Tipping point – family locked in restaurant for skimping on mandatory gratuity
May 10th, 2012
11:15 AM ET
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Our sister site HLN reports that a Houston, Texas family claims they were locked inside La Fisherman restaurant after refusing to pay a 17 percent tip on their meal. The restaurant's policy states that the percentage will be automatically added to the tab for parties of five or more.

Customer Jasmine Marks told Click2Houston.com that the staff was rude, the drinks weren't refilled and her group received generally poor service. Marks asked if she could speak to a manager to have the auto-gratuity stripped from the bill, but claims the staff locked the doors and told her that her options were to pay the 17 percent or speak with the police outside.

According to Marks, the police officer who was summoned was unable to give her a straight answer on the legality of the situation. Her party eventually paid the tip in order to avoid any further difficulty.

Automatic tips, or "autograts" as they're sometimes called, are often used by restaurants to ensure that their staff is fairly compensated for the greater amount of effort it takes to tend to larger parties. The server will sometimes have a larger table as their sole focus for the duration of the meal, and won't be making tips from any other tables. This tip, which is generally clearly stated on a menu, or when making a reservation for a larger group, ensures that a server will be compensated for their time and not miss out on earning money for that shift. Often, the tip is shared with other members of the floor staff, like bussers and bartenders.

Having a stated policy in place - usually 18 percent of the pre-tax amount - can eliminate awkwardness and confusion over tipping etiquette, especially if you're dining with business colleagues or people you don't know especially well. On the flip side, patrons sometimes feel they're being tricked into tipping more (especially if the server hasn't pointed out that the gratuity was already included) or discriminated against if the auto-grat isn't always applied. And servers, while they're ensured a base tip, run the risk of earning a lower tip than they would have if diners had been able to decide on the percentage, themselves.

Our tip: always check the restaurant's policy when you're dining with a large group, and be sure to pore over the bill at the end. Weigh in on the auto-grat in the comments below, and we'll share our favorites from both sides of the table in an upcoming post.

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Filed under: Lunchtime Poll • Restaurants • Service • Tipping


soundoff (1,424 Responses)
  1. Mildred

    I think the main issue here is that the customers didn't have a good experience. Rudeness, bad service... if it wasn't in a large party they could tip lower, and not many would fault them for it. But because it's a larger party, it's as if the waitstaff can "get away" with not providing a basic level of service because they'll get a tip (and usually 18% instead of %15) anyway.

    Yes, more work goes into a larger table. Yes, one larger table may mean that the waiter(ess) is missing out on 3-4 tables that could be in that space instead.

    I am among the people that believe that waitstaff shouldn't be given lower than minimum wage and be expected to survive on tips to make the rest up... and I wouldn't mind the base price of a meal out increasing as a result (because we already have to pay more than the price listed in the menu anyway for a tip in the first place).

    Maybe then perhaps we could go back to the original concept of a tip: a recognition of good service.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  2. awaha

    i am a server, and rarely autograt my tables. I will on a larger party (12 or more), especially if they want to split their bill. normally, i take the risk and don't. i feel autograt can be insulting, and people will usually not give me the extra 2% to make the tip 20%. My guess is these server felt this table was going to stiff him/her (which was obviously their intention). I'm also going to guess that the customers have never waited tables before. If you can't afford to tip, go get fast food or takeout.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • Goodtipper

      I typically tip from 20-30% for good service. When faced with an autograt the server gets the 17%. There's no excuse for an autograt for a table of 4 so if you want to be reimbursed for good service, give me good service.

      May 10, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • Jupitom

      Clearly biased, but hey that's your opinion. Their is nothing stated in their policy that the "autograt" is applied at the discretion of the server, just because your restaurant does. As has been said numerus times here, a tip is a gift for good sevice. In the case of the autograt it is expected that the service will be given in return for the tip. the service was not given, the tip is not earned, therefore there is no contract.

      May 10, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
      • awaha

        well we don't really know the quality of the service. the article only tells the customer's point of view. betcha the customers were a pain in the ass to wait on. i have never seen autograt as a way to provide less service and get paid the same. its to ensure that after working hard, you don't get stiffed. it sucks having a $300 tab, and the table leaves you $15. All the while saying you were the best server ever. You can keep your verbal tips. I have bills to pay.

        May 10, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
        • DamianKnight

          With all due respect, this is EXACTLY what I am talking about. Your statement regarding a greater tip on a $300 bill. You feel you are ent.itled to a tip. Tipping is a generally accepted social custom, not a requirement and should not be expected.

          We understand that you have bills to pay; so do we. But you are not our employee. If I feel you gave me crappy service, can I fire you on the spot? Absolutely not. You are the restaurant's employee. Therefore, they are responsible to pay you, not us. A tip is not meant to BE your income, it is meant to add to your income.

          If you feel you are being improperly compensated, perhaps it's time you had a conversation with your manager, like the rest of us have to do. We don't expect our customers to pay more for the product or service simply because we feel that we provided it well.

          May 10, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • ummmmm

      on almost all you wrote, I agree

      I was a server, and I don't think a server should live on less than minimum wage, that said poor service should be reflected some how, the customer should have recourse for being forced to endure rudeness

      the customer may choose to also not come back, but the tip reflects the service

      the policeman should have said it is the customer's right to tip high or low or not at all; not wanting a difficult situation they tipped but now the wait staff will continue their poor behavior

      I have been in the customer's shoes and do not go back to those restaurants that practice this behavior; hopefully the business will note this and make adjustments to the customer's favor; this is NOT exceptable

      May 10, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Mark

      If you can't afford to live on your base server's wage, get a better education so you don't have to wait tables. Do I actually mean that? No. But that's the type of rude response your ignorant, entitlement-based statement deserves. A tip is a gift, not a right.

      May 10, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
      • Bill

        You really think that a tip is a gift? Is your salary for work performed a gift? You morons that think that just because the final amount is your decision makes you some sort of charity benefactor need to get over yourselves.

        May 10, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
        • I think tip means tip

          I do agree with you, and I think you mean that the tip is depended on wage for the server

          the situation is not fair, but it is one that was not set up by the customer, it was set up by the resturant

          I am happy to 'tip' and I tip well, but I do not fault others for reflecting in their tip how they felt they were treated

          if it is not a choice, don't present it as a choice

          May 10, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
        • DamianKnight

          Yes I do believe that a tip is a gift. Why? Because that's the definition of the word. I submit to you the definition of "Tip" from Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary: a gift or a sum of money tendered for a service performed

          As to your second question, is my salary a gift? No. That was an agreed upon amount that I would be compensated based on my experience and previous work. That was in my offer of employment letter that stands as a legally binding contract between myself and my company. My company isn't "tipping" me, they are "compensating" me.

          A tip shouldn't be looked at as compensation. A better example would be a "bonus." Am I entitled to a bonus? Nope. I have to earn that and if my company feels that I didn't earn my bonus, they don't give it to me.

          May 10, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
      • awaha

        hi, thanks. i do have my bachelors degree. with the economy, i can't afford to pay my student loans and bills with just my degree, so i wait tables to compensate. judgey mcjudgerson.

        May 10, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  3. Jennifer

    I tip based on my service. If I know that I'm going to have to pay "auto-grat" and I'm not getting good service, then I'll ask to speak with a manager to get a different server who deserves the tip. For good service, I usually tip 20% anyway, and sometimes more for even great service. I always make sure to tip something because they do have to share their tip with bartenders and other staff as well – if you leave nothing, they're paying to have you sit and take up their table.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
  4. Sandi

    tips are earned. bad service = bad tip, good service = good tip great service = great tip, i've giveen as little as nothing even after talking to the manager to have my bill reduced for poor food or serivce, but i've also left up to 120% tip for a server that was exceptional

    May 10, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Jamie

      No tip because the food was bad? How is that the server's fault?

      May 10, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
      • food?

        I didn't see any one mention food as a part of the tip decision

        that said, good food can make up some for bad service in my book

        May 10, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  5. Jupitom

    I have worked for tips and, as a result, often tip 20% or better. On the other hand, my tips reflect the level of service I receive. Locking customers in a restaurant to extort money from them is illegal. I would have paid with a credit card, filed a complaint with management and if they didn't refund the $, I would dispute the bill with the credit card company. The other alternative would have been to file a police complaint for unlawful imprisonment. Not to mention ranting all over the news (which was their solution) to make sure the restaurant gets all the bad press possible.

    If I owned that restaurant, the manager would be looking for a job right now, and very possibly the waiter/waitress involved as well.

    The policy itself (although 5 people hardly is a large party) is not wrong, but "policy" is not law. Any manager dumb enough to not recognize this deserves to be unemployed and looking for work in another field. A reasonable manager handles the situation, placates the customer, and asks what he can do to resolve the matter. Unless he witnesed unruly behavior or a darn good reason for the waitstaff's accused behavior, he is outright idiotic to respond the way he did.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  6. Salsa Rider

    It sounds like the wait staff slacked off, knowing they were getting a good tip at the end. The manager should have recognized the poor service and reduced the tip to what the customer was willing to pay. The poor tip would have been a bit of a wake-up call for the staff. Much more effective than any coaching or disciplinary action. Locking the doors to hold these people hostage isn't only illegal, but poor publicity. I doubt that family will ever return, even in small groups. Their friends and co-workers will also probably stay away from there.

    I have no issues tipping based off of service. I usually tip 15% or better. I can count on one hand the times I have tipped significantly less. The waiter/waitress always "earned" the poor tip (waiting 20 minutes for a drink order of water during a slow period?).

    May 10, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • awaha

      17% is not that great of a tip.

      May 10, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
      • 17%

        even though not that great a tip, still WAY to high to pay for enduring rudeness and poor service

        May 10, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  7. Michael Mahair

    I am generally a good tipper, 20% or better. However, I don't think a restaurant has the right to determine what a tip should be. This restaurant obviously thinks that 17% is good for lousy service and you go up from there. I disagree, a tip is a gift to wait staff for good service. When the service is poor, the customer has the right to deny any extra other than paying for their meals. If the wait staff is not willing to earn their money, they should be preparred for poor tipping. But to hold a customer hostage after providing poor service is way out of line. If I were these people, I would have made a huge stink and would not have relented. However, on the other side of that coin, I try to be reasonable, wait staff have bad days too and if the server does not do everything perfect, it will probably not effect my tip. I only tip poorly when someone truly gives bad service.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  8. magnus

    I agree that if the service is bad, then they patrons have the right to lessen the tip. The automatic tip is a contract. If the staff does a bad job serving the group, then they forfeit the contract.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  9. plyingfenis

    I got a tip – Never pet a burning dog.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • magnus

      fail.

      May 10, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
      • fail

        next time don't try

        May 10, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  10. John T Draper

    This is so ridiculous. How about the establishment pay the serving staff a decent wage and add the price to the food? Restaurants have been lying to their customers for years with their pricing. Now we see TV ads from chain restaurants touting 'meals for under X dollars.' Tipping is a hidden expense and not optional, as it was intended to be. Tell me, if there's a 17% fixed gratuity – on TOP of the price for the food and drinks – what's the incentive for the waitstaff to perform well? None whatsoever.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  11. Potrzebie

    If you can't afford a proper gratuity, eat at McDonalds or stay home.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • magnus

      or go to mcdonalds and take the food home to eat it.

      May 10, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • John T Draper

      Nonsense. There's no mention in this story about the party not being able to 'afford' a gratuity. The service was bad. Did you not read the article?

      May 10, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Too Much...

      17% for poor service?? That is not a proper gratuity. Let the customer decide.

      May 10, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
      • nothing to do with afford

        everything to do with rude

        May 10, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • DTB

      Or, maybe instead of relying on the customers to pay the server's salary, the employer could just do it. You know, like every other business on this planet. Instead of paying their employees below minimum wage, they could pay them a salary to survive on.
      Tipping is a big North American custom; try it in Asia and the servers will take it as an insult. Their employers pay them well for working hard, they don't want your pocket change.

      May 10, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Cale

      If you can't properly take care of your customers, go work at McDonalds because you don't deserve a tip and you're no better than McDonalds.

      May 10, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Nobody N. Particular

      What about in cases where the service was dreadful? Why should I tip someone who doesn't show any concern for my dining experience? I believe we need a living minimum wage (and $7/hr isn't it); when I was in Australia no one tipped, and that was expected since the servers made at a minimum $10/hr (in 2003). Here in the states, owners of restaurants only pay about half of the minimum wage, with the assumption that the difference will be made up in tips. A friend of mine once said, TIPS mean To Insure Prompt Service, if you are not receiving prompt server then the tip should be optional.

      May 10, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • NorCalMojo

      That attitude is why you're bringing people drinks and not managing the place.

      Think it through, think it through.

      May 10, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
      • Rick

        wow, you're an arrogant little thing, aren't you? Would love to know what you do for a living. Quick, make something up...

        May 10, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  12. B murtha

    I have no problem with the Tip included, but the discretion to pay less should be an option afforded to diners. Cruise ships are quite successful with this policy. You usually speak to a manager about why you want to leave a lowered (or none) amount and they should be grateful for any justified comments on your dissatisfaction.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  13. gschlierf

    If am forced to pay auto tip, that is the only tip they get, even if they were the best server ever. If the place wants to establish the servers tip, then that is all they get. Not a dime more.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  14. Prdparent

    I'm surprised some eager civil rights attorney hasn't jumped on this case – unless it's still legal for a private white citizen to physically detail a black family in Texas?

    May 10, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • Evangelicide

      What???

      Lithium, a**hat.

      May 10, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
  15. DamianKnight

    Here is my problem with tipping. Restaurants expect us to not only pay for the food but also pay their employees. That's wrong. The cost of my meal should include the cost for your overhead.

    For instance, if I go to Best Buy, I pay for, let's say my DVD and let's say it's $20.00. That price includes the wholesale cost of the product, plus profit for Best Buy, plus enough that Best Buy can pay for the building, their staff, their computers, their advertising, etc. I don't go to the counter at Best Buy, even if one of their staff helped me through the process of getting what I want, and get asked if I'd like to add 15% (or more) to that $20.00.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Neil

      That's just if though, the meal does not include the overhead from employees. If you have ever been to Europe, you probably wonder why it costs the equivalent of $10 for a hamburger in the US. It's because employee wages ARE included in the price of food. People always complain about how expensive it is to eat out in Europe, but they are just making sure their employees get paid. I'm guessing if we did that here, people would have serious complaints about their meals being too expensive, even though with the tip now, the cost would even out.

      May 10, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • DamianKnight

      Neil,

      I agree with you in some aspects. I would rather the restaurant industry increase their costs to cover their employees and give them an equitable wage. Some do, because of the law, like California, Alaska, and Oregon. Will that drive up my cost to eat out? Absolutely. And will that deter me from eating out more often? Sure.

      But I also know, at least in some states, that the law requires that wait staff earn minimum wage. In other states, if the tips do not equal out to at least minimum hourly wage for the wait staff, the restaurant is responsible to pay the difference. So, it's not like these staff members are being treated like they are in a sweat shop in a third world country. But if the waiters earn more than minimum wage, then they get to keep the difference.

      My biggest problem is that many waiters feel they are entitled to a tip. I strongly disagree with the idea that a tip is a requirement. It should be a motivation, not an expectation. And therefore, if I receive really awful service, I don't tip at all, or tip very little.

      May 10, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
  16. mlblogscbgoldsmith

    The less skills a job requires the worse it is. I feel for workers with bad jobs though if they are not good at those jobs or have awful lives that is on them. I tip as a reward for good service. I tip more for great service but even bad service gets 15 percent. Not because I'm rewarding them for not caring but because its just money and a good restaurant is hard to find. I would suggest however that servers get over themselves. if one group demands more or doesn't tip to the degree that these precious artists demand; tough luck. Get over it, get birth control and get educated. This life, like a tip are not owed you no matter your choices. Life is hard, waiting tables harder still but life is still a choice. Choose not to be stiffed.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  17. triggerman

    I tip based on their service

    May 10, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  18. RustyShackleford

    Houston has an extremely competitive restaurant market. This place is doomed most likely, and even without the bad press they will receive from this story. They may gave been paid their $25-20 "gratuity" but at what cost? Thousands in lost revenue from prospective diners. Their website and on-line menu are terrible and when you browse through it the one glaring thing that stands out in bright red bold font is their gratuity policy – "hey we have mediocre pictures of food and basically no prices on our menu but what we are REALLY good at is collecting a shakedown on parties of 5 or more! Please come again!" NO THANKS! There are dozens and dozens of quality restaurants that have better food, better service and don't threaten their patrons with theft charges. Their door will be shuttered in 6 months or less.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  19. bden

    5 people is NOT a large group.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  20. mercfan

    There is a difference between a patron skipping out on a bill and not paying an autograt. I could see calling the police for skipping out on a bill but not in this case.
    Regardless, it’s also against the law to lock the doors like that. The patrons should have called the fire department to have them issue the restaurant a ticket for creating a fire hazard.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  21. mercfan

    I understand the reason for the autograt when big parties are involved. Yes the waiters/waitress cannot handle as many tables at a time when they have a big party. They get a very small hourly wage and rely on tips. However, they should also work harder to justify the autograt.
    I have been in big parties like this many times and have found that is the standard, 18%. In 99% of the cases the tip was warranted. Maybe if you are taking out a big party like that, stick to a restaurant you have dealt with in the past so you know what to expect of the wait staff.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  22. guest

    This is easy. If the policy says that a 17% gruity will automatically be added to the bill. Then it is still a gratuity and payment of same can be refused. If it says that a 17% service fee wiill be added, then it is a fee. Many lawyers will gladly take up this case. If I were these people, I would sue the pants off the restaurant for extorting a gratuity out of them and locking them in the place (the latter is likely punishable as a crime). The police officer also should have made clear that they didn't have to pay and that the restaurant can sue them for the 17%. There was no theft here. At most, there was a breach of contract by the family, but the police are not in the business of enforcing contracts. That is a job for the courts.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • Daniel

      You are what's wrong with this country. Sue this and sue that. Let's tie up the court system because we have no life and don't want to pay 17%. Do you know how little 17% is? This article is another example of first world problems. Just pay up and don't return to the restaurant if it's so bad. Case closed.

      May 10, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  23. JMorcan

    If the policeman didn't confirm that they were breaking the law, why didn't they just leave at that point? The restaurant had no right to hold them further.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  24. G-A

    I understand the need for a stated tip policy for larger groups (though in this case it was 5 or more which seems like that's pushing it) but if service is particularly bad you should have the ability to speak to a manager about it & get some sort of adjustment.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  25. stevefl00d

    The manager is at fault here. While a large party cannot expect their service to be as stellar as individual attention from the waitstaff, if there's a legitimate problem with the service the manager can most certainly remove the gratuity, just like if the customer complained that their meal was substandard or downright inedible, the manager can remove their obligation to pay for it. The restaurant has to ensure at the end of the week that the waitstaff is making at least minimum wage, so after claimed tips are tallied, if the employee has not met the minimum wage requirement the restaurant makes up the difference. I bet that restaurant is not a fun place to eat, and probably an even worse place to work.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Shanno

      I don't buy that a larger group means worse service. I often eat out with large groups of 20 or more for bussiness. We frequent restaurants that we know can accomodate us and have excellent service. We always pay an autograt and don't have a problem with it.

      May 10, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
  26. Old Fashion

    If the service is good I usually give 20% tip otherwise if depends how I feel.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  27. Steve

    As a former restaurant worker I KNOW there's too many people out there not tipping the right amount. Either they're doing it on purpose or they just plain don't know how it works. Some people think you should wait on them like they're your only table and if you don't, then you can expect less then 10% which is not right. So i'm all for the automatic tip.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • RandiRN

      Steve, I am sorry but I must respectfully disagree. I dine at a particular franchise restaurant, at a particular location often. There is a server there named John. He is excellent. I disagree with your statement that "Some people think you should wait on them like they're your only table and if you don't, then you can expect less then 10% which is not right. So i'm all for the automatic tip." John manages 5 tables in a very bust location, but he makes you feel you are his only table. To me that is outstanding service and he is given a 21% tip. The last visit to this location John was not available, the server we had sucked. When I told the manager what was going on, he made me feel as if I bothering him. Trust me I made corporate aware. The difference is that I know what can be expected to occur in this restaurant. The sucky server got a 25 cent tip. By the way are you aware that TIP is an acronym? it comes from the old expression "To Improve Performance" as told to me by a restaurant owner I knew. She told me that her servers were always told, the customer has to pay for the food, but they don't have to leave a tip.

      May 10, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
      • 18 percent is the new 15 percent anyways.

        You went out to eat and left someone $0.25 for a tip because they gave you bad service? Is there no threshold for how bad service can get before you adopt a personal policy like "Two wrongs make a right"?? You didnt think it would be beneficial to both you and the server to just leave, maybe come back when John is there? Also, no loyalty either? If you like John's service so much why wouldn't you wait until he is working to ensure a great experience. If the only answer is "What? Im supposed to not eat out if John isn't working?" I would say, yes, if you are willing to stoop to the point of only leaving a quarter because of the one time you received bad service, or waiting to have John...Or pose the question this way, what if John was there, you didn't know but maybe his father passed away a week ago and he had an off day when you came in and you also received bad service, would you only give John a quarter? Or since he gave service in the past that was enjoyable, maybe say "well, he wasn't perfect, ill still leave 18%, hopefully next time is better"

        May 10, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
        • springs1

          "Or pose the question this way, what if John was there, you didn't know but maybe his father passed away a week ago and he had an off day when you came in and you also received bad service, would you only give John a quarter? "

          That doesn't matter. If you are going through that, DON'T COME TO WORK AND MAKE OUR LIVES MISERABLE just because yours is. Just as you servers don't want us ruining your day, DON'T RUIN OURS EITHER!!

          May I ask you a question: Does the average server *CARE* on a "PERSONAL LEVEL" about their customers or are they just in it for the money? MOST ARE IN IT SOLELY FOR THE MONEY, so WHY can't we be SOLELY IN IT FOR THE MONEY by if they treat us poorly, in order to make them *LEARN* you have to give them NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT. When they do well, they will get positive reinforcement with a nice tip.

          They don't care about us personally, WHY should we care about them, huh? What goes around, comes around!!

          May 10, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
      • New Englander

        Wow. Just wow. You do realize servers in the same restaurant talk to each other, hang out together, drink together, date each other, etc, etc... yes? Perhaps you left John's significant other or best friend 25 cents. I'm willing to bet when you eat at the establishment, you do so alone or with one other person, and the check is not very big. Additionally, I'm willing to bet the reason you always end up with "your" John is because there are usually 1 or 2 servers on any waitstaff who excel in dealing with high maintenance customers. Your hissy fit to the manager (judging from his lack of proper response, one wonders what exactly you were complaining about), subsequent lousy tip, and the fact you went to corporate (did they send you a coupon?), all screams High Maintenance. My sympathies to John.

        May 10, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Joe

      As someone who travels a lot for work I find myself eating out often and in a lot of cases it is the servers who do not understand how it works. A tip is not required, it is a gesture of good will made to someone for doing a good job. The amount of the tip is based on the level of service provided, bad service equals bad tip. The problem with the autotip is the servers tend to slack off when they know they are getting a big tip. When I sit down the server is at 15% and that amount goes up or down based on performance, and no I don't expect to be treated like royalty just like a person.

      May 10, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
  28. Wastrel

    The picture of the people dining is bizarre. Forget the tip, they should have to pay a penalty.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  29. cyndieking

    While I've never been a wait-person, I have many friends who have. The custom here is to pay far below minimum wage for food service wait staff and allow tips from customers to make up the difference. As I understand it, those folks who work in fast food make over minimum wage as a rule because there's no tipping in that venue. All I ask of wait staff is to take my order correctly, bring my order correctly then go away but checking occasionally on our drinks and all without acting like I'm imposing on their time. That's it, no more, no less. If I get that, I'll tip up to 25% (I'm told I generally tip too much),If the service doesn't meet these minimum requirements they get less, how much less depends on how bad the service, but I'll always leave something.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  30. mare

    In general, I don't mind an auto-gratuity because it can mean my table/party took up most of the servers time. However, I have a problem with waitstaff who give poor service because they know a gratuity will be automatic. You should be able to increase or decrease based on level of service. And a server should always point it out if it's on the bill, even if it was stated on the menu or posted elsewhere.

    May 10, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  31. brian

    A tip is always based on the quality of the service you have received. If it is poor that will reflect in the amount of the tip. The customer should be able to tip what her or she thinks is deserving. Thats the whole idea. Now I have waited tables before and large groups. Most people tip if the service dictates. Certain groups are notorious for not tipping and that is not fair on the server. I wont normally go to a restaurant with a mandatory tipping policy. If they do have that policy it needs to be clearly posted and explained to the customers before being seated.

    May 10, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  32. Billy Lipps

    If you think auto tip is bad, I just ate at a place in SF where auto-tip was added, then tax on that amount was added on top of that.

    May 10, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • Daniel

      Hmmm, that sounds kind of wrong to me. I thought tax was added before gratuity.

      May 10, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  33. Tone

    How about on the bill where you write in the tip ammount instead of writng in the ammount there are the numbers 10 through 20 and the patron circles what percentage they would like to tip according to the quality of service. And the way you retaliate for having to pay a manditory tip for big groups when the service is sub par is to NOT GO BACK TO THAT RESTURANT. They'll get the point, or go out of business.

    May 10, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  34. eagle10

    The manager and wait staff that locked the door and held them against their will should be arrested for 'False Imprisonment'. If the manager were to grab the arm of one of the customers, they should also be charged with 'Simple Battery'.

    May 10, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  35. John B

    I've been there often enought to know that auto tips can garner lesser service. This depends on the server but if I bring a party of 5 or more into your restaurant I expect BETTER service than I'd get with just a couple. I'm paying more for my table.

    May 10, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  36. Topper

    Threaten to call the credit card company and dispute the bill. You might win, you might not. But, businesses knows that they are only allowed so many disputes before their ability to take that particular credit card is either pulled or the rate they pay gets raised. So, many times even threatening to dispute the charge will get you satisfaction, because the business really wants to avoid a disputed bill.

    May 10, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  37. Squeezebox

    Restaurants should raise their prices to include the tip they feel their staff deserves, pay the tips to the waiters themselves, and fire anybody who doesn't give top notch service! Tipping started in France and it's unfair to the staff!

    May 10, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  38. noteabags

    So if there is a large group, the servers can be rude and you still have to pay 17%. No way! I pay for GOOD service.

    May 10, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  39. joe

    Bad or indifferent service means NO tip. A mandatory tip for rotten service is just wrong. The tips I leave always reflect the service I get. I can be very generous or I can leave a pittance. I do not reward rudeness, indifferent, sloppiness, or any other form of bad behavior. I report it to the manager.

    May 10, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  40. Deborah

    The idea that the restaurant can use that automatic tip policy to provide poor service and ruin a group's meal is already ludicrous. To add insult to injury by locking them in the restaurant until they paid is unbelievable. I hope that restaurant is boycotted. They don't deserve to be rewarded for their unlawful actions.

    May 10, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  41. Bob

    I have no problem with restaurants adding tips for large parties, but they also shouldn't be unwilling to remove them or a portion of them if service sucks and people complain.

    And in reference to the comment about the tipping system in the US: I've never been a fan of tipping for service, especially when everything starts to become a service that requires a tip, but have you ever been to Europe where there is no tipping? Guess how the service is in restaurants? That server will ignore you for the first 30 minutes and then not bother to apologize. At least with tipping, servers try to keep you happy.

    May 10, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • tiping

      This is not true everywhere. Tipping is not done in China and the service in Chinese sit down restaruants is sooo much better, like day and night compared to restaurants here in the USA, Unless you're talking about places where meals cost several hundred per person.
      Tipping should not be mandatory. It's a "TIP" meaning reward for good service.

      May 10, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
      • agree

        interestingly enough, the waiters in china towns in the US are highly agressive about chasing down tips

        May 10, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • Andy

      Yea, I remember that in Switzerland. We got such poor service once my Dad crossed out the gratuity line and re-added. Waiter went nuts. Called the manager over, and he accepted the new ammount and sent the waiter packing.

      I am sure you could make a legal argument in refusing a mandatory gratuity in the sense that you are paying for service, if you did not get the service then you are not responsible to pay for it. The sticky wicket becomes who decides what is the proper level of service?

      I find if you in cases like this if you stand outside the establishment with a sign saying how they wronged you (don't be slanderous) they will come out and make ammends. Car dealership tried to shaft me, I did that for 30 minutes on Presidents day weekend, I had my new radio in 30 minutes.........

      May 10, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  42. sharon

    Seems like this is a pretty one-sided report. I'd like to hear the restaurant's side of it. I doubt the restaurant would have locked the customers inside if they had been good customers. As a former waitress, I've seen my share of awful, rude and demanding customers and they're usually the ones who leave crappy tips.

    May 10, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • beadlesaz

      Sharon – oh, so well stated!

      May 10, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • springs1

      "demanding customers"

      If you feel customers are "DEMANDING", you might want to look at another profession. There are NO customers that are "DEMANDING", because it's *YOUR JOB* to get WHATEVER they ask for.

      I agree to always be very nice and NEVER be mean or rude, but in my eyes you are being rude to call customers demanding when none of them are. You have a job to do, that's to "SERVE" your customers, so EXPECT to do your job. You shouldn't expect just to smile and stand there to get your 20%. You have to WORK *HARD* for it!!

      May 10, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
  43. jose pachel

    Restaurants ought to pay their employee's a freaking living wage and include that expense in the cost of their products. Tips should be reserved for exceptional service only.

    May 10, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • kimo

      I second that statement!!!

      May 10, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
      • yea

        puts the customer in a bad position

        May 10, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  44. Agrav8td

    Restaurants should not automatically include tips in the bill, they should just pay better. I always tip 20% unless I've had bad service.

    May 10, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  45. mmjconlon

    Whoa. Policy or not, right or wrong, that is not the point here! These diners were held against their will, had the police called on them, and had money extorted from them, all because they didn't want to tip for poor service??? That restaurant manager should have apologized for the poor service, taken the gratuity off the bill, and offered them a free dessert! Now, they have most certainly lost customers. Good luck, you're gonna need it!

    May 10, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Bocephus Moonshine

      mmjconlon, the people were not allowed to leave because they were in the process of trying to get out of paying what they owed. Trying to skip out on a mandatory gratuity is no different than trying to skip out on the bill.

      My point is that some people are cheap and will claim they got bad service even if you anticipate their needs and give them great service. Rules are rules, and if you don't like it, don't eat out in large groups.

      May 10, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
      • luvgel

        You should look up the definition of 'gratuity'

        May 10, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
        • 18 percent is the new 15 percent anyways.

          It didn't say gratuity, it said automatic gratuity. You should look up the word automatic. It applies to everyone dining in a restaurant.

          May 10, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
        • poorly worded

          should be a fee or something

          NOT a gratuity, which implies choice, there should be no rewarding rudeness

          May 10, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
      • John T Draper

        Perhaps. Or, sometimes the service is terrible and a mandatory gratuity (surely an oxymoron) is imposed because they know their service sucks. There are plenty of establishments out there that offer great service to large groups without forced tipping.

        May 10, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • Haskeli

      The issues is more aptly stated as the diners did not want to pay a previously communicated tip. Note their complaint is not that they were not told but that "that the staff was rude, the drinks weren't refilled and her group received generally poor service". I would agree that whether the fee is right or wrong is not relevant and would also agree that it is bad business - but that is the establishments choice. If you don't like these types of policies vote with your wallet.

      May 10, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • P.J.

      I don't know why one of the diners didn't call 911. They were essentially kidnapped, by the legal definition.

      "Under the Model Penal Code (a set of exemplary criminal rules fashioned by the American Law Institute), kidnapping occurs when any person is unlawfully and non-consensually asported and held for certain purposes."

      Just ask O.J. Simpson.

      May 10, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  46. Truth™

    You try to lock me in a restaurant and you better have VERY thorough insurance, because every danged thing I can get my hands on will be either broken, unusable, or just trashed. And that is for starters. You'll be lucky if I don't burn the place down intentionally.

    May 10, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • AleeD®

      Amen, Brother Truth™. Hold me against my will and I'll show you just how strong my will can be. Even if it states on the menu, "We will hold you hostage until you pay the required 17% gratuity," they don't have the right.

      May 10, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • You are not intelligent

      I would have loved a restaurant makeover, and for free!

      I have to actually hold you illegally, for there to be any issue at all. You are more then welcome to leave, just know that the cops are waiting for you outside. Pay or leave and be cited for theft and possibly disorderly conduct. Not holding you against your will bro.

      May 10, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
      • You are not intelligent

        However it should be noted, that they can legally detain you until the cops arrive. So even then you would be dumb to break things.

        May 10, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
        • legally detain?

          very doubtful

          gratuity is not mandatory, you cannot detain on what is the customer's right to pay

          May 10, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • avonist

      in that case, the restaurant will have the police arrest you and sue you for big damage money. They give the police free meals so they will do whatever the manager orders.

      May 10, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • Daniel

      You sounds like a really nice person. Just kidding!

      May 10, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  47. Good Tipper

    The restaurant has a to add a gratuity for large parties, considering how often they get shafted for them, but I don't think that they should. Gratuity is extra that you pay for good service, not a requirement to eat there. When they do that, I pay only what they add to my bill and no more, even though I normally tip 20% or so. And I will be vocal with a manager if I think the service did not deserve the automatic gratuity.

    Which is what happened here. I read on another site that these people called over the manager to explain that the service had been very sub-standard, and that was the reason they did not want to leave a big tip. The manager told them "there's nothing I can do," which is most certainly a lie. At every restaurant I've ever been to, managers have the authority to alter the bill of a customer if they have a problem with the food. Which means they could definitely drop the tip as well. The manager didn't listen to them and sided with the employee, and then called the police.

    I wasn't there, so I can't say whether the customer had a valid argument (the service really was terrible) or not. However, the restaurant could certainly have handled the situation better. Calling the police over a tip was extreme, and has probably convinced all of those customers – plus many more – not to come back, especially in a large group. I wonder if whatever they made in tips will be worth the business they may lose over the debacle.

    May 10, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • Good Tipper

      It should read "The restaurant has the right to add gratuity..."

      May 10, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
      • gratuity

        it should not be called a gratuity

        it should be called something like fee for service

        May 10, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
      • chef E

        Its not a gratuity if its mandatory....that would be a fee.

        May 10, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
        • Lee

          OMG....chef E your are so smart. I have been having this discussion for years with my friends and family and I have to borrow your line! "its not gratuity if is mandatory, its a fee" love it!

          May 12, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • servant

      I work at a restaurant that's been in business over 60 years and the manager doesn't have the power or ability to change the bill for anyone. In fact this exact story has happened many times over the years where I work. The police are close by and usually show up within 5 minutes of the call. We were cash only until about 5 years ago and would have to call the cops over all the time for rude, stubborn people who refused to read the sign on the front door and refused to walk 20 yards to the closest ATM. I'm one of the best servers on the planet so these things have never happened with the people I serve but it happens to the newbies all the time. I'm in favor of auto gratuity on all tables no matter the size of the group because of the percentage of rednecks, teens, foreigners, seniors, and cheap rich folks who refuse to tip properly no matter what their service is like.

      May 10, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
      • no idea about your situation

        but tip is the customer's discretion, if it is automatic than it is a fee

        the naming of the cost that goes to the server is significant, poorly naming implies that they have a choice, if they don't then don't present it like it is a choice

        don't require payment for service that is rude or poor

        May 10, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
        • 18 percent is the new 15 percent anyways.

          You are correct. We should be discussing what to call it other than a tip. Either way however, the meaning is implied. When I go to Boston Market and order Macaroni and cheese, and the pasta shape isn't macaroni, its spirals, it should be noted. However, regardless of the name, what I'm ordering and was given is implied, cheese and pasta.

          May 10, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
        • spinning

          you are just too smart

          May 10, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
      • crazy

        Again. Expected.

        May 10, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
      • Mike in NJ

        Addressing one part of your post: Please don't claim to be 'one of the best servers on the planet'. Anyone claiming that immediately makes me think I would never wish to be served by that person in my life. Unless you can serve a table of 16 that includes the President of the United States, the President of Nigeria, and the Premier of China at the same time in their native languages while remembering the cultural nuances critical to each, carrying 4 plates of Crepes Suzette en flambe, don't be ridiculous.

        May 10, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
      • VladT

        Based on your stereotypical grouping of certain customers, I am guessing the reason those groups of "rednecks, teens, foreigners," et.al, maybe they sense your condescension thrown in with your obvious superb people skills. Get off your high horse....with that attitude, I'd give you a shiny nickel.
        -Not a teen, foreigner, or redneck

        May 11, 2012 at 6:44 am |
      • Bull

        Yeah, I don't believe that, servant. How come when I go to a restaurant and I get a hair in my food, the manager comes out and tells me I'll get a discount, or free food or drink or something?

        Managers change things for customers all the time. They alter bills constantly. Don't tell me that they are required to call the owner each and every time they do that. There's no way this manager had now way of taking the tip off the bill.

        May 14, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
      • 00jm

        I call BS unless it's a burger joint or a place that fills some weird niche via it's location or ownership or something. No fine dining restaurant survives 6 months let alone 60 years with a general manager that can't even comp a dang drink. Seriously, name the place or try again.

        May 16, 2012 at 3:26 am |
      • Thea

        I don't think I will ever consider anyone with your attitude "the best server in the world". To say that customers should "tip properly regardless of service" shows a serious lack of understanding of the term "service" on your part.

        Earn your tip by providing a great service – and most will tip generously. Being snobby – calling people names and stereotyping people will only lead to bad tips and a request to speak to the manager. Just MHO...

        If I tip less than standard you can be *** sure that something was amiss and I WILL ask to speak to the manager. Not because I enjoy doing so on my night out, but out of respect to the restaurant. They deserve to know why I won't be back.

        On another note – I also make sure to speak to the manager and inform him when waitstaff does a very good job (and I will leave a very generous tip). I expect a good server to be respectfull – not condenscending or subservient. This is about being a professional – prompt service, full glasses, dirty dishes removed and being informed promptly about any delays in fullfilling the order.A server who knows the menu and is able to make suggestions based on my requests and not just the most expensive items on the menu and who ensures that I have a good experience without being intrusive.

        May 23, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  48. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    I watch that show with the undercover restaurant action and have seen waiters chase people down outside the restaurant about a lack of tip. Even after some really terrible service. I forget the name of the show at the moment.

    May 10, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  49. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    AND HERE. WE. GO!

    May 10, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • springs1

      "AND HERE. WE. GO!"

      PICK UP THE HAMMER!

      May 12, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  50. teaberryblue

    A family shouldn't refuse to tip, but locking them in seems like an extreme, and potentially illegal way of handling the situation.

    The whole system in the United States in which tips are mandatory, or at very least, necessary to the welfare of the waitstaff, is ludicrous– it hurts diners AND restaurant employees, and needs to change. Restaurant employees are unfairly underpaid by employers who are legally allowed to give their workers far less than minimum wage, and expect customers to make up the difference. In some restaurants, waitstaff is expected to share their tips with other staff, so when they get a good tip for hard work, they don't reap all of the reward.

    In other countries, waitstaff is paid more fairly. The cost of food reflects exactly what a customer can be expected to pay, and figuring out your bill at the end of the meal is much less confusing. A tip is something you leave as thanks for exceptional service, and not mandatory. In the US, as a customer, I feel obligated to tip even for lousy service because I know that if I don't tip, the waitperson might not make rent or be able to pay for their own food. And that's not okay. If I went to buy a pair of shoes and discovered I was expected to pay part of the shoe-fitter's take-home wages, rather than expecting their employer to cover their wages, that would be ludicrous.

    May 10, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • Rick

      I completely agree, especially since it also acts as a subsidy to the restaurant: if the tips don't add up to the regular minimum wage the restaurant is supposed to pay the gap. The initial portion of a tip that falls into the difference isn't even the employee's earnings – its the restaurant cost-shifting salary.

      May 10, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
      • dowhatifeellike

        Rick, in my experience, restaurants never pay the gap. They'll submit payroll documents stating you met minimum wage whether you did or not, so not only do you sometimes make less than minimum wage, you also get taxed on income you never recieved.

        May 10, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
        • David

          This is very very true.

          May 10, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
        • Lee

          @dowhatifeelike- only bad waiters make bad money! Good waiters can put themselves through college. And when restaurants show your your wages it is based on your pay schedule. so if you get paid every 2 weeks then you have to have made less then 7.25 for the entire 2 weeks. if it averages out to more than 7.25 for the 2 week pay your are making more than 7.25 and they do not have to pay you any thing else. Taxes dont count....everyone has to pay those!

          May 12, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
      • never heard that

        I worked in a lot of resturants and never heard of them making up the difference

        do not force to pay for rude service

        if the service must be paid for, don't present it like a choice

        May 10, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • Ali

      I 100% agree. Other countries have it right. Tip should never be mandatory, but is something you give with outstanding service. Food should reflect the it's true costs plus a little built in for overhead, etc.
      However in the US, because tip-receiving staff make LESS than minimum wage, it is horrible to not tip, and not tip well. That extra dollar or two or five is worth MUCH MORE to the waitstaff person than, in most cases, to the customer. There is no reason waitstaff should be allowed to earn less than minimum wage (just as in your example of shoe sellers). It is crazy and should be changed. Anyone ever read the book Nickle and Dimed? Short and easy but very informative read.

      On another note, the gratuity added to bills, even if stated on the menu at the restaurant, is NEVER legally binding. It is added as a courtesy to servers with big groups, but im 99% sure you can pay whatever amount you want, of course this includes more but it also includes LESS.

      May 11, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
      • George

        So true, and I am so tired of having to explain this to people after having waited for two years/managed one before going into technology for 12 years. IF WAITERS WERE GIVEN MINIMUM WAGE... well.. then cool.. tip what you want, but know they are not YOU BLITHERING FUC.KING IDIOTS

        May 14, 2012 at 12:18 am |
        • George

          Did I mention they have to tip out 1-3% of their sales on top of making 2.13 an hour while being your table b-tch? That means if they sell 1,000$ in a night... they are responsible for paying 10$-30$ on top of making 2.13 an hour to be your table b-tch. If you don't tip in America... you are a disgusting, filthy nasty fu.ck.

          May 14, 2012 at 12:23 am |
        • cc

          I'm presuming you actually serve people to be that offensive about it, but there are waitstaff who are pretty bad at serving folks... I don't care enough to try to get them fired by talking to the manager, but hopefully you'll forgive me if I reduce my tip... Generally its based on common sense... I mean if a waiter called me a "blithering f***ing idiot" to my face, well that might take my tip down a few points...

          May 14, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • logan

      I will not tip someone just because I think they may not make rent! If they suck that bad at waiting tables, then find another job. I've been in this business for well over 20 years and have been able to make a very comfortable living. You take the good with the bad in life. And you EARN it. I'm so sick of people who feel they are ENTITLED to things.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:08 am |
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