This post was originally published on Hospitality Defender.
By Jay Skowron
This is the age-old question of every server who takes care of any table of eight or more (or five 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?
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.
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 five (or eight)? Do you require them to inform the guest? Let us know in the comment section below!
About the author:
Jay Skowron is the founder and principal of Hospitality Defender LLC, a company focused on online review site management, guest experience, and social media marketing for the restaurant and hospitality industry. Having spent almost two decades in the industry, he has transitioned to helping businesses in the restaurant and hospitality space establish and maintain their online presence and help ensure their guests' satisfaction. Jay was quoted numerous times in the 2014 book The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement and is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He can be reached at email@example.com.