About a year ago I went out to breakfast with some friends. We were hung
over and starving. It was a weekday, and definitely past noon, but we
found a Mexican restaurant that was still serving breakfasty things.
There were six of us and we all paid separately. I rarely look at the
itemized receipt, but I happened to glance at it this time.
It seemed high. I'd only had a couple of breakfast tacos and a
margarita. There at the bottom, after the tax was an automatic gratuity
charge. Had the waitress not liked us? Over half of our party worked in
restaurants, didn't she think we would tip appropriately? These feelings
that flooded me momentarily were ridiculous, of course. How could she
possibly know that we were service people? Why would that matter? There
were six of us, and she was covering her ass.
I remember being on the other side of things, when a coworker was
contemplating adding the automatic gratuity (15% where we worked at the
time). He thought the table might tip more if he didn't put it on. At
the time it struck me as the stupidest thing I'd ever heard. I'd
recently come from a restaurant that didn't allow automatic gratuity at
all. After a couple of ten person tables with $300 checks that left less
than a 5% tip, I vowed to never hope for the best when the stakes were
so high. But after being auto-gratted myself, I understand the
unpleasant feeling the practice seems to ignite. I think that sometimes
you will make more if you leave it up to chance (what is *with* all this
gambling? I think I need a new profession).
I can honestly say, that no matter how poor my dining experience, I've
never been able to not tip. When I had the worst dinner of my life at
Polvo's – my waitress stank (not literally), the food wasn't good, my
bill was wrong, etc. I still talked myself into a solid 20%. I usually
try to give my server the benefit of the doubt, but in this particular
instance, there was no doubt that she did not give a shit about her job.
I know it's dumb, but I still couldn't get over the fact that she's only
making $2.13/hour, and how shitty that is. In retrospect, I wouldn't
leave her 20%, she really didn't deserve it. But I still can't see
Recently we had an Austin Cut meeting at Spiderhouse. It was a Friday
night, they were busy, and we had eight people in our party. Our waiter
was OK. I say OK because there is no way he would make it at any other
full-service restaurant, but compared to every other customer service
experience I've had at this place (when I found a fly in my tequila the
bartender looked at me blankly and said “oh, weird”) he did a damn good
job. Our food took forever, and he apologized profusely and even gave us
a free appetizer. When the check came, I was only bummed about the
automatic gratuity (18%) for about half a second. That weird feeling in
the pit of my stomach and the insecurity-driven feelings of “he doesn't
like me?!” were almost instantly replaced with “duh, it's Friday night
and there are eight of us.” One of our staffers, who I won't mention by
name, was pissed about the automatic gratuity. He's a waiter, and is all
about customer service – as am I and anyone who is worth a damn in the
restaurant industry. My unnamed friend didn't feel like we got very
awesome service and said that no matter how many people were in a party
at his restaurant, if he didn't take the best-ever care of them, he
wouldn't auto-grat them.
In a busy restaurant, a lot of things can go wrong that make service
slow. Cooks can mess up orders and tickets can get lost. Your server
depends on a lot of people to make your experience perfect, and things
often happen that are out of your server's control. I think just by
going out on a Friday night, you're asking for less than par service,
unless you're going somewhere sort of fancy. I didn't mind in the
slightest paying my 18% (and slipping a couple extra bucks when the rest
of our disgruntled table wasn't looking). When it comes down to it,
things would have to be worse than they were at Polvo's for me to
complain to a manager. And that's really the bottom line. If your dining
experience is bad enough for you to complain to a manager, then you
shouldn't have to tip, if you don't want to. If you don't feel the need
to see the person in charge, then you should just pay your bill, whether
the tip is on it or not.
Restaurants make an automatic gratuity policy (usually for parties of
six or more) because large parties are a pain and are hard to
accommodate, especially when it's busy. Large parties put additional
stress on the kitchen. And a big table will fill up a server's section,
making up a significant part of their income for the night. As far as
restaurant owners are concerned, a big table that stays long after
they've finished eating means no turnover, or less food sold. What it
comes down to is that, financially, (for servers and owners alike) a big
table is a higher risk. Automatic gratuity is there to protect employees
from getting financially fucked.
In regards to my coworker gambling his tip on a large table, however
risky it may have been, he was right. Getting auto-gratted feels bad.
Not all of us can rationale our way out of those negative feelings.
Sometimes, you'll make more if you don't demand your money up-front.
But, sometimes you'll get seriously screwed. My problem is: I don't like
to gamble, but I wanna win big.