To Add Gratuity or Not to Add Gratuity?

November 14, 2013
November 14, 2013 Jay Skowron

“Should I add a gratuity?” This is the age-old question of every server who takes care of any table of 8 or more (or 5 or more in some restaurants; pick your poison.) On the one hand, it’s a guaranteed 18% of the pre-tax total. On the other hand, many servers give 25% tip service, and subsequently earn that percentage. It’s a roll of the dice either way: server kismet, waiter chicken, waitress roulette.

BUT – what about a two-top getting slapped with a gratuity?

Huh?

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Yep.

This actually happened last night as I ate sushi and enjoyed hot sake with my dining companion in San Francisco. Granted, we probably wouldn’t have gone to this particular restaurant if we didn’t have a Groupon.

Wait, a Groupon, you say? Ahh… now it begins to make sense.

So, two well-dressed, well-mannered guests had a gratuity added to their bill because they informed their server they would be using a Groupon. Would our server have added it had we not informed her we would be enjoying a discounted (if somewhat sketchy) meal?

My guess is… no.

Adding this gratuity was protecting the server against the accidentally (or intentionally) extra-frugal guest using the coupon, and tipping on the discounted amount… the bane of servers in restaurant break rooms everywhere.

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As a former server, I understand why she did it. I know the sinking feeling a server gets in the pit of their stomach when a table presents a coupon. Oh, crap, their inner monologue laments. I’m getting a smaller tip. I get it. I really do. I’ve even said that very same thing to myself. Here’s a somewhat-spirited discussion on Zagat’s blog about tipping on the original amount of a discounted guest check.

But here’s the thing – what our server did was sneaky and somewhat deceptive… and against most restaurants’ policies. And she didn’t inform us that she did it. In fact, I was in the process of writing in a slightly larger tip (based, of course, on the original total) than the gratuity she added when I noticed the “Service Charge” line on the receipt. Roll those dice!

Was she a good server? Yes. Friendly? Yes. Helpful? Yes! Would I have tipped more than the added gratuity? Absolutely! It’s not even the fact that she didn’t tell us about the gratuity… it’s more the fact that I was going to tip her more because I’ve been there, I understand the job, and she did her job well. Right up til the end. I felt… somewhat insulted.

So, she got her guaranteed 18%… and a slightly irritated guest that will probably not come back. Roll those dice – she almost got over 20% and a probable repeat customer!

What are your thoughts? Are servers in your restaurant ever allowed to add gratuity to parties of less than 5 (or 8)? Do you require them to inform the guest?

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Jay Skowron

Jay Skowron is the Founder and Principal of Hospitality Defender, specializing in social media marketing, online review management, websites, and process consulting. Jay has worked in the hospitality industry for almost two decades and is now passionate about helping restaurants and other hospitality businesses with guest satisfaction. He can be reached at jay@hospitalitydefender.com.

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