The Inquirer ran an AP story out of New York on Sunday entitled “Strategies for Getting All Waiters Their Due.” It discussed the measures some are taking to ensure that restaurant servers are being tipped adequately. As an extreme example, the article noted that the restaurant Per Se in New York caused a public outcry last year when it began the practice of automatically charging a 20 percent gratuity, or “autograt” as it is sometimes called, on every single check, not just on checks for large parties.
Apparently, at least one Philadelphia restaurant employs the practice of automatically charging a 20 percent gratuity on every check. What troubled me, though, was the way I learned about it.
On Labor Day, my wife and I had dinner at Pizzicato at the corner of 3rd and Market. It was just the two of us. Pizzicato is located in a heavy tourist area, so you might not expect that the food would be anything to write home about. But the food at Pizzicato, in fact, is quite good (the sausage ravioli in a rich cream sauce was impressive). When the check came, though, I noticed that a 20 percent gratuity had automatically been added to the bill. I was surprised because I do not believe the menu disclosed that a 20 percent gratuity would automatically be added to every bill. Given that this practice is uncommon, one would expect that a restaurant would take extraordinary care to make sure its customers are fully informed of the policy long before the check arrives.
What happened next was even more interesting. Normally, when the server returns with the credit card slip for you to sign, he or she leaves the check in the jacket. In this instance, when the server returned with the credit card slip, the check had been removed from the jacket. The check was the only evidence showing that we had already been charged a 20 percent gratuity, and we did not have it when we were presented with a credit card slip that had a line for a tip. Had I not examined the check carefully when it was first presented, I would have left what would have been a second tip. Granted, there could be perfectly reasonable and innocent explanation for why the server removed the check from the jacket. But the fact that it was missing when it came time to the fill out the credit card slip was troubling to me in light of the apparent failure to disclose this uncommon tipping policy earlier in the evening.
I’m sure I’ll return to Pizzicato; the ravioli was good enough to get me back in the door (it was in a cream sauce, after all). Going forward, though, here are a few suggestions for restaurants and customers.
- Fully disclose your tipping policy. If, for example, you charge a 20 percent gratuity automatically on every check, make sure your customers know about it before they place their orders. Set forth the policy clearly in your menu. Instruct your servers to tell your customers about it. Whatever it takes. You don’t want your customers to be surprised; there are too many other restaurants out there for us to choose from.
- Keep the check in the jacket when you return it to the customer to get his or her signature on the credit card slip. If you have an uncommon tipping policy, it will help to remove the appearance of any impropriety.
- Make it your responsibility to learn the restaurant’s tipping policy. Ask about it when you make reservations, ask your server about it when you are seated, and/or review the menu for disclosures about the restaurant’s tipping policy.
- Carefully study the check to determine if a gratuity was added automatically. If it was and you feel that the gratuity is sufficient, just write the word “included” on the tip line of your credit card slip.
- Finally, leave a respectable tip. The 2007 Zagat guide says Philadelphians are the nation’s highest tippers (19.4 percent of the bill), so I know I’m preaching to the choir. But this reminder may help to keep your name out of databases like this one.
Photo credit: Gothamist