This just happened today and I thought I’d send it in to see what the E-Hellers thought! I already have a prediction about the opinion split but will keep it to myself until the results are in 🙂
I work in an office of about 14 people. When I started last year, we were only 5 in this particular office and we got into the habit of going out for lunch together on Thursdays. Now that we’ve more than doubled our headcount, we still keep to this tradition. We work in a rather hipster part of town…old factory buildings, a lot of low-rises, beautiful exposed brickwork and smaller spaces. The restaurants also mostly independent and there are almost no chains. Lunch is harder with so many people. We rarely all go out at once but generally, we have between 7 and 10. Advance reservations are a must.
Service charges are fairly common in our area for a group of our size. The number varies; some restaurants add an automatic tip for parties larger than 6 (rare), others for 8 or more and yet others for 10+. At today’s restaurant the magic number happened to be 6. We were a group of 8. The waitress was pleasant and there were no complaints about the service. The bills arrived and of course, a service charge had been added. We weren’t told about it (not when we made the reservation, not when we were seated) but I believe it was printed somewhere on the menu. I say “I believe” because even though I didn’t notice myself, that’s standard practice. Most of the group didn’t bat an eyelid; we proceeded to pay our bills. One member of the group didn’t like being told how much to tip. To add geographical context, we are in Canada where he has not lived for long. He hails from Eastern Europe. He is not against tipping and I haven’t known him to be a poor tipper but the “automatic” part of the service charge really got his goat. He complained only to be told that it was restaurant policy. He asked to speak to the manager (who I know is also the owner) and was told that she wasn’t there. The waitress offered a business card saying he could call her. He did. The phone rang in the restaurant bar right behind us. At this point, a senior colleague took over and after a discussion, presented a new bill having redacted the gratuity. The waitress asked whether the service had been unsatisfactory and my colleague assured her that it had not; he just doesn’t like being told how much to pay for discretionary amounts. He was about to settle the bill but checked the total more carefully and realized it wasn’t correct. He asked for another bill and one was presented, this time with the correct total and the assertion that they weren’t trying to rip him off.
On re-reading, I can see how bland the text sounds even though I’ve listed events as they occurred! Therefore, I will give some additional insight. The waitress was polite enough through the transaction if a bit curt. This was probably through stress rather than rudeness. Another colleague later reported that she was close to, if not in, tears after we left. My tip-shy colleague was also not rude or abusive. He merely stated his point. He did actually leave a tip but one that he added himself. I believe the mistake in his bill was a genuine one but by then tempers were frayed and the confusion only added to the unpleasantness of the whole thing.
I’m not sure what to think! On one hand, service charges are expected for large groups. It’s a(n irritating) reality of the world we live in. On the other hand, I support his right to not have arbitrary charges added to his bill because the restaurant feels he will stiff the waitstaff. I believe the law states (I haven’t been able to find proper confirmation anywhere) that if the customer is clearly advised before hand, service charges are legal. It’s a bit unreasonable to expect that a customer will read a menu from cover to cover before ordering. Many restaurants I know will advise the person making the reservation of any service charge.
In any case, we’ve learned our lesson. In order to avoid a scene for the rest of us in the future, we will be sure to resolve this issue before we go to lunch with him! 0929-16
I’m of the opinion that none of us has a right to complicate other people’s lives unnecessarily. Your co-worker, despite his calm demeanor, created drama and unnecessary work simply for the right to determine his own amount he was willing to tip and having wasted time, emotions and more drama, he ended up paying what he would have paid in the first place. In essence what he did was make an issue of “how” the tip was derived, i.e. the process, and not the end result. So, in order to satisfy his personal need to have control just so he could end up at the same conclusion, he complicated life for the waitress and his co-workers.