It used to be that tipping was meant to reward and encourage your server for exemplary service. Unfortunately, with the advent of tipping pools, mandatory gratuities, paltry wages and general tip inflation, that’s clearly the exception now rather than the rule. As such, I adhere to the standard 18% tip in restaurants for merely average waiter service — although I firmly believe it should be 15%.
Indeed, one of my biggest pet peeves with respect to tipping is the typical 18% “mandatory gratuity” — talk about an oxymoron — that most establishments tack on to any bill for large parties, regardless of the wait staff’s performance.
Apparently, I’m not the only one.
In 2009, one restaurant in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, actually had two diners arrested for refusing to pay their mandatory 18% gratuity, despite the fact that they had to endure an inattentive waitress who spent more time smoking than serving; it took them more than an hour to get a simple order of salad and wings.
Frankly, it’s hard to believe that these people had criminal theft charges filed against them for failing to leave a tip — but they did.
As a customer, you have a lot of leverage — especially with respect to the highly competitive restaurant industry.
Here are several suggestions you can use to avoid paying a mandatory gratuity for diabolical service:
1. Request the mandatory gratuity be waived. As a preemptive move, ask the restaurant if they’ll waive the mandatory gratuity. Why would they do that? Because you have a large party and they may not be willing to risk losing your business, that’s why. You can sweeten the pot by suggesting to the manager that, in lieu of waiving the mandatory gratuity, your party will tip more than 18% for excellent service.
2. Break your party into separate tables. Breaking your party into two or three smaller adjacent tables is another preemptive move that has the added benefit of ensuring you’ll probably get better service. Think about it; when you’re with a large party, a table for eight has to wait longer than a table for four because more meals have to be prepared. A table of 16 requires an even longer wait. Besides, if you are in a party with 16 people, are you really able to converse with Aunt Edna who’s stuck at the far end of a chain of four tables?
3. Talk to your server. Let’s assume you’ve already sat down with your large party and your server is off to a bad start. Tell them about it! Of course, do it tactfully and with a smile. This step is usually enough to nip any problems in the bud — before you’re forced to pay good money for bad service.
4. Request a different server. If you’ve talked to your server but you’re still not getting results, then talk to the manager about the poor service and request another server. Although it’s doubtful the manager will grant your request, a competent supervisor will make sure the rest of your time at the restaurant is a pleasant one. Who knows? Voicing your concerns may also get you a comped appetizer, dessert, or entree for your trouble — which, in turn, will also indirectly offset a portion of the mandatory gratuity.
5. Dispute the tip with your credit card company. Let’s assume the manager has been unsympathetic to your plight, your meals were delivered cold, you never got those drink refills, and the server had an attitude — and you’re still on the hook for that 18% mandatory gratuity. Take a deep breath and calmly pay the entire bill, including the mandatory gratuity. Just make sure you use your favorite credit card. After you get home, immediately send a polite letter to the offending restaurant complaining of the poor service you received; also request your tip money back. Then call your credit card company and dispute the mandatory gratuity.
By the way, those Philadelphia diners aren’t the first people this has ever happened to. Several years earlier, a similar event occurred in Lake George, New York, but the charges were dropped; the District Attorney said the man couldn’t be forced to pay a mandatory gratuity.
Oh yes … The charges were eventually dropped in that Philadelphia case too.
So the next time you’re faced with potentially having to reward incompetent servers with an 18% gratuity for pitiful service, don’t be a martyr and expose yourself to a potential criminal or civil trial by withholding the tip.
Remember, there are other options available. You just have to plan ahead.
Photo Credit: Adikos