arresting officer returns. He went on to acknowledge that gratuities are "generally volunteer payments":

                                                                  ""It's not worth prosecuting. Gratuities are generally volunteer payments," Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli said yesterday, according to the Lehigh Valley Express-Times.

                                                                  The arresting officer is off today, but he'll formally withdraw the charges against John Wagner and Leslie Pope when he gets back, Capt. John Sarnicky said this morning."

                                                                  It'll be interesting to see if any retaliatory causes of action are pursued by the college kids.

                                                                2. As a server I'm REALLY, REALLY sick of the way people often treat servers. Why didn't anyone else on this board think that maybe these people may have exaggerated their "bad service" story a bit to justify their cheapness? Possibly the pub was understaffed because of coworkers calling in sick when they're really not. The server may have been forced to take on more tables than is appropriate. The kitchen may have been responsible for much of the delay, that has NOTHING to do with the server. Where I work these things happen all the time. Try telling your doctor that since you waited too long you refuse to pay! But you wouldn't say that because you RESPECT YOUR DOCTOR. The server is always in the middle between the kitchen, the guest, and the owner/manager and usually the one who gets screwed. The reason gratuities/service charges are added to larger groups is that customers should not be allowed to wield that much power - stiffing you on a really big check.

                                                                  7 Replies
                                                                  1. re: BrianRIngram

                                                                    I'm sorry to disagree, but I spent many years as a waitress, and I found that WHEN circumstances arose such as you describe (short staff, problems with the kitchen, etc.) *all* it usually took was an apologetic explanation from me, to my tables. Not a whine--just an "I'm so sorry service isn't up to par tonight. We're short a cook" etc., etc.

                                                                    All was forgiven nearly every time, and I barely remember ever being stiffed....even the infamous Saturday night I had to work the entire steakhouse by myself (two waitresses pulled a "no show" at once).

                                                                    1. re: Beckyleach

                                                                      "*all* it usually took was an apologetic explanation from me, to my tables"

                                                                      That's right. If a server can sympathize with the customer for having to wait a long time, then the customer can sympathize with the server for the understaffing and other issues beyond their control.

                                                                      If the server takes an antagonistic stance towards the customer, as reflected in BRI's tone, they should expect an antagonistic response in return. Specifically, they should expect a lower tip, or a comment to their management.

                                                                      1. re: Beckyleach

                                                                        I'll respectfully disagree as well.

                                                                        When a server spends hundreds of thousand of dollars on school, takes 10 years to learn the job, and is essentially responsible for helping me stay alive...................... then MAYBE the doctor analogy would make some sense. And.................NONE of that is meant to disparage servers in general. I find that most people will not blame a server for anything other than the server's own controllable actions. I know many will, but that doesn't make it right.

                                                                        I'd also have to conclude that the reason for automatic gratuity on large parties is to protect a server given the relatively larger commitment of time a large party gets. Tips certainly aren't guaranteed to come in at a specific % for every smaller party, so I suppose the rationale is that the server needs a cushion for not having as many parties in total. I don't buy that it's a power issue at all. You may have the cart before the horse here.

                                                                      2. re: BrianRIngram

                                                                        what you, and many servers seem to not get (and this is also endemic in the customer service depts of many businesses) is that as far as the customers are concerned, as the representative of the establishment with the most direct contact with the customer, the server indeed IS the restaurant. It does not matter if the problem is caused by the management, the kitchen, or mercury going retrograde, you are the restaurant as far as the customer is concerned. The problems in-house are not relevant to the customer, getting good service is.

                                                                        1. re: thew

                                                                          If you buy a Toyota, the salesman still gets his commission. Or do you think he's responsible for the recalls?

                                                                          1. re: BrianRIngram

                                                                            Bad analogy.

                                                                            Better - You show up to pick up the car when delivered and it has scratches on the car and you leave. No, the salesman does not get the commission.

                                                                            Even Better - If you eat a dinner, go home and get sick and call the next day. The restaurant gives you a free gift certificate to fix the situation. the server keeps his tip.

                                                                            Try again

                                                                            1. re: BrianRIngram

                                                                              i don;t think i used the word "responsible" in my post. in fact i said who is responsible isn't relevant to the customer. The customer does not care if Toyoda-san is responsible, or the guy who designed the gas pedal, or the Toyaota factory. The customer isn't asking whose fault it is, the customer only wants to know s/he is safe and satisfied in the car and that the representative of the company that they dealt with, is going to put it right if it isn't. Who is responsible doesn't enter into it - that's an in-house problem.

                                                                        2. Since pretty much everything can be said on this topic has been said, and replies are getting increasingly snippy, we're going to lock it now.