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boagman

Gratuities tacked onto bills...where's the line?

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Okay, so I'm out tonight with a decent number of friends at a casual Mexican restaurant in downtown Detroit. It's a decent, low-scale, family-style restaurant, and the average per person charge is around $10-12. Add on a couple of drinks (both alcoholic and non) here or there, the added-on sour cream or so, someone getting meat on one of their entrees that normally wouldn't have, and you come to a grand total of $121.56, tax included.

Then, there it is: 20% tacked on to the very end of it for a grand total of $145.87.

After obtaining funds from everyone at the table and being short the requisite few bucks, we take the collected funds of $145 to the server. Now, keep in mind that we've been extremely low-maintainence...we're fine with the pitchers of water that are brought, we're not requesting more tortilla chips, no one sent their meals back for any reason, which, considering the size of the group, was pretty darned good. We're not exactly taxing our server.

When I take the $145 to the server, she says, "...and eighty-seven cents?..." rather expectantly, as if she's somehow *owed* this amount. Keeping my composure, I explain, "Well, since the tip has already been included without our being consulted, I think we're just going to let that eighty-seven cents go."

I mean, cheese and crackers, people...an automatic 20% added *and* the gall to moan when eighty-seven cents of it isn't there? I have to admit that, considering the service shortcuts taken (the self-serve pitchers of water, the non-refilled tortilla chips, not asking if we were interested in more beverages, etc.), I was pretty taken aback. First, I have *never seen* a 20% automatic gratutity...the highest I've seen was 18%, and usually it's 15-18% for tables of six or more. Second, doesn't this amount still need to be *earned* by said server? Third, is it generally understood that this amount is NOT OWED to the place, or server? That it is, in fact, *optional* if the customer so chooses?

Honestly, the place probably would have been better off not tacking it on in the first place, but still: that was probably the closest I've ever come to retorting, "Oh...are you saying that you're *owed* a tip of $23.44? Would you care to *test* that little theory of yours? Because your tip is going down by the minute..."

I wouldn't do that, but doggone it...there are times I'm tempted, and this was one of them. Service was basically functional, but certainly not anything to write home about, and at no time did they have to, nor choose to, go out of their way for us.

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So if the car rental company tacked on a charge because you didn't return the car with a full tank of gas, would you argue with them? If your physician or dentist's office charged you for an appointment because you cancelled with less than 24 hours notice would that irk you quite as much? Those services rendered (or not rendered, as the case might be) are simply accepted as part of the cost of doing business. Yet the harried waitperson making about one third of minimum wage plus tips that got your order correct, and made sure all of the food for your large party came out at once should have to suck it up and take hard earned money out of their own pocket to cover your unwillingness (not inability) to cough up .87-effing cents??? Are you serious??

Restaurants institute the automatic gratuity for larger parties because whether or not you believe it to be true, your group is a lot more work than the average four-top. And the larger the group, the more likely that the server that's making $2.87/hour is going to get stiffed. The shortcuts taken were clearly to keep you and your tablemates from tugging on their shirt asking for more water every two minutes. I won't argue whether or not servers and bartenders should make a living wage. That's a whole 'nother discussion. It is what it is and I wear those same tattered shoes every day. I can't believe you're even asking this question. If service was an issue, then take it up with a manager, as well you should. If the policy wasn't clearly stated it's the management's fault, not the waiter. By your own admission, service was adequate. You agreed to the terms of service when you sat down, same as the rental car or the missed appointment fees. Why make the waitperson suffer for it? You aren't the one that gets to decide how low maintenance your group was. The perpective from the other side is undoubtedly different.


Edited by KatieLoeb (log)

Katie M. Loeb
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Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

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Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
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Every place that I have worked that added an automatic gratuity, always said so on the menu and so people knew up front that they would be charged.

If that was the case in this circumstance, then I think you are obligated to pay, as it is noted as a charge. Just as you wouldn't scoff at the price of the guacamole and refuse to pay part of it thinking it was overpriced. However, if I were the manager in this case, I would probably allow a customer to keep the 87 cents, thinking it was not worth it to squabble over such a small amount. I would also take the 87 cents off the bill, so that it was the restaurant who ate the cost and not the server.

I remember having people get upset over automatic gratuity saying, "we would have left more had you not added this" which I always doubted was true, if you really were someone who would leave more, why would this prevent you? Servers don't add the automatic gratuity to large tables because they think you specifically are cheap, they just do it to protect themselves, as large groups don't always pay close attention when paying the bill.


www.parisnotebook.wordpress.com

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Yet the harried waitperson making about one third of minimum wage plus tips that got your order correct, and made sure all of the food for your large party came out at once should have to suck it up and take hard earned money out of their own pocket to cover your unwillingness (not inability) to cough up .87-effing cents???  Are you serious??

The shortcuts taken were clearly to keep you and your tablemates from tugging on their shirt asking for more water every two minutes.  If the policy wasn't clearly stated it's the management's fault, not the waiter.  By your own admission, service was adequate.  You agreed to the terms of service when you sat down, same as the rental car or the missed appointment fees.  Why make the waitperson suffer for it?  You aren't the one that gets to decide how low maintenance your group was.  The perpective from the other side is undoubtedly different.

Yeah...you've obviously had a pretty hard night at work, so I'm going to let you breathe for a bit.

"Harried waitperson", eh? We were, literally, the *only table* in the room. Now, there were other rooms in the place, so yes: it's entirely possible that she had more tables than just us, but that isn't how it looked. Could I be wrong? Yes, but "harried" isn't a term I'd have used to describe her, or her situation. This restaurant was *not crowded*, even on a Friday night.

About the policy, it's listed on the online menu that I just checked as "Tables of 6 or more 15% gratuity." I admit that it may have been different on the paper menus tonight, but I didn't pay that close attention, unfortunately.

For "adequate" service (which I'd merely call "functional"), I'd usually tip at around 15%, honestly. My normal number starts at 20%, and for the love of Pete, it's not hard to achieve the 20% or to even get slightly higher than that...but you do have to at least try to do things like find out if people want another drink after they've finished their first. I'm pouring my own stinking water...do I need to tally-ho to the bar for my paid beverages as well, and then tip them for the privilege of drinking there? Great service can actually be tipped at 30%, if they earn it. And that's pretty much the key: earning it.

You seem to be confusing a couple of things, here: I shouldn't *have* to "tug on the shirt" of the server for a refill...that's kind of their *job*, you see. If they'd think about things a bit and perhaps bring larger water glasses, then they might not have to unceremoniously drop condensation-laden pitchers of the stuff on the table and scoot off to who-knows-where.

You can't have it both ways: the tip reflects service(s) rendered, and a place not-so-slightly "forcing" a certain percentage on me doesn't mean that they're automatically free to serve me at their leisure, in whatever form they've decided, simply because, as customers, serving us is an "inconvenience". There is, built into the cost on the menu, the cost of service, is there not?

I'm not above (and have done so in the past) tacking on an extra tip over and above the percentage tacked on if the service warrants it (and yes: it's practically a necessity on holidays), but to infer that my withholding eighty-seven cents from this server on a tip of $23.44 is some kind of unfair play, well...that's just not the case. Especially in light of the amount of service rendered, the fact that she *still* got 19%, *and* the fact that the tip was calculated on the subtotal *and* the sales tax. Don't think I missed that little doozy.

The questions I've raised in the original post stand.


Edited by boagman (log)

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What makes you think that the staff get all or even some of the added gratuitiy?

If its compulsory its not a gratuity, its a price increase. If it goes through the restaurants till, then tax etc must also be deducted

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What makes you think that the staff get all or even some of the added gratuitiy?

If its compulsory its not a gratuity, its a price increase. If it goes through the restaurants till, then tax etc must also be deducted

Because of the very nature of the term: "gratuity". It's a gratitude *to the server(s)* for their work and pains.

And dear heaven above...you want to balk about tips being *taxed*? Um, earnings in the United States are taxed. Get used to this. It's in *every* profession. Jiminy.

If the restaurant is keeping all or some of the gratuity for themselves, then that's a major issue...but not for *me*! If that were the case, and management was stealing from me, I'd walk out, *and* call a lawyer!

I will never, *ever* conclude that the gratuity is compulsory, and I've been on both sides of the equation.

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Frankly, I think you and the other members of your party should refrain from dining out in large groups again. 87cents? You quibble over a frickin' 87cents? I rarely eat in large groups, but even I am aware that there is usually an autograt for such parties. I don't even approve of tipping (pay a decent wage for cripes sake), but I would never have refused to pay even a portion of the autograt (and I always tip when in the US and Canada, even if I don't approve of the practice).

When I take the $145 to the server, she says, "...and eighty-seven cents?..." rather expectantly, as if she's somehow *owed* this amount. Keeping my composure, I explain, "Well, since the tip has already been included without our being consulted, I think we're just going to let that eighty-seven cents go."

That's like saying, "I thought this state only charged 5% tax, not the 7% I was charged, so I'm not going to pay the extra 2%." And I'm just going to forget you had the gall to even charge me that extra 2%.

What a smart-assed thing to say. It was a valid charge, and you refused to pay a portion of it. Even for 87 cents, that's theft. Had I been your waitperson, I'd have called the manager over. With luck, you and your party would have been banned for life. All for a measly 87 cents.

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The US system, where the wait staff are not proper employees but have to beg for gratuities is crazy.

Be civilised, and put the price up 20% and pay the staff properly.

Gratuities then become exceptional for exceptional service.

Mostly the wait staff have not shown any special skill, like tableside filleting or carving, or even silver service that deserves special praise and reward.

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I don't understand why people who have such an adversarial attitude towards restaurants and the people who work in them continue to go to restaurants.

FOH folks put up with a lot. I have only been working in restaurants for two years, and already in that time, I have cleaned up vomit and urine multiple times, scrubbed shit off the walls, been touched inappropriately by customers, been screamed at by insane chefs, permanently injured my hand, I could go on.

For all you know this server works for the type of manager who loses his shit if her end-of-shift paperwork isn't perfect down to the penny. It's a bit rude to expect her to eat that, and it's also a bit weird to be so put out by what amounts to 20 or so bucks. It's not like your bill was auto-grated and you were expected to pay 20% on several bottles of Petrus.

Was your server totally absent for your entire meal? Was the entire dining room completely empty of staff the entire time you were there after your order was taken? If not, if someone at the table wanted another drink, they could have just flagged someone down and asked. I'm not saying that this constitutes ideal service - I feel *really* bad if someone has to do this to me for something I should have been paying better attention to all along - but I also don't understand why diners don't just ask for something they want, or say something if there is an issue instead of stew in silence at the restaurant and then freak out at home.


"An appetite for destruction, but I scrape the plate."

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The US system, where the wait staff are not proper employees but have to beg for gratuities is crazy.

Be civilised, and put the price up 20% and pay the staff properly.

Gratuities then become exceptional for exceptional service.

Also not the purview of the diner.

They would not begging if folks pay thier tab.

Mostly the wait staff have not shown any special skill, like tableside filleting or carving, or even silver service that deserves special praise and reward.

Not the purview of the wait staff.

It's not a silver service level place as the op describes.

One of our favorite restaurants is a hole in the wall Mexican place. We sit down we get our food, we eat we pay we leave.

The poor manners (and that's putting it mildly) of the diner is what is in question.

There's hope though because he clearly feels bad about this. He should.

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Mostly the wait staff have not shown any special skill, like tableside filleting or carving, or even silver service that deserves special praise and reward.

Have you ever waited tables? What you've written might be true if you worked in a restaurant that had no wine list and you only got one table at a time. Try memorizing a large menu and wine list with ever-changing components, waiting on a party of 8, one of 4, maybe one of 3 on a patio or deck outside, and a few deuces who are all at different stages of their meal, communicating with a kitchen staff and chef who may or may not hate your guts, and then come talk to us.


Edited by phlox (log)

"An appetite for destruction, but I scrape the plate."

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phlox, do not be too hard on jackal, the European system is much different from the US. Waitstaff actually make a salary and tips are for exceptional over the top service. What you describe is a typical night for ANY server anywhere.

People, waiting tables is harder than most folks think. I have always said that a month waiting tables and a month of retail clothing at the Gap should be mandatory before you can get any other job. It would make for a friendlier more compassionate world.

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phlox, do not be too hard on jackal, the European system is much different from the US. Waitstaff actually make a salary and tips are for exceptional over the top service. What you describe is a typical night for ANY server anywhere.

People, waiting tables is harder than most folks think. I have always said that a month waiting tables and a month of retail clothing at the Gap should be mandatory before you can get any other job. It would make for a friendlier more compassionate world.

I understand that servers are paid differently in Europe, I just resent the implication that it requires no skill! And yes, what I described is a typical night for any server anywhere, just don't tell me that anyone could walk in off the street and do a good job if they'd never done it before.

But then I guess that's why I work in restaurants, anything else would just be too taxing for my little brain.

All that said, I do think that a 20% automatic gratuity is too high for the type of restaurant described, and that if the menu stated it was 15%, then that's what it should have been. I would have been irritated by this, too!


Edited by phlox (log)

"An appetite for destruction, but I scrape the plate."

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I understand that servers are paid differently in Europe, I just resent the implication that it requires no skill!

You are preachin' to the choir.

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Have you ever waited tables?  What you've written might be true if you worked in a restaurant that had no wine list and you only got one table at a time.  Try memorizing a large menu and wine list with ever-changing components, waiting on a party of 8, one of 4, maybe one of 3 on a patio or deck outside, and a few deuces who are all at different stages of their meal, communicating with a kitchen staff and chef who may or may not hate your guts, and then come talk to us.

Actually, I have waited table and kept bar and owned a fine dining restaurant with an award winning wine list.

I have personally observed the level of skill reduced to where I regard myself as lucky if the wait staff remember (or have written down) who ordered what without having to ask when the food arrives. Doubly lucky if we ordered in the bar or reception area. Triply lucky if he food is at the right temperature, bears some relation to the food ordered, has the right cutlery (and glasses for wine), arrives with the right wine and side dishes and the menu is spelt and punctuated correctly. None of this is rocket science, yet it happens all too rarely.

Full silver service, or tableside skills like carving a chicken or filleting a dover sole are confined to a few miraculous places.

Yes it is a tough job wih unsocial hours, customer contact and a share of unpleasent people, but then so are many jobs. I don't tip the driver when I take a late bus or the conductor on a train, and I bet they deal with as many drunks . Its just a cultural thing that ensures wait staff are often badly paid, and the price is 20% more than advertised


Edited by jackal10 (log)

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I have always said that a month waiting tables and a month of retail clothing at the Gap should be mandatory before you can get any other job. It would make for a friendlier more compassionate world.

This is really sappy, but I feel that I have become a more compassionate, mature person as a result of working in restaurants. When you spend your work day trying to anticipate the desires of others, it tends to bleed into the rest or your life. I tend to think a little more before I speak now and am more empathetic.


"An appetite for destruction, but I scrape the plate."

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Its just a cultural thing that ensures wait staff are often badly paid, and the price is 20% more than advertised

I don't think anyone really likes this system. Unfortunately, it's the one we've got! Someday when the tooth fairy leaves me bags full of money I want to own a restaurant where the waitstaff is paid a fair wage and are treated like professionals rather than petulant children.


"An appetite for destruction, but I scrape the plate."

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...I have personally observed the level of skill reduced to where I regard myself as lucky if the wait staff remember (or have written down) who ordered what without having to ask when the food arrives. Doubly lucky if we ordered in the bar or reception area. Triply lucky if he food is at the right temperature, bears some relation to the food ordered, has the right cutlery (and glasses for wine), arrives with the right wine and side dishes and the menu is spelt and punctuated correctly. None of this is rocket science, yet it happens all too rarely.

Seems like skills are needed after all then. Maybe the American gratuity system should be considered.

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Wow.

If you had paid your check, you could rant and rave your head off about a 20% automatic gratuity.

Now you want a big hug for not paying your bill?

Here's the deal. When you put together a business plan and find financing and nail down the location location location and purchase all the acoutrements, hire the staff, pray daily that they show up, sweat the budget moment by moment, sweat everything and develop relationships with all your purveyors and go through all the legal mumbo jumbo and government red tape and open your own place then at that exact point in time is when you can determine the way business should be conducted.

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In boagman's defense, 20% added to a bill seems high, and if the menu stated 15% for larger parties, then getting hit with 20% is outrageous. As for not paying the $.87, someone in the party had another buck you can be sure. That being said, as an ex waiter, I would not have said anything about the missing change.

Quick story, when I first start waiting tables it was in a chain restaurant (TGIF). I was 18 leave it alone. One Saturday night, after the first shift was cut at about 10:30, a group of 20 prom kids came in. Needless to say, nobody wanted to take them, so I did. Turned out a couple of them could drink (at the time 18 was legal in New Orleans) so that helped the mostly apps bill, and more importantly, the kids were pretty cool overall. Given that I had a decent rapport with them, at the end of the meal I actually said to one of the guys, "It is the restaurants policy to add 18% to large parties. I can do that so you guys do not have to figure out the tip etc, or I can leave it up to you." Naturally he chose the "leave it up to him" policy. I got a 25% tip.

The moral is, good servers get good tips. It was a moment that stuck with me through my restaurant career.

NOW on the flip side, 87 frickin cents - really? A buck makes NO difference to you, but a buck is a world of difference to a server. On a $100 bill, I tip $21. Again a buck is no difference to me, but that one extra buck lets a waiter know that they did a good job. Yes, it sounds like you did not get the best of service that night, but I am not sure what kind of service you expected in what you yourself called a low end Mexican joint. Big parties are a lot of work no matter what a customer thinks.

Do not say that you would have tipped more, because if coming up with the 87 cents was a problem, why would you have tipped more.

You also made a comment about tipping out the bar, what do you think a server has to do. At the end of the night, your server tips out the bar and the bus staff.

Another pet peeve is the fact that you mention tipping on tax. Again, the extra buck won't KILL you. When I worked in Massachusetts where tax is 5% the worst tip for me was when someone would simple triple the tax 15% on the subtotal. To me, it was more of a slap in the face than if they left less. It was tipping because they had to not because I did a good job. That is just a personal rant of mine - it is really a different debate - like tipping on expensive wine..

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One of our favorite restaurants is a hole in the wall Mexican place. We sit down we get our food, we eat we pay we leave.

The poor manners (and that's putting it mildly) of the diner is what is in question.

There's hope though because he clearly feels bad about this. He should.

And yet, even this morning, he's feeling less and less so.

So, by your way of defining things, if I'm a server in *any* sit-down restaurant in the US, I should automatically get to decide my own pay level? I mean, wow...why stop at 20%? Shoot, 25% sounds good, but you know what? 50% sounds even better! Wait, wait, wait...100%! That'll even appease all the OCD people out there! Just double the bill!

I guess I'm one of the Oppressors Of Waitstaff Forged In The Depths Of Hell By The Devil Himself.

What's sad is that I had to (as always) rustle up more cash from people after the initial collection, as there's always a shortfall in groups. Once I did this, and put in even *more* from myself (I ended up paying about $14 or $15 for my own $9.95 meal...by my estimates, that's minimum 40%, folks), our cash pile came to $145 out of $145.87, which I considered plenty, considering that they were strong-arming us for the tip, which, given the level of service provided, seemed excessive.

So yes, go ahead and vilify me. I'm fine with that. I've been on the opposite side of the equation, but the sense of entitlement that's becoming more and more apparent from dining establishments is, at the very least, starting to become a sore spot. If that makes me a cheap bastard, then a cheap bastard I'll be! Considering that I hang out with several people (though they weren't there last night) that are very appreciative of the way I compensate servers (considering that they served for good, long times themselves), I won't be losing any sleep over it.

I still think that the automatic gratuity, at the very least in this particular case, was unwarranted, too large, and that she was well-compensated by us. I guess *I* need to draw the line, since all servers everywhere will never be satisfied.

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...I guess I'm one of the Oppressors Of Waitstaff Forged In The Depths Of Hell By The Devil Himself...

:laugh: It's difficult to be outraged if you're gonna make me laugh like that. :raz:

Ok 20% is truly way out there. That's a lot. I mean truthfully I hate any imposed gratuity. Really annoys me. Seriously.

However, I do pay it, ahem. Our kids are grown & gone so we regularly tip 20%+

I mean I've had women so devious in escaping their entire bill in a previous life when I had my own place-- I'd still like to squeeze their coach purses till they bleed. And one of my kids is boh. The other kid worked foh and it's just wrong when a table stiffs a waiter. And you didn't stiff her. You just didn't want to go back and squeeze your friends who actually are the culprits here. Somebody didn't ante up, dude.

Idea, next time make someone else face the music at the cash register. Not to mention read the fine print.

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I'd be inclined to argue the tacked on 20% gratuity too, if it wasn't clearly stated on the menu. For that level of service, there is no way in heck I'd be tipping 20%.


Cheryl

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NOW on the flip side, 87 frickin cents - really? A buck makes NO difference to you, but a buck is a world of difference to a server. On a $100 bill, I tip $21. Again a buck is no difference to me, but that one extra buck lets a waiter know that they did a good job. Yes, it sounds like you did not get the best of service that night, but I am not sure what kind of service you expected in what you yourself called a low end Mexican joint. Big parties are a lot of work no matter what a customer thinks. 

Do not say that you would have tipped more, because if coming up with the 87 cents was a problem, why would you have tipped more.

You also made a comment about tipping out the bar, what do you think a server has to do. At the end of the night, your server tips out the bar and the bus staff.

Another pet peeve is the fact that you mention tipping on tax. Again, the extra buck won't KILL you. When I worked in Massachusetts where tax is 5% the worst tip for me was when someone would simple triple the tax 15% on the subtotal. To me, it was more of a slap in the face than if they left less. It was tipping because they had to not because I did a good job. That is just a personal rant of mine - it is really a different debate - like tipping on expensive wine..

What kind of service did I expect? Well, I *guess* I expected to be offered another pricey beverage when my first one was done. I know...dopey me! I mean, heaven forbid! I guess I thought that more tortilla chips should have been brought when they saw that the first baskets were empty. How stupid I feel now.

Could I have tipped more? Sure, I could have. I mean, heck, why shouldn't I just head down to the ATM and get out more cash so that I can just tip out at 80%? That seems fair...I WAS ALREADY TIPPING AT 40-50%! I had already thrown in extra cash for it! The establishment was strongarming us for 20%, and at 19%, being that a gratuity is still supposed to be *my* decision, I felt justified in giving that. I've also been known to short Wendy's the occasional two cents when buying a combo meal. Oh, the *shame*!

And as a matter of fact, overtipping bothers me. Being *forced* to overtip further annoys, and being presented with an attitude of entitlement to said overtip chafes.

I don't have a problem tipping at the bar...but if I'm getting table service, and I have to trot off to the bar to get my beverages, yeah: I'm gonna have a bit of a problem with that!

In most cases, tipping on the tax isn't a big issue. When it's being forced down my throat, however, it's just *one more thing* that serves to needle. I've never felt obligated to tip on tax. It has absolutely *nothing* to do with food, beverage, or service rendered. The establishment merely collects it and passes it on to good old Uncle Sam. Usually, though, it's up to me to determine whether I'm going to tip on the tax or not. Not here! Nosiree!

In the end, had the service warranted it, I'd have been rallying the troops for more cash to cover the entire 20%, and then some. It didn't, and I didn't. I wasn't embarrassed to give her what I did, and was rather appalled that she'd say anything at all. It's one of those "rubber meets the road" moments, and had it been pressed, she'd have been unhappy with the results.

Again: it has to be *earned*, not merely *charged*. Or, in the restaurant world, is there no difference anymore?

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boag, I am sorry the some of the folks you hang out with are the type who want to itemize the bill in a cheap restaurant. I think we all agree that the service was not exemplary, in fact it sounds like it sucked, but what gets everyone's goat is the 87 cents. SOMEONE in your party had an extra $1.

And no, you should NOT have gotten attitude from the server when you were short 87 cents - as stated, I would have let it go. But the fact that your server brought it up proves my point that an extra buck means way more to her than it does to you.

If indeed the menu stated 15% would be added and then 20% got added, you guys should have been brought it up to the manager. Short of that, you should have paid the presented bill.

Added: In reality, if it was as bad as it sounds, the lack of service should have been brought up to management along with the added gratuity be it ANY percentage. Again, if you guys did not say anything to management, you should have paid the bill.


Edited by syoung68 (log)

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