It’s buyer beware for parties of six or more, folks

By Kathryn Robinson March 31, 2010

A gentle nudge

You know how most restaurants will place an automatic gratuity on the tab for parties of six or more? Although I hear diners complain about this all the time—you know who you are, and are hereby formally invited to comment below—it makes ample sense to this frequent diner. Big tables usually linger longer, generate more heavy lifting, and soak up more of a server’s energy than the same number of diners at small tables. A server who gets stiffed at a big table loses an inordinate percentage of the night’s potential income.

But here’s what happened at my husband’s office gathering earlier this week.

He and some colleagues met for dinner at a watering hole near his office. (I’ve chosen not to single it out by name, because it’s far from the only perpetrator of this practice.) Since they numbered about nine, a gratuity appeared on the "tip" line when they got their bill.

Fifteen percent. Perfectly reasonable.

But below the tip line was another line, blank, marked "gratuity." For diners, presumably, so entirely swept away by the perfection of the service they felt compelled to add more.

"Sure we should have noticed," my slightly inebriated, plenty chagrined husband remarked when he discovered that virtually all of them, unaware, threw in another 15 percent. No server verbally pointed out that the gratuity was already added. Service was fine, but not over-15-percent fine.

In short, they all felt not only inebriated and chagrined—they felt hornswoggled.

Were they?

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