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Family Locked In Restaurant For Refusing To Pay Automatic Gratuity


What happens when you take issue with a restaurant's automatic gratuity?

Jasmine Marks told KPRC that she and her family and friends were locked inside a Houston restaurant after they refused to pay an automatic 17 percent gratuity.

The gratuity was added to the bill because Marks sat with a party of more than five, a policy clearly noted on the menu. But when Marks refused to pay because of poor service including rudeness and missing orders, she said the restaurant called the police and locked the door.

Despite Marks' insistence that the service she received wasn't worth a 17 percent tip, the bill was eventually paid in full.

The story generated mixed reactions when it was posted on Reddit.

"The restaurant should have just voided the gratuity," one commenter wrote. "They get the 17% from this family but then lose tons of business once this story makes the rounds. Basically the whole town has just found out their food and service sucks."

But another commenter said the diners were at fault since the restaurant had a clearly marked gratuity policy on the menu.

"It was on the menu that a party that size would have the gratuity included in the bill," the commenter wrote. "I will agree that 17% is a bit much, but they really have no right to complain."

In the end, perhaps Marks should be thankful that she wasn't arrested.

NBC Philadelphia reported that a Pennsylvania couple were handcuffed after they refused to pay a mandatory 18 percent gratuity at a pub in Bethlehem, Pa.



What do you think?  Who was right, the family or the restaurant?

by on May. 3, 2012 at 3:35 PM
Replies (281-290):
by on May. 5, 2012 at 9:51 PM
1 mom liked this

I think that automatic grautities are ridiculous except in the case of large parties, and 5 people is not a large party. one time dh and I went to a restaurant and they added gratuity to our bill and we were just  a party of two! i didn't want to pay it but also didn't want to make a scene so we just paid and left.  i think the restaurant was overreacting, they really should have just let it go, now all this bad publicity will cost them more. 

by Bronze Member on May. 5, 2012 at 9:54 PM
1 mom liked this

I mean waiting like we stood there and waited for 10 minutes for an employee to acknowledge us being in the restaurant, not that they were busy and they told us there was a wait time.  We could have left, however it was for a birthday, and the birthday girl had to eat at this restaurant and if she didn't we would have had to listen to her complain that her whole birthday was ruined. 

If there is a wait time and they tell us and we agree to wait I do not hold that against them.  The last time we were 5.5 and at Applebee's they wanted to seat us in a booth which wouldn't work because 2 of the 5 adults are larger and can't sit comfortably in the booth.  The hostess wouldn't even sit the party behind us until we had been sat.  We didn't care if they were seated first because we chose to wait for an actual table. 

Quoting SunflowerMom10:

Wow. First waiting is not a service issue. If there's a wait and you chose to stay that's on you. And if you left me .55 I would hand it back you. And a family larger than 5 usually requires more than one table, so yes they should take that into account. You wouldn't want to wait an extra 20 minutes for a larger table to tip less.

Quoting Firenygirl180:

It should not be called a gratuity.  I could understand it for a large group that is having a dinner at a restaurant (like a business party/sports team/family reunion) where multiple servers are needed.  I don't understand why a regular family who happens to have more than 5 members should have to pay the automatic 18% if they are being treated like every other table in the place.

I have noticed they don't charge anything for large parties if you get separate checks though. 

I normally leave at least 10%.  If the service was outstanding (glasses never became empty/food hot and correct/waiter talked/joked around with us) I will leave 20% or more.  If the service sucked (waited 10+ minutes to be seated, then another 10 for drink orders, another 10 for drinks to come and then another 10-15 before our actual order is taken All of which have happened in 1 experience) I will simply leave the change from the next dollar amount for a tip.  If the total was 23.45 then they get .55.  

Any place that we have been charged the extra and service was subpar and we complained, the manager has always taken it off.  And we left a better tip because of that.  

by on May. 5, 2012 at 9:56 PM

The policy is stated on the menu, it should be on the door... I wouldn't pay an obligatory gratuity of 17% on crappy service and missing orders... But then again I'd have spoken to the manager when there were missing orders and rude waitstaff...

by on May. 5, 2012 at 10:10 PM

Tips should be earned and they should depend on how good the service is. These places that add the tip automatically for parties over a certain # of people have the right to do that but they should make it clear to there staff that if there service is crappy then they shouldn't expect that tip. Some staff at places like this don't care how they treat customers because they know they will be getting a tip no matter what. THAT SUCKS. There needs to be a little more flexibilty in situations like this. The customers should have agreed to pay part of the tip like 10 % and the restaraunt should have been a little more understanding that the service was crappy and again tips should be EARNED and DEPEND on the service.

by on May. 5, 2012 at 10:16 PM
1 mom liked this

Personally, I am sick and tired of lazy staff taking advantage of people.  We go to the same diner and lately they seem to get  our order wrong.  Great older staff, but just becasue I eat at your establishment doesn't mean you have to get that "I owe you"  attitude.  Just do your best.  By the way, connecticut has terrible service.

by on May. 5, 2012 at 10:28 PM
1 mom liked this
I wouldn't pay a 17% gratuity if they were rude and missing orders. You go out to a restaurant thinking you will be treated good and get what you ordered. I never give a good tip if I'm treated like crap.
Posted on CafeMom Mobile
by on May. 5, 2012 at 10:43 PM

Quoting kaitalynn:

I think that both were in the wrong: the family for refusing to pay even when it was clearly marked, and the restaurant for locking them in and for crappy service. Who's going to suffer in the long run? The restaurant.

I completely agree with this.

by on May. 5, 2012 at 10:43 PM
I'm a bad tipper. It's not because I don't think most waist staff deserves one but because I suck at math. I usually tried to leave a couple dollars at least, though. The one time I specifically didn't leave a tip was when an ex and I went to Denny's really early in the morning after several hours in the ER. We paid for our meal in change and needed the remaining change for the bus ride home. I'm sure I might have held out an extra 3 hours until I got home, but I was really hungry so we got a meal out. I did leave a note for the waitress apologizing for not leaving a tip and thanked her for her service. I felt so horrible about it since I did think she deserved one.
by on May. 5, 2012 at 10:48 PM
Do you read EVERY WORD on the menu? I don't. I would've only been looking at food items and unrest it's posted in big, bold letters so that I don't miss it, I would miss it. I think they should be required to verbally notify the party, because some people don't read the whole menu, or they don't read signs in restaurants; I don't.
by on May. 5, 2012 at 10:51 PM
1 mom liked this

Quoting kleea1969:

Quoting gracieb3:

I think gratuity should end and restaurants should pay fair and legal standard minimum wage not the industry's service worker minimum wage. They then can give appropriate raises to staff with good reviews. Restaurants should charge more for their food and then their service would be covered so that they are responsible for handling the type of servers they have. It's not fair to the best servers they have poor tippers and it's not right to the customers about mandatory gratuities when the server can do poorly and get away with it. I pay well when it comes to gratuity whether my choice or required but I do think gratuity should be done away with as I've been part of large parties and seen decline in service for it. 

This wouldn't help the servers. If this was done it would kill people financially. I have friends, and family, that waitress and bartend, they normally make really good money. My niece is a dental hygienist, before she did this she was a waitress, and also a barmaid. When she went to work at the dental office she kept one night a week at the bar. She made at least half (sometimes more) of her day time jobs paycheck working one night a week at the bar. She couldn't give the quick money up so stayed on just one night a week and made a minimum of $200 dollars, minimum wage sure wouldn't do that for a person. Giving people minimum wage is not going to do any favors for a person that makes about $200.00 a night. Yes, tipping is an option but most people do tip, and employees in that type of business live off of the tips, not the pay.

I don't think excusing the restaurant from paying better than minimum wage is reason to maintain gratuity nor the required gratuity on large parities. Minimum gratuity is an oxymoron. Requiring a gratuity removes all graciousness for any service rendered and basically is a service fee regardless of service caliber. 

I realize many people live off of the cash they make as a server however most are illegally not claiming the true take home. Aside from the offset to the tax base is the huge disparity in equal compensation.  What is shameful is that a server can make $200 take home in one night and hard laborer or degreed professional can not make that in a few days. No need to think I'm just talking as I've been a well tipped server, a manual laborer, a desk job, an easy job and a degreed professional. The disparity in waitstaff pay should be corrected and tipping doesn't ensure fair pay for any. It leaves many a good staff performing their best while gambling the type of tippers they will get. 

Another thing that needs correction is the national minimum wage. It is far from a living wage. I realize these things would take monumental effort to correct but I am not the type to perpetuate a problem by excusing it for how it benefits some. 

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