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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.

                  http://woodtavern.net/menus/store/woo...
                  http://www.venusrestaurant.net/dinner...
                  http://www.trattoriacorso.com/menus/c...
                  http://oliveto.com/dinnermenu.pdf
                  http://assets.dineactive.com/MENU/133...
                  http://www.bellanico.net/menus/dinner...
                  http://www.gatherrestaurant.com/image...

                  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.