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Tipping Woes


Joe Riley
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(snagged straight from Waiter Rant)

from Waiter Rant by Waiter

Many waiters, especially in these tense economic times, need every tip they can get. Unfortunately, tourists from foreign countries, unaware of American tipping customs, frequently forget to leave their server a gratuity. Martin, a server from Raleigh, North Carolina, and was recently stiffed by a large group of what he described as “very pleasant Britons.” His outrage at their behavior inspired him to write a letter to Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. I have decided to republish the letter on my blog. (Please note that Martin’s political sentiments do not necessarily reflect my own. If you wish to respond to Martin, he can be reached at milleronic[at]gmail.com.)

The Right Honourable Gordon Brown;

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland;

First Lord of the Treasury; Minister for the Civil Service

10 Downing Street

Westminster, London, England, United Kingdom SW1A 2AA

October 12, 2008

My Dear Sir:

While it may trouble you to receive this correspondence regarding the behaviour of your delightful citizens abroad, specifically in the former colonies; now commonly known as the United States of America, I feel compelled, as a citizen of afore stated former colonies, and thereby a cousin, if you will, of the otherwise pleasant British, to inform you of some rather disturbing actions which your people engage whilst visiting or traveling this side of the Pond.

Personally I find the British charming, polite, urbane, civilised, and otherwise of a generally agreeable lot. Not having had the pleasure of personally attending an Arsenal or Manchester United football match, I leave the reputed hooliganism and accompanying rows to cultural idiosyncrasy, one not evidenced in my experience. Nevertheless, the one behaviour of your citizenry here in America of which I find the most annoying, disturbing, and ultimately maddening is the ignorance of a peculiar American cultural artefact, which manifests itself most obviously in the act of the tip. As a waiter, and one who has served the Queen’s subjects (and your constituency) on more than several occasions, and because of the vagaries of the American economic system, professional waiters in America depend wholly upon the tip, which, as I understand in Great Britain and Europe, is meant to be an extra reward for good service, due to the fact that waiters there receive a salary of liveable degree. In America, waiters receive a pittance salary, usually of an hourly nature, and far below the minimum wage, which is more often than not applied to income tax; subsequently the majority of waiters in America owe taxes at the end of the year. To put it simply: American waiters depend upon tips for their livelihood.

Mr. Brown, I urge you, if only for decency’s sake, to inform your citizens, before traveling abroad to the United States, that while dining out in a restaurant where waiters take orders and serve food, that the tip is not compulsory, but mandatory, the amount of which is meant as a level of satisfaction of service provided. Excellent service is rewarded in excess of 20% of the total cheque amount, for example, a $100 meal with excellent service deserves a $20 (or greater) tip. Average service requires a 15% tip, and poor service can be indicated with a 10% tip. Under no circumstances is it acceptable to “stiff”, or simply not tip, a waiter in America, or leave a tip under 10% (with the exception of absolutely abysmal service).

As the global economy continues to deteriorate, I can understand a certain reticence in the spending of money; however, British people in America have been displaying this ignorance for far longer than the duration of the current fiscal crisis; therefore, I can only surmise the problem stems from a lack of education of the British People, and you Sir, are the political leader of Great Britain, so this grim task must remain your responsibility, nay, your duty, for the sake of the continuing good reputation of the British abroad.

I have prevailed upon the United States Department of Homeland Security to distribute proper American Etiquette Pamphlets, including proper tip technique, an e-z Tip calculator (sponsored by Applebee’s), and common American slang terminology to all foreigners arriving in America, in an effort to improve international waiter-guest relations. As of the date of this letter, I have not heard from the Department of Homeland Security’s Undersecretary to the Assistant Adjunct of Customs Enforcement and Cultural Assimilation’s Office’s Secretary’s Assistant, although the Border Patrol is very interested.

Please Sir, I beg you, do not let this simple lack of education evolve into a further international crisis. Yes, our military are busy at the moment, but after the elections next month, we may have some troops to spare. Do you want to be remembered as the PM who let Britain’s subjects starve while in America, or truly, has the sun set on the British Empire?

Sincerely,

The Waiters of America

PS. Please forward this letter your your pals, the Prime Ministers of Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, as we have similar problems with them, and post this letter in a good location in the Hague’s Bulletin Board of International Notices next time you’re there - the European Union has been slow to adopt our policies as well, and is in need of a gentle reminder. Actually, we’ll deal with the Canadians as we see fit.

(Waiter’s note: Actually Martin, the last time the U.S. invaded Canada, it didn’t work out so well for us.)

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I was out to dinner tonight with a large group (about 12 or so). Normally when I go out with this group a request is made beforehand for separate checks. This is normally accomadated without issue. Tonight there was a miscommunication and everything came out on one check.

You would think professional adults can handle this. - The check came out to about $265 after tax before tip. I collected $298 and I asked around who didn't put in and everyone said they were in. I took another $20 out of my pocket as I was not comfortable not leaving 20% and the reservation was made under my name and cell phone number.

Any suggestions for this situation? I asked the coordinator to put out an email about proper tipping but cheapos never see themselves.

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Any suggestions for this situation? I asked the coordinator to put out an email about proper tipping but cheapos never see themselves.

Stop eating with these cheap bastards;

or

Let someone else handle the reservation and bill;

or

Ask everyone who wants to attend to pay $30 or $35 in advance, ostensibly to avoid delay and confusion at the restaurant when the check arrives. That way you get to keep a running written list of who has paid rather than have a bunch of random bills being tossed at you at the restaurant while you try to keep a mental tally of who has given what. This way, you can confirm that everyone has given the same amount and you control the tip. Give people back their change that eveining or the next day.

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I am surprised the restaurant would not add a tip automatically for a group so large.

I am also suprised you normally get restaurants to split a party of 12 into separate checks. That's ridiculous.

Have them add he tip to one check and make everybody pay the same.

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http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/today/index.ssf/2009/11/no_tip_leads_to_a_police_cruis.html

This PA couple was arrested for not leaving a mandatory 18% tip for a larger party, after alleged awful service. I was told once at a Union Station restaurant that it was a legal contract - we had 5 people in our party, but a colleague who had dined separately in the same restaurant sat with us for a few minutes to chat. The waiter brought water (not requested) but no order was placed. We were then charged the 18% tip as a party of 6 - for a meal plagued by really poor service. I believe we crossed out the 18% but still paid a 15% tip. The waiter and manager argued with us as we waited for our coats but we left without changing the tip. Needless to say, none of us every returned.

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http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/today/index.ssf/2009/11/no_tip_leads_to_a_police_cruis.html

This PA couple was arrested for not leaving a mandatory 18% tip for a larger party, after alleged awful service.

I'm wondering why they were arrested and not the other members of their party. It sounds like, from the original article, the police were called when there was a confrontation between them and the staff when they told the staff they wouldn't pay the tip. It doesn't describe the extent of the confrontation or specify what amount the party actually did pay. (Presumably they paid the tab and just not any tip, but that's not entirely clear.)

I can see being angry about it, especially since they were charged a gratuity that was 22%+ when the menu said it was 18%. Hard to say when it's hypothetical, but I think I would have insisted it be recalculated to be the advertised amount, paid it and never gone back there again.

I was told once at a Union Station restaurant that it was a legal contract - we had 5 people in our party, but a colleague who had dined separately in the same restaurant sat with us for a few minutes to chat. The waiter brought water (not requested) but no order was placed. We were then charged the 18% tip as a party of 6 - for a meal plagued by really poor service. I believe we crossed out the 18% but still paid a 15% tip. The waiter and manager argued with us as we waited for our coats but we left without changing the tip. Needless to say, none of us every returned.

What a scam. Presumably that colleague was also paying a tip for what he or she ordered at the other table.
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Normally when I go out with this group . . . Any suggestions for this situation?

This is a loser situation and I avoid completely. My fixed rule is no more than 6 people in my party, unless we're all eating family style, or I am close friends with everyone attending. I really hate dealing with this situation. Personally, I think you got off extremely easy with only having to throw in an extra $20, for 12 people.

But you say "this group" . . . I would suggest getting someone else to deal with reservations. This can't be a dinner club, sounds like you only spent $18/head.

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Saw this today- a couple in PA (in a party of 6) was arrested for not paying a manditory 18% gratuity, citing extremely poor serving and long waits for food. After telling their server that they would pay the bill with tax, but no tip, he called the police.

When a menu states that gratuity will automatically be added to large parties, I guess you're stuck paying even for poor service.

I would have paid the $16 and just never go back. Not worth a trip to the pokey.

Link to story:

http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local-beat/Time-In-Prison--70426052.html?yhp=1

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Saw this today- a couple in PA (in a party of 6) was arrested for not paying a manditory 18% gratuity, citing extremely poor serving and long waits for food. After telling their server that they would pay the bill with tax, but no tip, he called the police.

When a menu states that gratuity will automatically be added to large parties, I guess you're stuck paying even for poor service.

I would have paid the $16 and just never go back. Not worth a trip to the pokey.

Link to story:

http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local-beat/Time-In-Prison--70426052.html?yhp=1

This is that same story as above, with some extra details. It doesn't mention, though, that they were actually charged more than the 18% auto gratuity.

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First of all, if this topic has already been addressed, please move this to that thread. Similarly, if I've posted in the wrong forum, please move this to the correct forum.

I'd like to get the opinions of waitstaff and restaurant owners on this one:

Here's the situation: My father (who is almost 80) recently went to a restaurant where he was part of a party of eight and he was the one who paid the bill. Even though it was printed in the menu that parties of eight would be subject to a mandatory 18% gratuity AND the 18% was added into the check, he went ahead and tipped 20% on top of all of that - COMPLETELY his fault. He realized his mistake the next day and went back to the restaurant to explain the situation. Both the owner and her managers explained that the policy is clearly stated in the menu and on the check and said that it's their policy to not refund mistakes like that.

I'm sure that this oversight isn't that uncommon. How do you handle this situation?

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BAD form on behalf of the restaurant. Yes, it was your father's fault and he DID sign the credit card voucher, but the restaurant's management team should be smart enough to know that it was an honest mistake and refund the "extra tip".

That restaurant just guaranteed the loss of your father's business as well as any other person you or your father talked to about this.

-Dave

P.S. Their "policy" is asinine and I'm wondering why you didn't name the place in your post so others can know about it. Shouldn't others be forewarned about "policies" like this in certain restaurants?

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Well, I asked for opinions because I'm sure that this is a common occurrence and I wanted to know what other restaurant's policies are. I didn't name the restaurant, because I didn't describe the complete situation. What I said was true and that they wouldn't refund the tip. But after talking to two managers (both refusing the refund) and then to the owner herself, and telling her that he and his family are regular diners of the restaurant and that we all live in the community, she finally caved and gave him a $50 GC (which was $10 less than the "extra" tip). He said that he's not sure that he wants to come back because of this (and service has really gone downhill over the last few times we've been there) and asked if they're willing to lose a customer and his family over $10. They repeated that it was their policy to not refund tips. He was NOT happy - and neither am I!

It's a local Ho Co restaurant (not a chain, but pretty big in this area) so I'm not sure it would matter to too many of you if I named the restaurant. After this additional information, if you still want to know the name, I'll let you know.

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I'd suck it up as a learning experience. It's happened to me and I never thought to ask for my money back. I take responsibility for my own mistakes.

I would say a "learning experience" is having your server suggest wine-by-the-glass without checking the price and finding out that you were drinking $30 a glass wine when you thought it would be around $12. Or ordering a special without asking the price and finding out it was $50 a plate.

Again, I stated that it was my father's fault, but I don't think there's anyone out there who would think a reasonable person would tip roughly 40% on a table of 6 adults, a two year old, a seven year old, and an 11 year old where the service was sub par (and it was). He absolutely should've noticed the policy, but for a local restaurant without a corporate backing in a down economy that gets a ton of press in this area, you would think that they would overlook their "policy" for a regular customer. And there's no way that that server honestly thought that she was getting $100+ tip for a table like ours.

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If the restaurant did agree to refund the double tip, how would this work in practice? Does the restaurant force the server to give back the money they went home with the night before, or does the restaurant just absorb the loss? Neither solution seems ideal. I suppose the better alternative is to instruct servers to alert customers when they see a double tip to confirm the customer's intentions, or to make sure servers remind customers that the gratuity has been included when they bring the check, to avoid the problem in the first place.

Why do restaurants add the mandatory gratuity to large parties, anyway? Are large parties statistically more likely to be poor tippers? When I see it on my bill I figure it is their loss; 9 times out of 10 I would have tipped more than 18% if left to my own devices.

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I think that every restaurant with an automatic tipping policy should have, and enforce, a policy that its staff MUST remind the customer of this when handing them the bill. Not to have such a policy is, I think, an inexcusable ploy to create situations exactly like this. There's no legitimate reason not to remind the customer, "Per our policy, you'll notice that the tip is included on this bill." If this restaurant has such a policy, then the situation was the waiter's fault, and the waiter should get (at best) "only" the nice 18 percent rather than double that. If this restaurant doesn't have such a policy, then the situation was the restaurant's fault, and the restaurant should pay.

Maybe I am a grump this morning.

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If the restaurant did agree to refund the double tip, how would this work in practice? Does the restaurant force the server to give back the money they went home with the night before, or does the restaurant just absorb the loss? Neither solution seems ideal. I suppose the better alternative is to instruct servers to alert customers when they see a double tip to confirm the customer's intentions, or to make sure servers remind customers that the gratuity has been included when they bring the check, to avoid the problem in the first place.

Why do restaurants add the mandatory gratuity to large parties, anyway? Are large parties statistically more likely to be poor tippers? When I see it on my bill I figure it is their loss; 9 times out of 10 I would have tipped more than 18% if left to my own devices.

Large parties are notoriously crappy tippers. Worst case of all -- 8-12 people get together for informal drinks and food after work. the server is 95% guaranteed to be screwed.

I think that every restaurant with an automatic tipping policy should have, and enforce, a policy that its staff MUST remind the customer of this when handing them the bill. Not to have such a policy is, I think, an inexcusable ploy to create situations exactly like this. There's no legitimate reason not to remind the customer, "Per our policy, you'll notice that the tip is included on this bill." If this restaurant has such a policy, then the situation was the waiter's fault, and the waiter should get (at best) "only" the nice 18 percent rather than double that. If this restaurant doesn't have such a policy, then the situation was the restaurant's fault, and the restaurant should pay.

Maybe I am a grump this morning.

Especially with an 80-year-old guy, not mentioning the fact that the tip has already included should be a firing offense. It's exactly the same as a waiter going through a woman's purse when she steps away from tthe table to make a call.

The more I ponder this, the more I think names should be named.

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If the restaurant did agree to refund the double tip, how would this work in practice? Does the restaurant force the server to give back the money they went home with the night before, or does the restaurant just absorb the loss? Neither solution seems ideal. I suppose the better alternative is to instruct servers to alert customers when they see a double tip to confirm the customer's intentions, or to make sure servers remind customers that the gratuity has been included when they bring the check, to avoid the problem in the first place.

Why shouldn't the server repay the tip? It wouldn't be hard for the restaurant to deduct it the next time the server worked {if there is a next time}. The server should have inquired tot he customer "do you realize that the tip was already added? "

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Why shouldn't the server repay the tip?

I had a gut reflex against this that I cannot quite explain now. Upon reflection, I think you are right. It was just plain wrong for a server to accept a double tip unless they were sure it was provided on purpose, and they should be required to repay it.

Can the ticket machine be programmed to delete the tip line when the 18% automatic tip has been rung up? As an alternative, perhaps restaurants should stop the practice of ringing up the 18%, and just have the server write in the 18% on the tip line before giving it to the customer to sign. This would mean that even those who sign their check and never look at it again - the vast majority of us I am sure - would be saved from accidently double tipping.

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I'd suck it up as a learning experience. It's happened to me and I never thought to ask for my money back. I take responsibility for my own mistakes.

There are mistakes and then there are honest mistakes. This was an honest mistake.

Shame, shame on the server to take this money without making absolutely sure that the gentleman paying meant to add extra tip (and a generous one, I add).

I would still contest the payment and report this to my credit card to have them investigate. He may still get his money back regardless of what the restaurant says. Don't know.

These folks don't know the meaning of common decency. To take that money from a senior citizen (not to imply that the father is feable or anything like that!), ugh! it exasperates me. I know when my mom was getting up there in years and on a fixed income, she was extremely cautious with her funds and would have gone home and beaten herself up for days if she made this honest mistake.

Did this server think "wow! this guy is super generous"? Doubt it. More likely "hey, he didn't read the fine print, his bad".

Nasty. Predatory, even.

You've done your due diligence in trying to rectify this awful situation before coming to the internet.

Name names.

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Upon reflection, I think you are right. It was just plain wrong for a server to accept a double tip unless they were sure it was provided on purpose, and they should be required to repay it.

Well. I wonder if the server thought it was on purpose. Some people are generous, and maybe he thought that mhberk's father was being generous. I wouldn't have automatically thought it was a mistake. And also some servers don't look at the tip line until after their guests have left. It would sure as heck bother me if someone looked at how much I tipped while I was still seated.

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Well. I wonder if the server thought it was on purpose. Some people are generous, and maybe he thought that mhberk's father was being generous. I wouldn't have automatically thought it was a mistake. And also some servers don't look at the tip line until after their guests have left. It would sure as heck bother me if someone looked at how much I tipped while I was still seated.

I've certainly waited more than a few tables that were subject to a compulsory gratuity for larger parties. For the reason stated upthread - large groups can take all or most of one's attention for much of the evening, and groups are notoriously bad tippers.

But I never would have dreamt of not making mention of the grat already added when I dropped the check. It was never really difficult to ascertain who was the de facto "head" of the group, and make sure that they understand "service has been included at 18%". If someone left an additional tip (and it happened about half of the time), I always felt secure that there had been no misunderstanding. The one time someone tipped a full 20% on top of the grat-added bill, I chased the party out the door to let them correct it. I remember that night well, because the guy who paid told me, no, no mistake, and thanked me for helping to facilitate a great dinner. The ego boost was as awesome as the extra cash I went home with. ;)

No, it wasn't the restaurant's fault that your father made an oversight. Yes, it was pretty crappy of them - on many levels - not to refund the amount that was in error. I have a hard time believing that the server wasn't immediately cognizant that it was a mistake and was just hoping no attention would be drawn to it.

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... The server should have inquired tot he customer "do you realize that the tip was already added? "

Or, as some places do, draw a line through the tip box on the credit card slip before it's presented. Or discreetly mention it when they drop the check. I'm always a little bugged when no mention is made.

Well. I wonder if the server thought it was on purpose. Some people are generous, and maybe he thought that mhberk's father was being generous. I wouldn't have automatically thought it was a mistake. And also some servers don't look at the tip line until after their guests have left. It would sure as heck bother me if someone looked at how much I tipped while I was still seated.

38%? Nobody is that generous unless 1) it's a $20 tab and they're in a good mood 2) you comped many rounds of drinks/plates 3) they're trying to get into your pants or 4) they're trying to get into their date's pants and think being generous with the help will help get them there.

Hey, maybe grandpa's a playa. But, the circumstances seem to argue against that.

I occasionally throw a few extra bucks onto a service charge (though usually I figure if they don't trust me, they can take what is inevitably the lower, but guaranteed, amount). But I don't double it.

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No, it wasn't the restaurant's fault that your father made an oversight.

That depends on how fine the fine print is - I've been nailed with 18% numerous times when I didn't see it coming (which is just fine with me, since I generally leave 20%).

I do remember, however, my first fine-dining experience in France when I didn't realize they had tips built into the prices of the entrees, and left an American tip. I forget the name of the place; I forget the name of the girl; but the wine ... was Chambertin.

-- Previous sentence written by Hilaire Belloc

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I simply don't see the difference between someone inadvertently leaving an extra gratuity vs. mistakenly leaving an item, such as a wallet or cell phone in the restaurant.

When they come in to the restaurant the next day to ask for it back because they mistakenly left it, you give it back. You don't offer a substitute or refuse to give it back.

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It's called INTEGRITY!!! The server should have noticed the mistake and said something to the manager....The manager/owner should have been proactive in correcting the amount. Then imagine the alternative outcome. Customer calls the restaurant to notify them of the mistake and the owner can say with his/her head held high...."don't worry sir, we noitced the error and corrected it immediately". They would have earned a customer for life!!!!! LOST OPPORTUNITY

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Was the tip left in cash, or was it added on the empty tip line on a credit card slip? I'm not sure how much of a difference it makes, but I can see how the waitperson might have deluded him or herself that a generous, wealthy man was acknowledging their imagined hard work with an extra high tip. Whether or not they collect from the server, management was sleazy to offer a $50 gift certificate, $10 less than the error after first refusing to correct the error--after all, the cost to the restaurant is still less than $50. I know, I know, restaurant profit margins are minimal. It is so small minded and short-sighted of them not to consider the potential cost in loss of customers and bad word of mouth for a few dollars and upholding their "policy."

I've been offered a "gift certificate"--less than the cost of a meal--as a sop after egregious treatment. I never redeemed it.

To echo what Charles said, above, I had several experiences with large groups when I was waiting tables where I would very much have appreciated a fixed tip. Even 10% would have been an improvement over what I was left after busting my butt for hours.

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Back at my first restaurant/bar job, this was referred to as a "Double Grat" and the less scrupulous waitstaff would definitely "forget" to mention the included gratituity for large parties. As a beer bar/restaurant where big parties were normally splitting the bill (and thus more likely to notice the gratuity on the check), the double grat would mostly happen when the group was from a company/etc and only one person with a corporate card was paying.

One night while managing, I had a customer come in with a receipt from one such event that he had been carrying around in his wallet for years. It was faded and yellow, and we told him to come back the next day when the owners were around. I still get a kick out of imagining this tourist getting ripped off by a waiter, and then carrying the receipt with him for ages until he was back in DC and could come retrieve his extra $20 tip.

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