Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tipping and that Mandatory 18% Gratuity

Philadelphia Inquirer is carrying a story in which a gorup of college students were arrested for failing to pay a $16.35 tip. A group of college students were at a local pub in Bethehem, PA and apparently got very poor service and declined to leave a tip, although they did pay the full bill.

But because there were six or more of them, the pub put an 18% gratuity automatically on the bill.
They were with a half-dozen friends at the Lehigh Pub in Bethlehem last month, so the establishment tacked what it called a mandatory 18 percent gratuity onto the bill of about $73, according to reports.

Pope and Wagner refused to pay.

"You can't give us terrible, terrible service and expect a tip," said Pope, a 22-year-old Moravian College senior who's a Pottsville native, according to the Lehigh Valley Express-Times.

They had to find their own napkins and cutlery while their waitress caught a smoke, had to ask the bar for soda refills, and had to wait over an hour for salad and wings, they told NBC10.
I have long had a problem with the notion that a server is entitled to a mandatory gratuity just because there is a large party. If a party of 8 comes into a restaurant, they will have the same demands of the kitchen and wait staff as two parties of four, perhaps less in some cases. So the mere fact that they are all together does not justify a mandatory gratuity.

I also have a problem with the expectation of a tip for restaurant servers. A gratuity is a symbol of thanks for doing a good job. I have been known to pay as much as 25% for truly exceptional service, I have also been known to leave a single penny for truly awful service.

I had a similar experience many years ago. A group of 8 friends or so from college went to a local bar and grill. We sat in the bar area on a not particularly busy night. After about 15 minutes, a waitress comes by and takes our drink order. The bar was 10 feet away but it took another 20 minutes before our drinks arrived. The waitress then took our food order, which involved mostly appetizers, soups and salads. Ten minutes later she comes by and quite literally tosses silverware onto the table and disappears. Another 40 minutes elapse before our food arrives and several of us who ordered soup didn't get soup spoons. So after waiting a few minutes, we went to the bar to get our silverware and to get our drinks refreshed. After eating, no one came by to ask if we wanted more drinks, which we did get from the bar tender, or if we wanted something else like desert. Our bill came, about $100, which we paid in full, but left no tip since we received absolutely pitiful service. Keep in mind that most of us in our group had at one time or another been a server or bartender.

A few minutes later as we were in the parking lot, the server, a bouncer and the bar manager came up to us in the parking lot complaining about us not paying the bill. A local police officer was nearby and came up to us. After hearing that we had paid the bill but no the tip, the police left--saying it was not his problem. The waitress complained that we had stiffed her a tip, that she deserved the tip because we were a party of 8 and there was a mandatory tip requirement. We explained to her and the manager that we paid for the food and drink we consumed and that the service was practically non-existent and did not warrant a tip. The waitress then complained that they were shorthanded and she was covering twice her normal area. We then noted that if she had told us that up front, we would be far more forgiving for slow service, but not forgiving about nearly no service.

For all the waiters, bartenders and other service personell who routinely get tips. Just because you aren't paid minimum wage and rely on tips is not enough to expect a tip. I will pay a ten to fifteen percent tip for acceptable service. For good service you might see 15 to 18 percent and truly good service will get rewarded. But if you don't put out even a minimal standard of effort, why should I pay you for not doing your job? Your job is relatively simple, take my order, bring me the food and drink I order and check occaisionally if I want or need something. It is not rocket science, it is service. Do a good job, get rewarded, do a poor job--expect to reminded of your incompetence.


Unknown said...

A tip is not part of the bill. Per one Judge. Copy and paste link if necessary.

Dan Edwards said...

Good post. I hope those college boys win their day in court.

Seems to me, with all the unemployed and underemployed out there, it shouldn't be too hard for service industry management to find quality employees....!

I know when I waited tables I did my best to provide good service and communication with my patrons. And it paid off, with the tips. I even got canned once from a waiter job because I was pulling in at least twice the tips that the other two wait staff was getting....they were members of the family who owned the restaurant. Actually, it was good that I got canned from that gig; two months later, the place went out of business. Seems business dropped off sharply after I was let go....then, they never provided me with my Federal or State withholding data, so I had to report them to the IRS.

Anonymous said...

I agree, that 18% automatic tip sucks. Its a "TIP" and they should get it only if they deserve it. I dont get tips for every car a fix..! Why should they?

Anonymous said...

18% tips suck.