Critic's Notebook

The Diner’s Dilemma When Tip Is Included

With more restaurants tucking the gratuity into the bill, what to do when the service is lacking?

By Kathryn Robinson January 19, 2016

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Urbane sure is pretty though.

Last week Tom Douglas made headlines with his announcement that three of his restaurants—Dahlia Lounge, Palace Kitchen, The Carlile Room—will transition to a 20-percent-service-charge-included policy beginning February 1 after raising the minimum wage of his employees to $15, his other restaurants possibly to follow.

This comes on the footsteps of a national debate over tipping, in municipalities where an increased minimum wage ups the paychecks of servers once dependent on tips for the bulk of their income. Several restaurants in Seattle, including the Ivar’s and the Renee Erickson restaurant groups, have gone to this kind of gratuity-included pricing.

The question is: What should a diner do when he or she believes the server hasn’t earned that included gratuity?

“I have to say, it’s irritating to me personally,” writes a reader. "It makes me think twice about deciding where to dine.”

Recently he dined at Urbane, the restaurant inside the Hyatt at Olive 8 Hotel, where the automatic gratuity is listed on the menu. He and his guest had a curtain to catch at the Paramount, which they told their server as soon as they were seated. The server nodded understanding—then all but vanished, leaving the diners scrambling for beverage refills and increasingly checking the time. “We practically had to yell for him just to pay our tab, then finally gave up and had someone else process our bill,” the reader wrote. “Honestly, it was irritating to know he was getting a tip I’d normally only give for good service.”

What to do? In her piece on Douglas’ new tipping policy, Seattle Times restaurant reporter Bethany Jean Clement reports that Douglas offers a guarantee as part of the new plan: “If at any point your experience was not up to your or our standard of deliciousness served with graciousness, simply ask a manager for a refund of your bill.

The disgruntled Urbane diner just shakes his head, noting that that adds time the diner might not have—especially a diner with a curtain to make. Moreover, it places the onus on the diner to remove a charge, rather than allowing him the relative ease of withholding it from the start.It’s like taxation without representation,” he writes. “And you can’t vote privately and silently.”


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