why auto gratuities shouldn’t work…but they do.

A friend of mine that lives in LA told me that they were at the Roosevelt Hotel bar and their bar bill for two drinks had an auto gratuity added.  This friend has worked in the restaurant industry for a long time and knows that auto gratuities are normally only added to large parties.  Quick math told them that two people shouldn’t constitute a large party so they asked the bartender why there was gratuity added?  The bartender, who seemed offended to be asked, replied that their policy is to add gratuity to every bill.  Of course, their policy didn’t seem to include the requirement to tell the customer this when presenting the bill since my friend had to find out by mistake (it’s easy to overlook a large bar bill in LA).  After this explanation my friend paid and left.

When the story was retold to me I was surprised at the policy (and the attitude).  I know my friend knows that they don’t have to pay auto gratuities if they don’t want to (even if it IS a large party) so I asked why they didn’t refuse to include the tip.  To which they replied with just a certain look that says, “Come on…” and I knew right away what they meant.  Most people would be too embarrassed to question a tip much less refuse to pay one unless the service is truly awful.

The problem with auto gratuities is that they assume a certain amount of service is provided, but no one is really checking.  So if the service sucks no one is going to take the auto gratuity off.  Guess what?  When the server knows auto gratuity is included…their service is usually below standard.  Naysayers can of course argue this point with their personal stories of when they were a server and they “ALWAYS gave great service” (which is impossible by the way), but in my 20+ years working in this industry I can confidently say that most if not all servers “call it in” when they know there’s an auto gratuity.

Now before any of you get up in arms about the merits of tipping let me say that I think tipping is appropriate.  However, I think that it should be solely up to the diner on what the tip should be.  Does that mean that the server runs the risk of getting less than 18 to 20 percent, or worse getting stiffed?  Yes.  However, I have said it before and I’ll say it again.  If you’re a good server (or bartender) you’ll make good tips at the end of the day.  Besides when was the last time ANY server refused a tip because they knew they gave bad service?  Auto gratuities should die a slow painful death.

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