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mandatory tipping for larger groups [moved from Phoenix board]

The other evening Nancy and I went to Local Bistro, which we have enjoyed on several occasions. Our son and his wife and their 2 kids were with us. The food was good, as usual, but when the bill arrived, there was a 20% tip added to it. There was no mention of this objectionable policy on the menu, so I spoke to the manager about it, and he said it was their policy to add 20% to bills for large groups (4 adults with 2 kids is a large group????). I pointed out to him that this policy is generally printed on the menu when it applies, and he said that they had dropped the ball, and that it would be added on the next iteration of the menu. He also offered to deduct it from the bill, but since the amount was in line with what I would have tipped without being forced to, I let it stand. I asked him about the rationale for this policy and he said that the table had to be pushed together to accommodate us, hence the inclusion of the tip.
This was nonsense since if 2 2-tops were pushed togehter for 4 people, there is no tip added.
Since is tip is an acknowledgement of good service, should the decision as to the amount of a gratuity not be left to the client?

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  1. This is very common, as larger groups tend to be more work (yes, even 4 adults and 2 children), although they should definitely say so on the menu. If you had truly bad service I'm sure they would gladly remove it if you asked.

    8 Replies
    1. re: purple bot

      If waiters consider 4 adults and 2 children a large group and think it is hard work nowadays then I do despair for the state of the direction the restaurant industry is taking.

      1. re: iliria

        Like I said, it's quite common and has been for as long as I can remember. Not saying it's right or wrong. You're certainly entitled to your opinion. By the way, it's not up to the waiters. They don't make the rules.

      2. re: purple bot

        This is very common, as larger groups tend to be more work...

        I humbly disagree. While a larger party is indeed a bit more work (tho a party of six, IMO, is not a "large group") the reason for the auto grat of a large group is economics...making sure the wait staff is fairly tipped. 18 - 20% for a party of two isn't too bad on the wallet, but the tab for a party of eight can easily exceed $300 even at a reasonably priced place. Obviously, the more upscale, the higher the tab. Even at the low end of $300, a 20% tip is <gasp> $60! "Geeeze, she didn't work *that* hard." So he leaves a 20 on the table and slinks out. I saw this sort of behavior 40 years ago when I worked in the industry, and have heard many similar tales from a couple who ran a restaurant down the street from me. When we all tip fairly, there will be no need for the auto grat, but in the meantime...

        1. re: al b. darned

          Agreed. Some people who will readily throw in 20% on a $30 bill suddenly get very miserly when responsible for a $300 bill.

          Also, I think diffusion of responsibility is a common problem with larger parties when there is only one check but everyone ostensibly chips in their share - all of a sudden, everyone forgets 4th grade math and calculates the bill as though there were no sales tax, skimps on their share of a shared appetizer, conveniently forgets that third glass of wine, figures someone else will chip in extra, etc. Servers responsible for large parties would probably get badly undertipped often were it not for mandatory tips.

            1. re: al b. darned

              whatever the underlying reason may be, i'm all for the restaurant having policies in place to assure the waitstaff of being properly tipped.

          1. If it's what you would normally tip and you were happy with the service what was your objection? I have waited on people from France who wished we would add the tip because they didn't want to have to think about it.

            1. I would have issue with this if I was in the situation. One it is a hidden charge, as it not on the menu. And second, while yes I do know tips are added for groups, the smallest number I have encountered for that criteria was 8. Two couples and two children (unless they were holy terrors in the place and I am assuming there were not) does not make a group. I think the Manager did the right thing to offer to remove it (and the policy should stop until written notice can be provided) but he also did a FAIL with that flimsy excuse about table moving.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Quine

                I'm with you. If a charge is not listed on the menu or posted prominently, then the customer has no opportunity to consider it and refuse to do business on the restaurant's terms. A restaurant can't just apply charges willy nilly. Adding an automatic gratuity, without telling a customer before ordering, is wrong.

                And I've never heard of 6 people being defined as a "large" group.

                1. re: 512window

                  Well, maybe the 6 or more is a Bay Area thing. I checked the online versions of the menus for a handful of my favorite restaurants in Berkeley, Oakland, and SF. Seven of the 9 had PDF versions of their printed menus online (see links below). Five of those 7 menus note that an autograt is at least possible with a party of 6+. The other 2 note that the threshold is 5+.

                  While these are not "large" groups in the sense that they comprise large numbers of people, they are large enough to trip the autograt switch at those places.


                  1. re: 512window

                    Following up on my hypothesis about cross-region variation, I just checked the menus of several Phoenix metro area restaurants.

                    A much smaller proportion of them have an explicit auto-grat policy in their online menus. I found one that sets the threshold at 8 (18% auto-grat), one that sets it 7 (20%), four that set it at 6 (18%-20%), and one that automatically adds 18% to *every* check, but gives the diner the option of increasing or decreasing the amount of the gratuity.

                    The likelihood of having such a policy in the Phoenix area restaurants was definitely related to the price point/average check amount.

                2. An automatic gratuity for parties of 6 and up is common. Since I assume the kids ate, they constitute diners at a table-their age is irrelevant. I have no problem with the policy. Still, it should be on the menu for people unaccustomed to

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: LeoLioness

                    I agee with the policy, but it should be on the menu. Any addition charge should be clearly stated on the menu and again on the bill. And what I see/noticed is a 18% gratuity for groups more than 8 (not 20% for 6).

                    1. re: viperlush

                      18% has been more common in my experience too, but I think 20% is the new 18%...I had dinner with a group last night (Highland Kitchen in Somerville) and it was indeed 20% for 6 people.

                      1. re: LeoLioness

                        I've always viewed the auto addition of a tip for a larger party as a response to the clusterfuck that ensues when a large group of adults gets to the end of the meal and has to settle the bill by splitting it. Invariably, the total comes up short. With a family of 6, with presumably only one person paying the bill, this type of policy is a bit of overkill IMO. Sure, serving a 6 top is a bit trickier than a normal table, but in this type of situation I'd like to see the restaurant take a bit of initiative and leave it off.

                        1. re: Msample

                          If there are multiple adults present, how can a server assume that one person will be picking up the tab?

                  2. Unless the kids are running their own food from the kitchen and busing the table after they're done eating, I'd say it's legit to count them towards the total number in the party.

                    Six is a common party size threshold for this kind of autograt, so I'm surprised by people saying that they've encountered it only for parties of 8 or more. But, as others have noted, 18% is more common than 20%, and the diner is almost always made aware of the policy up front either by text on the menu or verbally by a host, server, or reservation booker.

                    The only place where I see the restaurant dropping the ball is in their failure to give advance notice of the autograt, which the manager seemed to own up to as being a mistake.

                    1. I just had an auto-grat this weekend for a party of 6. But it was clearly stated on the menu (along with no split bills for 6 or more). And the waiter circled it on the bill, which I really appreciated. We had great service so ended up leaving more.

                      1. Yeah, I'll agree with all those that don't understand the OP's beef.

                        Automatically added gratuity of 18-20% for parties of 6 or more is quite common at the restaurants I dine. Sometimes it's printed on the menu, sometimes it isn't.

                        1. There was a time when the rule was 10 or more people was considered a large group and a precalculated 20% gratuity would be added to a party's check (or each check on the table if there were multiple checks) and this was stated clearly on the menu. In fact, very few non fast food places I frequent do NOT have a stated policy/warning on the menu for large group gratuity. But this example here looks like shameless margin padding, as the decision does not come from the waiters. I wonder how much of that 20% the waiter actually gets to keep. I will say that I have never had bad service while in a group of 10 or more. If I ever do, I will speak up and ask the tip to be removed. But 6 people being considered a large party? That is VERY new. I have NEVER seen or heard of such a thing before now and I am a frequent diner. You may want to ask the waiter if they get ALL of that gratuity (ask them to be honest). I'll stop complaining if all that goes to the waiter but if the house gets a cut, then there's your root cause for this "new" trend (profit padding) which is a despicable deviation from restaurant ettiquette.

                          It's not surprising they didn't have the nerve to put that one in writing. They were probably counting on most people either not noticing or not speaking up. Kudos to you for speaking up, Neville!!

                          10 Replies
                          1. re: Cremon

                            Let's give the restaurant the benefit of the doubt huh? It's highly unlikely they're trying to trick people into not noticing. Oh, those evil restaurants out to get you again! Six people being considered a large party is hardly new. And as far as that being a large party, well, I suppose it depends on the size of the restaurant, don't you think? in a 200- seat place, maybe not. But in a 30 seat restaurant, I'd say calling a party of 6 large is fair. Oh, and by the way, it's illegal (most places, if not everywhere) for management to take any part of tips. Why would you think the server wasn't getting the tips, because the decision doesn't come from the waiters? They do that because they're looking out for their staff.

                            1. re: purple bot

                              Yeah, as I said if it ALL goes to the server then I don't really have a problem with it. But six people being considered a large party is definitely new to me. Other people may have seen the trend for a while but I haven't which is why I regarded it with suspicion. Every place I have ever been that does that starts the "large" count at ten.

                            2. re: Cremon

                              Servers almost never get to keep all of their tip, regardless of whether it is an automatic gratuity or not. We tip out anywhere from 2-7%- to the kitchen, the host, bussers, bartenders, etc. Also, in some places, tips are pooled between servers. I have never heard of a restaurant where a server keeps ALL of their gratuities.

                              1. re: upsidedownorchid

                                Really, you've never heard of a restaurant where servers keep all of their gratuities? I have. I'm also surprised to hear that some places tip out the kitchen, since it's illegal (most places) to tip out people not on the floor serving customers. But I think the point of that earlier comment is that the tips are not for the management to take. Sure, bussers and bartenders get tipped out, but certainly not management.

                                1. re: purple bot

                                  Just because it's illegal doesn't mean managers won't skim tips: http://waiterpay.com/tag/mario-batali/

                                  1. re: Cremon

                                    Exactly. But these days they're more likely to get caught than not.

                                    1. re: Cremon

                                      wasn't there a big lawsuit when the managers at starbucks shared in the tips?

                                      at any rate, around Los Angeles it's very common for servers to tip out anyone who helps: runners, bussers, bartenders, etc.

                                    2. re: purple bot

                                      I've never seen a place where a server keeps all of their tips. At the minimum, they have to tip their bussers. The higher up the restaurant the more staff to tip; food runners, bartenders, host/esses, banquet managers.

                                      1. re: Missmoo

                                        depends on what level of restaurant -- while I was working my way through pizza joints and diners to pay tuition, I never paid a dime of my tips to anyone (except Uncle Sam, of course...)

                                        1. re: Missmoo

                                          I also have worked in places, as have siblings and friends, where we did not have to tip out. Some of these places were small pizza and diner type places, some steakhouses and moderate priced restaurants in smaller towns/cities in rural America.

                                  2. Some computer systems are set up so when you put in how many people are at the table it adds the gratuity to the check if it is over the limit so its not as if the management "added the tip". That being said the offer to take it off shows they were willing to accommodate you. Its my humble feeling that we should follow suite with the rest of the world and restaurants should pay waiters a fair wage for the work they do and diners may leave an additional something if the service was outstanding. Granted the prices might be a touch higher but it would eliminate a server favoring or neglecting a table based on how much they have ordered.

                                    8 Replies
                                    1. re: Torrez74

                                      But what if the group tip is automatically added and the service is bad. Is one obligated to pay the 18 or 20% tip? Is there a law , such as an innkeeper law, that says one must? Not long ago I read in the news that a couple somewhere refused to pay the tip because the service was bad. They were taken to court and I do not know what the outcome was. Does anyone remember this incident and the outcome. I would like to know since I consider tips totally voluntary.

                                      1. re: singlemalt

                                        Tips are voluntary, service charges are not. If the menu says that there is a service charge, you are obligated to pay it. However, if the word "gratuity" is used, it may not be enforceable since the meaning of the word implies that it's voluntary.

                                        1. re: singlemalt

                                          Then you speak to the manager, tell them the service was not up to par and why. I'd be shocked if they didn't remove the tip at that point.

                                        2. re: Torrez74

                                          People program computers, so it's not automatic unless they make it that way, geesh. I still stand by if it is not on the menu or prominently displayed, it's a hidden charge, with NO obligation for the customer to accept being charged for it.

                                          Never be fooled again when someone tells you the computer did it, for anything!

                                          1. re: Quine

                                            So you wouldn't leave a proper tip for the server merely because it was already added to your bill?

                                            Again, I do agree it's good practice to state this on the menu, but I'm honestly surprised that so many people are unfamiliar with this practice. Whenever I go out with a few friends and it's time to deal with the bill, the first question is "did they add the tip"?

                                            1. re: LeoLioness

                                              Trust me I grew up in the business and I tip very well! What I am objecting to is the practice of auto-adding the tip without notice. To me that is hiding the fee. I am very familiar about adding group gratuities to a bill (and making sure folks are well informed it is being done) as I set up and managed a catering service.

                                              I will also state that I have not seen a "group" defined as 6, it is more like 8 in this area.
                                              And that crap the OP said was given as an excuse of having to move tables, was pure BS.

                                              Plus since I normally tip 20%, I don't need a "computer" to figure it out for me. That was a skill I learned in the 3rd grade.

                                              So the combo of, a not disclosed practice, small group number and BS excuse are all the things I am objecting.

                                              1. re: Quine

                                                Plus since I normally tip 20%, I don't need a "computer" to figure it out for me. That was a skill I learned in the 3rd grade.
                                                Me, too, but it wasn't that many years ago when my niece was a sophomore in high school. We went to to lunch, and when the bill came, she had no idea how to calculate a 20% (or even 10% x 2) tip.

                                                1. re: al b. darned

                                                  I know what you mean, today's education isn't always practical. Cashiers can't figure how to make change, without the register, money is "counted" by weight. (I SO want to duct tape some bills!) and those tipping charts are now part of most phones.

                                                  Kinda funny, a HSer can maybe speak some Japanese/Chinese but can't count out change. And sad.

                                        3. 20% service charge for parties of six, 30% for parties of six with KIDS sounds about right.

                                          1. when was working my first job in a pizza joint, I was pulled off the floor to wait on a group of 35 who'd come in to celebrate a birthday.

                                            I busted my ass making sure that their every request was accommodated -- and they were quite demanding -- not everyone had pizza, they all wanted different drinks.

                                            This took me off of the floor for an entire Friday night shift - and because we weren't allowed to add autograt? I got $5 on a $500 tab, as did the other waitress who worked this group with me.

                                            The manager was pissed and chased the guy out to the parking lot...who gave him $20 for the two of us.

                                            an entire shift's work and $15 for the night -- so by the time the payroll taxes were taken out, I paid for the pleasure busting my hump.

                                            Autograt should be required (but then so should paying waitstaff a decent wage and just including service charges in the pricing, just like in Europe)

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                              +1 on on the "service inclusive" practices, sunshine. Better by far and, IMO, generally results in a better service experience for the customer.

                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                You'll find that the biggest opposition to that are servers

                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                  i have worked 2+ decades in restaurants and lost count of how many times i got kraptastic tips from large groups.

                                                  i'd rather deal with one 8-top than four deuces though.

                                                  people get sticker shock with a big bill, people chisel and underpay when splitting the check, some people really can't do the math and some are international visitors who think 5% is enough.

                                                  the only problem i see is the policy wasn't stated on the menu. i believe that's illegal.

                                                2. It's common practice at most restaurants. I'm surprised they offered to take it off the check, because to do so can actually be considered discrimination. Though in your case, they did make an error by not disclosing that to you in some way in advance.

                                                  I can tell you, as a former server, the main reason policies like this exist are to prevent the server from getting screwed on any tip at all.

                                                  With large parties, especially if they all have separate checks, people often don't leave a tip because they assume everyone else has already left "enough". Or, if one person is picking up the whole check, they get sticker shock and only leave like $5-$10 on a $250 check.

                                                  The main problem is that the servers get taxed on a percentage of their total *sales*. Their "tips" are considered wages by the IRS. They have to claim what they made in tips each night, and if it's less than 8% of their total sales, it will trigger an audit come tax time.

                                                  Large parties also tend to take up a servers entire section of assigned tables, not to mention they generally stick around longer. If they don't tip appropriately or at all, that server basically came into work that day for nothing.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Atomic76

                                                    How would that be discriminatory?

                                                  2. While this has become a common practice for groups of six
                                                    or more, my problem would be not with the idea but with the
                                                    amount. Although I regularly tip at least 20%, I am
                                                    not sure that it has become the standard and would not be
                                                    happy with being told that was what was expected. On the
                                                    other hand, I do feel that larger groups are more difficult
                                                    to serve and that the larger the group, the more
                                                    time it takes, sometimes negating the possibility of turning
                                                    the table. When in a group, I often leave more than 20%
                                                    because of these reasons and the fact the I know some
                                                    of my fellow diners "undertip". But sometimes, when 20%
                                                    is added and the service has not been well above average,
                                                    I don't add anything extra.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: ferventfoodie

                                                      Back when my dad was alive and I was teenager about 14 or 16 of us went out for dim sum and went town! We were there for hours, mass amount or food were eaten, we emptied entire carts! Drank dozens of pots of teas, quite few beers and even ordered some off the menu dishes. When the bill came my father called over the waiter to ask about an extra charge. He only noticed because it was written in red ink and circled. My father was horrified. He tried to pay and the man kept saying "not right, not right'. His son came over and they finally settle it. They were trying to charge a mandatory 12% gratuity for a large party, but my father kept saying that was too low (we are in the biz) and he want to tip more. The Owner was insulted my dad was insisting. At that point we want to crawl under the tables. In end my dad tipped closer to 25% and the son graciously accepted it on his fathers behalf.

                                                      Years later we still go back there (great salt and pepper prawns) but more importantly I am still bothered my mandatory tipping. My dad truly thought the owner was selling himself short while the owner was trying to cover large parties (which in Dim Sum can require more work)

                                                      I will routinely tip more than what is "mandated" if food and service is warranted and my group agree. My standard ins about 20% so when I see place that mandates 15% and the food and service is ok that is all they usually get when I am with another type group. They look at it as "that all they want thats all they get".

                                                    2. I think that part of the problem is that often times larger groups tend to break up the bill (ie several folks pay their "share") and there might be inequities in tipping. So I can understand the restaurant charging the set tip (although I agree, it should be clearly pointed out on the menu AND pointed out to the patrons when they receive the check to avoid double-tipping..).

                                                      I encountered this very scenario this past weekend. A group of about ten to twelve of us went out to an upscale restaurant where the bill I'm sure approached a thousand dollars. Two of those present had agreed to split the bill (since it was a celebration of graduation for two families) - my husband was one of the two splitting it. He told me later that he felt very badly because the other dad left a very small tip (10 percent). He only knew this because there was some concern about a bottle of wine that hadn't been charged, and he checked the other guy's bill just to make sure it hadn't been charged there...and the amount had been totaled and the tip added so he saw what it was. My husband left a generous tip, but had already calculated his as well by this point...so he just threw in a couple of twenties to help make up the difference. He figures the two tips averaged out to 15% but when you consider that the tips in such places are usually shared with the bus staff etc that isn't all that much. DH was embarrassed, and commented to me that he wished the restaurant HAD charged the large group tip so that the waiter wouldn't be short-changed....

                                                      6 Replies
                                                      1. re: janetofreno

                                                        in many fine-dining restaurants, it's common for servers to tip out 20-40% of THEIR tips to support staff. bartenders, bussers, runners, expediters -- everybody gets a piece. not to mention uncle sam.

                                                        sadly what happened to your husband is quite common. nice of him to try to make some of it up, even though the other person shouldn't have put that onus elsewhere.

                                                        1. re: janetofreno

                                                          you married a fine man.
                                                          a person who understands fairness

                                                            1. re: latindancer

                                                              HA! you've clearly never worked for tips.

                                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                I haven't. But I have worked and it's nice to know when people have felt appreciative of my work. I just can't imagine people being that disgustingly cheap when someone's working their butt off to take care of their needs. Now, if they're not working that hard I can understand a little less than 20% but 10%? ugh.
                                                                I've been using room service alot lately and with the additional automatic added on 20%, I'm still finding myself tipping above and beyond in addition to that 20%.

                                                              2. re: latindancer

                                                                i've stopped going out to lunch with one of my neighbors because she normally leaves $1 tip per diner, however much the diner ordered.

                                                                the day i realized this, i slipped additional cash in the folder and never went out with her again.