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Server added inappropriate gratuity?

This is just an interesting observation more than anything else. It's a done deal and I think it was handled properly, but I just have to wonder to the chowhounds what some people (servers) are thinking.

We have a brunch buffet that we enjoy frequently at a nice, higher-end hotel in the near-by city. Today, to say "thank you", we brought friends that had done us a good turn. We were a party of 6, total, including our 10 yo kiddo. Truly, this is a wonderful buffet in a lovely atmosphere and we've never been disappointed. Today was no different. Excellent food!

Later this afternoon, dh, kiddo and I were taking a brisk walk and dh told me about the bill paying transaction. They have a children's price for the buffet, which was not reflected on the bill. He must have done it very discreetly, as I didn't notice, but dh mentioned to the server that one of the charges should have been for a child. He said that she seemed a little put off, but took the bill back. When it returned, it was calculated properly, but now with an added 18% gratuity. (FTR - the restaurant has an automatic gratuity for parties of 8 or more.)

So... dh didn't leave more tip. He was peeved, and I don't blame him. We're good tippers. Service was fine (not exceptional... but it was a buffet!) and we would have left a much bigger tip. As it was, I think her actions were inappropriate because it was not restaurant policy, and in the end was to her own detriment. I was happy that dh handled the whole thing without anyone else at the table realizing what was going on! I think he did the right thing. I don't know what else he (we) could have done.

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  1. So you know for a fact the server made the decision and it was not decided by the manager or there was policy you might not have been aware of?

    2 Replies
    1. re: escondido123

      Obviously we couldn't know that it was not decided by the manager instead of the server. However, the STATED policy is an automatic gratuity of 18% for parties of 8 or more. The gratuity was not on the original bill. If the manager decided upon this, they violated their policy and cost a server some extra $$.

      1. re: gardencook

        I just mentioned it because your annoyance was directed at the server, who might just have been doing what the manager instructed, in which case your beef would be with the manager not the server.

    2. Handled well, imo. If you still have a copy of the receipt (with the itemization and added gratuity), it might be worth showing it to a manager just to let him/her know that perhaps not all of the servers are properly trained. Especially if there is a chance that it may affect your frequency of eating there...

      It doesn't make sense for the gratuity to be added, and as you said, it ended up hurting the server. But there is a principle involved. If this server does it to other diners, it could affect the business in the longer term.

      1. I would've just brought it to the server's attention. Let her know that normally you would tip 20% or more and tha if she only wanted the 18% that was fine with you.
        If there was some sort of action by the management, that would be the opportunity to let you know and you could settle it with the manager.

        2 Replies
        1. re: zippypinhead

          I def would have brought it to the server's attention and next stop the manager. That was inappropriate.

          1. re: zippypinhead

            The touchy part here, though, is that we had guests.

          2. I am looking at it from a different point of view. A lot of these POS systems are so automated that when she processed the transaction to make the change on the overcharge..either she could have inadvertently hit a wrong button..or the system is programmed so that it adds the gratuity once the server reaches the required number of transactions. The fact that the gratuity is added at 8 and you were 6 ( plus two additional transactions to remove adult charge then add child charge) leads me to believe it was the latter.
            That being said..the server should review the bill before handing it to the customer...but I am still going to guess that it was error and not intentional. Could be just a programming issue.

            6 Replies
            1. re: BlueMagic

              I'm sorry, I don't understand this at all. I've worked with POS systems a lot and the automatic gratuity would be based on "number of guests" entered, not transactions. Because drinks were not included, the number of transactions on the bill exceeded 8 already, before getting the bill. I don't for one second think it was a "computer" error.

              1. re: gardencook

                I should have been clearer. I don't mean individual transactions..I meant transactions that count guests such as adding an adult buffet charge. Are you telling me that once you enter the number of guests it can't be changed? Granted it's been a while since I worked with a POS system..but I remember encountering programming errors frequently and I am willing to give the server the benefit of the doubt on this..especially since the OP were regular customers who frequently left more than 18 percent.

                1. re: BlueMagic

                  No, I wasn't saying number of guests couldn't be changed. I was saying that number of guests isn't calculated by number of transactions, but is a single field entry.

                  1. re: gardencook

                    How are buffets handled in most PoS? Is it treated differently than regular meals, ie ahrd coded one meal per guest (would be odd for a person to have two buffet meals)? If so, then is it possible that instead of changing the meal, she added a guest with a children's meal, then afterwards deleted the extra meal and guest instead of changing it? Seems round-about and that still would only bring the total up to 7, not 8 though, but I've seen stupider human/computer interfaces before.

                  2. re: BlueMagic

                    even still that doesn't work -- because if you SUBTRACT a meal, and ADD another meal, you haven't changed the number of diners or tickets.

                    There isn't a POS system anywhere that wouldn't reflect the proper headcount -- subtracting one and adding one is a net change of zero.

                2. re: BlueMagic

                  Whatever the reason, even if it was an error, the server should have checked the bill. Since she/he clearly did not, it should have been brought to the server's attention.

                3. I consider an automatic gratuity another type of discount as I usually tip more, so I am never offended by it (unless the service has been insultingly bad).

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: foiegras

                    This isn't "inappropriate". It's fraud and it's wrong. Their posted policy states the auto-tip is for parties of 8. I would notify management (even if it's a week later) and dispute the bill.

                    1. re: Leonardo

                      I think I just might say something to management. Dh did not bring it up at the time because we had guests with us and he felt that nit-picking with the server over the tip in front of friends was in poor taste. In the end, we still would have left a tip, just she manipulated herself out of a larger tip!

                      I also asked if maybe management decided upon this auto-tip and he said that he didn't see her consulting with management... just went to the server's computer station, reprinted the bill and brought it back. I was not aware of the whole thing, but dh, who is a pretty good judge of human nature said he really does think this was done out of spite because he asked for dd's meal be charged appropriately. If management DID do this, I'm REALLY ticked off because they, of all people, should know the policy and what they did was just *wrong*.

                      1. re: gardencook

                        too big a coincidence that she tapped in the adult buffet instead of the child's, then just happened to invoke the auto-tip.

                        She's a fraud.

                        1. re: sunshine842

                          +1 my guess this has to do with the server. The management should know as servers (not all but some) often learn "tricks" to up their tips even if in the long run it is to the detriment of the restaurant. It is a constant battle to recognize when these things are happening as many of these things are very subtle.

                          BTW - I'm not saying the server should be fired/etc but management should know so that if this is a pattern or contrary to how they want to run their establishment they can address it.

                        2. re: gardencook

                          I'm in quite agreement with you and also inclined to think the server was spiteful.
                          If,a 20/20 hindsight if after having read all of your response details.IF the overcharge for a child was a mistake,at the very least it was a sloppy one the server dealt with poorly.It's the server's job to present a correct bill AND on a POS system your son was a MISSING line item,more visible than a two tier system to handle with or without pours of bubbly.The 18% service/gratuity wasn't on the first check presented yet on the second check presented,reflecting the same less than eight head count it does,even if the system doesn't track well,6 minus 1,plus 1 shouldn't track to 8,programs are just better than that.My thinking is deliberate on the servers part,wrong headed,spite,?, thinking because you corrected DOWN part of the bill you weren't going to tip well.

                          I am for,talk to the manager.The manager should WANT to know.No one in the service industry needs someone like this on their front line.Nor do you somewhere,with guests that required travel.The expectations of relaxation weren't quite met.

                    2. <Service was fine (not exceptional...but it was a buffet!>

                      I would have not left the restaurant until we had it settled, regardless if it was the server, the manager or the owner who'd made the mistake. You were taken advantage of, clearly.

                      1. No matter which series of actions created this situation it is plausible each was done innocently or maliciously. Have you ever checked out at the grocery and the price ring up incorrectly or the wrong produce charged for? Has anyone mistakenly misspelled a word typing, or spent way to long trying to format something just right? Then in a rush or distracted state did not double check (which should always be done)? Since the moment has passed I would inform management so they can resolve the problem properly; including making you happy and creating a better game plan for the future.
                        On a side note as a former server... there are times management would be not readily available. More than once I had customers ready to pay and management busy putting out fires elsewhere. In which case I would separate the offending item to be voided later when things were not "in the weeds". Depending on the system and servers method it could have changed the head count.
                        Nonetheless, just like any monetary transaction it is the companies ethical and legal responsibility to properly charge.

                        1. I believe that I would have brought this up with the manager. First mistake, I will let the server try to rectify. For subsequent mistakes I generally find it more efficient to involve management.

                          Frankly, I believe 18% to be too high for a buffet tip.

                          1. I think you handled it fine. I would not have bothered to broach it with server or management. Since you were planning to tip more anyway, it was in effect a "discount" and I don't think it's your job to make a fuss or educate the server over a few bucks.
                            Was the 18% more or less than the children's buffet charge? I'm just curious if the server really expected your DH not to notice the service charge, since he would have been expecting a bill reduced by approx. X amount back, and would have actually received a bill that was possibly higher or not much lower. It just doesn't seem like a very clever ploy.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: julesrules

                              Good point, jules. Yes, the second bill *was* higher by more than $10 and I agree that if it was a ploy, it was indeed NOT a clever one.

                              1. re: gardencook

                                For this reason I'm actually more inclined to believe it was an error (although quite careless since she either didn't check the new total, or let the error go). Maybe her initial put off-ness was because she knows she's not that great with the system and dreaded going back to make the changes. I guess either way (ploy or not) she's not very clever or thorough.
                                We can analyze this to death but in the end I still think your husband handled it fine. No great rip-off occured here, I'd file it under "life's too short".

                            2. Seems to me that it turned out ok, even though not handled properly. The bill was corrected, the tip, although it should not have been added by the server, was nevertheless in line with what you would add youself, and the party was not disrupted by any unpleasantness. Leave it at that. Life is full of such things — it's not worth it to make an issue of all of them.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: GH1618

                                I agree with this. I would certainly "let it go" since in the end financially it was a wash. I think your DH handled it appropriately, etc.

                                But as a small business owner, I'd like to know if this was going on with one of my employees because it is very hard to catch and fix - and clearly the service issue side of this did affect two of my customers that up until this point would have given glowing reviews to friends/etc.

                                1. re: GH1618

                                  "the tip, although it should not have been added by the server, was nevertheless in line with what you would add youself"

                                  The OP says this, but certainly IMO, the planned tip would have been downgraded by the two separate errors on the bill. Do you think 18 or 20% is appropriate tip for a server (at a buffet mind you) who has overcharged a party twice?

                                  1. re: FrankJBN

                                    Some people are always looking for an excuse to justify a lower tip. I'm not one of them. This case isn't worth fretting over, as I wrote.

                                2. I disagree that this as handled wqell. The additional charge should have been brought to the servers attention immediately. What difference at all does it make that "qwe had guests"? The payer had already noted one error to the server while there were guests.

                                  Had the party been overcharged $50 qwould that have gone by because there were guests?

                                  1. This doesn't seem like a very big deal for any party concerned. I would imagine this was a simple mistake, and not anything nefarious. The server may have thought "there's a lot of people at that table" or just hit the wrong button by mistake. In any case, she lost out, as you said you would've tipped higher. No big deal.

                                    I occasionally see errors on my bill when I dine out. Actually, I'll bet my bill is wrong half the time. It usually isn't because the servers are trying to rip me off, I don't think, but because they made an honest error. They're generally doing lots of stuff, not just waiting on you...

                                    1. as a restaurant lifer, i think your husband handled his part well. it can difficult to handle these things discreetly in busy crowded environments.

                                      however, as a paying guest, i would not let this go and would call the manager. without attributing malice or inferring theft, there was an error on your bill. tell him/her exactly what you posted here. plain and simple. either it was innocent or the server was screwing you. on the latter side, i have fired servers for that.

                                      you tip more than 18% on a buffet? wow! lol.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                        I agree with everything you said, hotoynoodle, even down to 18% being a steep tip for a buffet........ but gardencook said that the tip amount charged (@18%) was LESS than they would have left anyway (that's obviously their choice). So.......................... the server made two "errors", whether intentional or not, but the end result was nothing major......... in fact hurt the server's tip amount.

                                        The problem, though, is that many guests would not have caught the errors, and would have wound up paying too much. Whether or not this guest wants to inform management of what happened, that could have taken advantage of other guests, is a more obscure point. My business and ethical senses would have pushed me toward informing, but probably not with my own guests there. SO............ I agree that gardencooks dh did well.