Going Underground

Page 3 of 3

Short answer, yes. It's perfectly all right for any restaurant to set any gratuity amount it chooses, provided a customer is notified beforehand.

Long answer, no. It's not all right. It's stupid, it's presumptuous, it's insulting and it leaves you with one simple recourse: Don't ever eat there again. Slapping on the automatic "gratuity" is tantamount to a restaurant punishing you for having a lot of friends or, even worse, for being willing to take all those friends out for a night on the town and drop a bunch of money to see them nicely fed and watered. And while it's become a fairly standard practice (the automatic gratuity on parties of six or more seems to average about 6 percent at mid-range places but can climb as high as 15 or 18), that doesn't mean it's right. Considering that most reasonable people tip at least 15 percent and that most reasonable people don't like being forced into paying a hidden charge they weren't expecting, the whole practice seems rather counterproductive. If some restaurant were automatically extorting 5 to 8 percent of my bill right off the top, I might be tempted to leave the tip right there.

But you shouldn't do that, because your server was likely not part of the idiot committee that came up with this practice and so shouldn't be punished for its result. The simplest solution (although it involves some math) is to subtract the automatic gratuity from the amount you'd normally tip, then add the rest to the tip line, sign off on the bill and find somewhere else to take your friends. But you could also tip your usual amount, then steal some silverware to make up for the "gratuity."

As for deliberately shorting a server who deliberately gives bad service -- for me, 15 percent is an insult-level tip. Anything less than that and I start feeling guilty and cheap, since most servers are working for less than three bucks an hour to start, and jerks gotta pay the bills, too. Even when the food is terrible and the space a nightmare, I generally tip in the 20 percent range because none of that is your server's fault.

For the record, I tipped 16.67 percent at Panzano (and that's on the total tab, including liquor and tax), so the waitress may not even have known she'd been screwed -- but hey, what matters is that it was good for me.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan