Most people have seen the small mention of added gratuity at the bottom of restaurant menus. It is usually for groups of eight or more, but sometimes it’s added even for groups of six, or seven. This begs the question: Can restaurants legally add gratuity to your bill? The answer is a simple “yes”, as long as it is disclosed in advance.
In fact, most any fee a restaurant wants to add is legal as long as it is adequately disclosed. There are fees for delivery, for using credit cards, having an order to go, boxing up leftovers, drinking water (even tap), and many more. As long as it is disclosed and not discriminatory (such as a senior citizen surcharge), it is legally allowed. Whether customers will tolerate the fees, however, is another matter altogether.
Why do restaurants include gratuity for large parties?
The extra work that servers have when dealing with large groups requires that they devote a large majority of their time to one party, reducing tips available from other parties. Servers make decent tips by serving multiple tables and doing it well. By adding a mandatory gratuity, servers are ensured of getting an adequate tip for serving such a large party.
One major casual dining establishment added the fee for groups of eight or more only after repeated complaints and issues from servers. Vocal wait staff was incensed at being paid such poor tips for such hard work on large group parties. Soon, they were refusing sections with groups deliberately. One server received such a horrible gratuity from a group that, by the time she tipped the bartender and busboy, she was in the red and in tears.
When other eateries heard about the added gratuity for groups, the concept took off and is now common place. It is now rare to not find a mandatory tip requirement for large groups.
What is the average added gratuity?
Most casual sit-down restaurants appear to have gratuity for large groups set at around 15%, while fine dining establishments edge closer to 18%. The exceptional few are as high as 20%. Additionally, most establishments only have mandatory gratuity on large groups or on things like hotel room service, poolside food, or delivery service.
A few take-out restaurants that deliver add an automatic gratuity, but most just add a delivery fee and prominently mention it is not a gratuity. However, a major pizza delivery chain charges a $2.49 convenience fee for deliveries and reminds customers it is not a gratuity. What most customers don’t know is that each driver is paid $1.49 of that fee for gas/auto expenses at the end of the night based on each delivery. So, in reality, it is a mandatory gratuity—albeit a small one.
Can you opt out of added gratuity?
Usually, added gratuity for large groups is a done deal. Most restaurants also do a good job of prominently placing a sign or notice near the hostess stand and in the menu. However, if service wasn’t up to par or you had to repeatedly ask for refills, ask for a manager. Usually, the manager will want to please the group and reduce the tip to whatever you feel is appropriate. However, some may refuse to budge and will just say the mandatory gratuity is set and clearly noted on the menu.
If you pay it but really feel you were forced to add gratuity for sub-par service, you do have another option. Although this is not a sure-thing, you can pay the bill with the added gratuity and then dispute the charge with your credit card provider. With good documentation and witness statements, it could very well be reversed. Or, even better, the restaurant will see the dispute and settle it amicably.
Do people avoid restaurants with mandatory gratuity?
Most people are going to an eatery for the food and service, and if they are both excellent then gratuity is a minor issue. It is unlikely that mandatory gratuity is going to stop loyal customers, but newcomers may be put off by the policy. The few times people really take issue with forced gratuity are when service is, well, not service.
People who are opposed to mandatory tipping explain their reason is simply that the server has no incentive to provide superior service and outstanding care during the meal if he is already assured of receiving a fixed gratuity anyway. No matter how delayed a waiter is at refills or how inattentive they are to their table, they are guaranteed a nice gratuity. This doesn’t entirely seem right.
As comparison, imagine a child who always gets $50 allowance each month and a child who gets $20 a week only if they do all of their chores. Which child do you think is going to work harder?
Many consumers feel having a mandatory gratuity, no matter how great the restaurant’s intention, prevents the staff from truly earning a tip. It takes the choice away from the customer on how to recognize good, or bad, service.