General Chat

Snooth User: tjstaff

A new one on me....have you seen this when eating out?

Posted by tjstaff, Apr 16, 2011.

Dinner the other night with colleague at a white tablecloth restaurant brought a surprise ending tour meal. When greated with the bill, I found a automatic gratuity of 18% had been added. For larger parties, this is sometimes an acceptable practice, but since there were only two of us, I was more than a little surprised. In addition, there was another line on the bill to leave an additional gratuity.

Is this a common practice?



Reply by outthere, Apr 16, 2011.

I think it's rather presumptuous and rude to add a gratuity for a party of 2. My practice, when a restaurant decides what they are worth, is to not give them any more since they have already set the bar.

Typically I start at 20% and go up if service warrants it. Their loss. Bad practice on their part, even in a down economy, if you ask me. Restaurants survive on repeat customers. A turnoff does not get me to come back soon if at all.

Reply by Peppino, Apr 16, 2011.

I expect it in areas where there are lots of tourists but generally speaking I'm with outthere on this.  I usually start with 20% for good service but it they add the gratuity to the bill for a small party I don't leave anything addtional.

Reply by dmcker, Apr 16, 2011.

I'm oldschool. Decent but nothing-special service gets 15%. Good service 20%. Extraordinary service something more. Something lacking service 10%. Stinko service a nominal amount to make my point clear.

Some restaurants have added that service charge from years ago, even when a party of two or anything less than a 'banquet' class party, whether the threshold number for that is 8 or 10 or whatever. I first encountered it at Chez Panisse. Liked the restaurant enough to forgive. But they were in a very special place, and did a very special job, so my initial resistance was given a bye. Special exception category in my court of judgment.

I still resist the practice in my mind. Any restaurant that's not truly exceptional, and when the service is not really up to snuff will get a protest from my in the form of the manager being called over. I tell him or her I'm not paying the 18%, or whatever it is, because service was poor. Obviously this isn't fun for either side, and generally means, unless management responds in a particularly positive way, that I won't be coming back. But I increasingly feel that life's too short to let this kind of thing slide, and crappy practice continue.

This creep in feeling of entitlement in the service industry to some arbitrary amount of extra money beyond the listed fare is really something that generates a lot of negativity, not just with me. I'll pay for good service, but feel no need to pay for poor. Trying to change the terms of engagement midstream, in such an arbitrary way for the benefit of one side, is something that always causes problems in whatever business context.

I've lived offshore for most of my adult life, and so am well familiar with countries where service is excellent but tipping is not common or even allowed. I understand about the crap pay for waiting staff and others in the restaurant industry in the US. But this kind of arbitrary mechanism, administered directly by the establishment (do we even have any say in who gets what part of the tipouts?) leaves a bad taste in my mouth, too.

Reply by zufrieden, Apr 16, 2011.

I think that about sums it up.

Reply by napagirl68, Apr 17, 2011.

Wow.  The worst part that jumped out at me, was the line for additional  gratuity!  

The only time I have seen this done with a party of two is when using gift certificates, or one of those certificates... They want to make sure the tip is based on the actual cost, not the discounted price, so they sometimes tack on the gratuity.  Barring that, I think that practice is very poor practice. 

Reply by Girl Drink Drunk, Apr 17, 2011.

The line for additional grat is pre-programmed into the credit card machine.  ;)

Reply by Stephen Harvey, Apr 17, 2011.

Please help - I thought that in the US that you had been adding the gratuity as a service charge for many years, I thought I recalled that on my visit there in 2002/3?

It is interesting to see how some things can vary so much in relatively similar cultures.

In Australia, people working in hospitality, particularly bar staff, waiting staff etc are paid relatively reasonable base wages [Without getting into a debate on what constitutes reasonable, the remuneration of service staff is not reliant on gratuities].  Tipping in Australia is not part of our culture and we find it difficult to understand the protocols when travelling overseas, when to tip and when to not?

It seems to me all that has happened in the US is that the bill/tariff you get tells you how much the proprietor is paying to the staff working direct with customers. 

Not sure which system works best?

Reply by StevenBabb, Apr 18, 2011.

Stephen- working here in San Francisco, we get a lot of people visiting from down under on holiday, and i've noticed more and more that when they are unsure, they generally tend to ask, which is great...

and the proper answer to that question, IMHO, is 15% is customary, and more can be given at the diners discretion for what they feel was great or exemplary service... and at the same time, less can certainly be given for bad service....

as for the OP, it seems a bit odd that they would auto charge 18%... what restaurant and where was this? and was it a rocky experience, anything to suggest that the server wasn't going to get a good tip? i've known of instances where service staff have taken liberties and ADDED gratuity when they thought they would get stiffed, without the restaurant knowing or condoning this... and usually they get fired when they're caught... and rightfully so...

but, it could be the policy of the restaurant, and if so, it should be clearly marked on the menu... and even explained to first time diners at the end of the meal....

Reply by Stephen Harvey, Apr 18, 2011.



Tipping is customary in restaurants offering traditional table service. While the amount of a tip is ultimately at the discretion of the patron, the customary tip until the 1980s was from 10-15% of the total bill before tax, for good to excellent service, and since then has risen to 15-20% before tax.[41] Tipping percentages may fall when the economy is poor.[42] Waiters, on average, fail to report at least 40% of their tips according to the IRS.[43]

An IRS audit triggered by major discrepancy between employee reported tip and credit card slips maintained by the business, it was discovered that employees of Fior D'Italia in San Francisco was significantly under-reporting their tip income. The average tip amount as discovered by IRS through calculating the average of credit card slips for year 1991 and 1992 were 14.4 and 14.29% respectively. [44]

In a 2003 auditing conducted in a research report under advise of faculty member Ron Worsham at Brigham Young University, found that the data collected from sample restaurants for report had an average tip percentage ranged from 13.57 to 14.69% between 1999-2002 [45]

When a server has not adequately addressed issues a customer has with service, the patron may choose to speak with management to have the problems corrected before considering reducing the tip.[41] In extreme cases of inferior service, the patron may choose not to leave a tip. Though not considered a standard business practice, some dissatisfied customers go so far as to leave a very small tip, such as one penny, as a personal insult.

In certain situations, the restaurant may assess a gratuity to the bill automatically without customer input, which is called an "autograt."[46] The most frequent reason for this is for large groups, such as six or more, which many restaurants as a matter of policy add a standard predetermined amount (~18%) that may be labeled as a gratuity or as a "service charge" in lieu of the gratuity.[47] In less frequent cases, an autograt may be placed on every customer's bill. Reputable restaurants post their policy on a sign or the menu, or require servers to inform their patrons of such charges before they order. This charge can be verified by the customer on the bill to avoid tipping in addition to the service charge. Regardless of whether it is labeled a "service charge," it is still taxed by the IRS.

Legal cases have established that customers have a right to negotiate, alter, or refuse such automatic charges entirely, even if the policy is written on the menu.[48] A customer may choose to include an extra tip for the server over and above the service charge, or, if service is poor, to negotiate an alternate service charge with management.

Reply by StevenBabb, Apr 18, 2011.

gotta love wiki!

Reply by dmcker, Apr 18, 2011.

Yeah, even though they'd, as often is the case, benefit from a copyeditor. Good post, though, Stephen.

Glad to see my customary practice, as indicated in my post above, is sanctioned by the poster at Wikipedia... ;-)

Reply by tjstaff, Apr 19, 2011.

Thanks for all the responses.....this particular restaurant's policy may have been posted. However, it wasn't seen by me and, frankly, with a client with me I wasn't making a big deal of it. Just surprised me (why shoudl anything surprise me these days?) that's all. Not opposed to tipping 20% or more for good service....just not used to having it done for me! Thanks again

Reply by Don2206, Apr 19, 2011.

I have argued over the years of what constitutes a tip. In my argument, I have illustrated that I am not the employer, so it is not my responsibility to supplement the wage. Nor should I be required to do so, even for a deplorable server. I have stated time and again, I tip for services rendered. The tip I leave is more about the server then anything else, but, decor, atmosphere, cusine and attitude also figures in. Regardless, I do not tip an amount the same as the charges. Nor do I believe in a gratuity of less then 6 people at a table. So what is my formula? I tip what will satisfy me! After all, it's my money!

Reply by Stephen Harvey, Apr 19, 2011.

Don - as it should be

Whilst tipping is not customary in Australia, I do not tip based % of the bill for many reasons but primarily it is because the level of service is not a component of what we choose to eat or drink, particularly  if you or drink a $500 wine as opposed to a $50 wine. Two waiters do an equally excellent job serving you but one gets $90 and the other $9 - that makes absolutely no sense and if fact it smacks of proprietor margin rather than waiter gratuity.

In Australia a full time waiter is earning around $20-25 per hour [I won't go intopenalty rates etc etc] If we get a really good waiter we will often tip then $50, bearing in mind they are probably looking after 2-3 tables and if they are on song they can pick up an extra $100 on a night it is pretty good for them [We also tip in cash to ensure they get it and not the proprietor]

Reply by StevenBabb, Apr 20, 2011.

$20-$25 and hour in Australia? thats pretty good wage...

i'm lucky to be in california where servers/bartenders make atleast minimum wage... but in other states, there is a different minimum wage implemented for servers that is generally much lower than the standard for the rest of that state...

i work hard and am deserving of the tips that i earn, good or bad... unfortunatley, i wouldn't be able to live in san francisco on minimum wage alone, so tips are vital for me...

IMHO, the opinion of "i'm not the employer, so it's not my responsibility-" is a bad attitude to have.....

Reply by madmanny, Apr 25, 2011.

I've traveled throughout the US and never seen that.  So where is this restaurant?  Is it in an area where non-US tourists make up a large proportion of traffic? 


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