5 Ways to Avoid Paying a Mandatory Gratuity for Bad Service

These tips about tips can save you not only money, they might even save you a trip in the back of a police car.

Like most people, I have very strong opinions when it comes to tipping rates for various services that expect them. For example, I staunchly believe that 15 percent is an acceptable tip for good restaurant service.

It used to be that tipping was meant to reward and encourage your server for exemplary service. Unfortunately, with the advent of socialistic tipping pools and mandatory gratuities, now that seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

Indeed, one of my biggest pet peeves with respect to tipping is the “mandatory gratuity” (talk about an oxymoron) of usually 18 percent that most establishments now tack onto any bill for large parties.

Maybe it’s a sign of the depressed economic climate, but in 2009, one restaurant in Bethlehem, Penn., had two people arrested for refusing to pay a mandatory 18-percent gratuity.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the customers “had to find their own napkins and cutlery while their waitress caught a smoke, had to ask the bar for soda refills, and had to wait over an hour for salad and wings.”

That sounds like poor service to me – and if I were them, I would’ve simply walked out 30 minutes after ordering.

It’s hard to believe that these dubious scofflaws had criminal theft charges filed against them for failing to pay a mandatory $16.35 gratuity for lousy service – but they did. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have options available to them. They just chose the wrong one.

Customers have a lot of leverage – especially with respect to the highly competitive restaurant industry. Here are several suggestions you can use to help you avoid paying a mandatory gratuity for diabolical service…

1. Request the mandatory gratuity be waived

As a preemptive move, you can ask the restaurant if they’ll waive the mandatory gratuity. Why might they do that? Because you have a large party, and they might not be willing to risk losing your business, that’s why.

Here’s another reason: Some restaurants may jump at the chance to see their servers earn an even bigger payday. Suggest to the manager that, in lieu of waiving the mandatory gratuity, your party will tip more than 18 percent for excellent service.

2. Break up your party into separate tables

Breaking up your party into two or three smaller adjacent tables is another preemptive move that has the added benefit of offering the possibility of better service.

Think about it. When you are with a large party, a table for eight has to wait longer than a table for four because there are more meals that have to be prepared. A table of 16 requires an even longer wait.

And let’s face it: If you are in a party with 16 people, are you really able to converse with Aunt Edna who’s stuck at the far end of a chain of four tables? The reality is, most people are only socializing with the people who are sitting adjacent and across from them anyway.

3. Talk to your server

OK, enough for the preemptive suggestions. Let’s assume you’ve already sat down with your large party and your server is off to a bad start. Tell them about it! Of course, do it tactfully and with a smile. In my experience, this step is usually enough to nip any problems in the bud before they get too bad and you are forced to pay good money for bad service.

4. Inform the manager you’d like a different server

So you’ve talked to your server but you’re still not getting results? Then talk to the manager about the poor service and request another server.

Although it’s doubtful the manager will comply with your request, the odds are you’ll get him to help ensure the rest of your time at the restaurant goes as smoothly as possible. Oftentimes, a talk with the manager will result in some sort of compensation for your troubles, such as one or two comped appetizers or meals – which offsets a portion of the mandatory gratuity.

5. Dispute the tip with your credit card company

Let’s assume the manager has been unsympathetic to your plight, your meals were delivered cold, you never got those drink refills, and the server had an attitude. Now you’re looking at an 18-percent mandatory gratuity for the, um, fine service.

Calmly pay for the entire bill, including the mandatory gratuity, using your favorite credit card. Don’t pay for the bill in cash! Then, when you get home, immediately send a polite letter to the offending restaurant complaining of the poor service you received and requesting your tip money back. After that’s done, call your credit card company and dispute the mandatory gratuity.

The customers in Philadelphia aren’t the first people ever arrested for failing to pay a “mandatory gratuity.” In fact, a similar event occurred several years ago in Lake George, N.Y., but charges were dropped when the district attorney said the man could not be forced to pay a gratuity even though the restaurant said tips of 18 percent were mandatory for parties of six or more.

Just remember, whenever you’re faced with having to reward incompetent servers with an 18-percent gratuity for pitiful service, you don’t have to make yourself a martyr and expose yourself to a potential criminal conviction or a costly civil trial over a little chump change.

There are plenty of other options available to you – and they’re more effective too.

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

I know... every site you visit wants you to subscribe to their newsletter. But our news and advice is actually worth reading! For 25 years, I've been making people richer without making their eyes glaze over. Take 5 seconds and join our family by clicking here. You'll be glad you did. I guarantee it!

More Money Talks News


  • geovanny gallardo

    15 percent is not  good tip, to the writer if you ever worked doing the job i don’t think you would be able to pay your bills making 4.25$ per hour. The only way to make money is for good customer that do appreciate the service industry. I don’t agree either to automatically put the tip in there when you as a server know that you haven’t given a proper, good and helpful service

    • Heather Jacobs

      @google-f74bfbcb5824ebab834fd7a6d9e61c1f:disqus -if 15% gratuity isn’t enough for you then you are driven to work harder for a larger tip or find a different profession.

      • Heather you are first on the list for a mandatory month of work in a restaurant. 15% is a base tip. And until you have dealt with it you really don’t know. You can give the most outstanding service and get no tip, so working harder is a crap response. Bottom line if people weren’t always trying to justify doing what is wrong so they can screw over another person the world would be a lot better place.

    • brianguy

      get a better job and stop complaining.  it doesn’t matter if you “think” 15% is a good tip or not.  it is… provide better service and you’ll likely get 20% or more on a regular basis.   I don’t mind if a restaurant wants to put on the bottom of a receipt a printout of what 10% or 15% or 20% of our check would be, makes our job that much easier.  but bottom line, tipping is completely voluntary. some servers barely deserve anything they’re so bad.

      • The fact that you say the 10%, 15% or 20% is needed at the bottom of the check speaks volumes to the quality of your stock.

    • italianpride623

      I agree. I tip 15 % for below average service. 20% is standard & over 20% for extremely great service. The restaurant I serve at doesn’t tack on gratuity for parties and you can have 30 sep checks for parties.. which is crazy to me BUT that’s how it goes.. and if you want all those sep checks (and service was good) you should KIND enough to leave 18-20% grat!

  • How can you arrest someone for not paying for a service that was never given with a charge that is not mandatory? That PA restaurant owner needs to be fined for wasting the police’s time. 

  • Anonymous

    why don’t they just put an end to tipping and just charge us enough for the food so they can make a decent profit and pay their workers better. If you charge me $10 for meal you have no right to force me to pay additional money for “service”.  Pay your workers a better salary!

    • I am a server and I know that in Australia that is what they do.  If you don’t tip a server why the hell would they even TRY to give you service? They will drop off your food and that’s it. The reason we try to be social and get your drinks full and be helpful is FOR THE TIP.  

  • David Cochran

    Geovanny the server needs to find another job. It’s not the customers fault the establishment doesn’t pay well. Way too many servers give marginal service.

    • brianguy

      Christopher too.  is it just me, or did service actually seem to get WORSE in the last few years overall, during a BAD economy?  ridiculous.  most customers just ask that you have half a clue, take our order in a decent amount of time, bring us hot food, and refill our drinks every so often.  it’s not that hard.

      • I no longer wait tables, I did so to make money for college. So sorry you feel the need to personally attack me brianguy. Sorry if I pointed something out that you obviously feel guilty about. referring to your earlier comment that you “cheerily left 9%” sounds like a dick move to me. Let me guess, frat boy with a tiny wang that has to pick on people you think you are better than to make yourself feel better. You sure have posted quite a bit about how much bad service you get at restaurants, are you sure it isn’t you and not necessarily every establishment you frequent?

  • Anonymous

    The problem is the greedy restaurant owners. Once again, those in the restaurant industry are looking to cut wages!  Most restaurant servers (at least where I live) get paid less than three dollars an hour.  They make their money on tips. I’m not saying to pay for horrible service. No one should.  For those that give good service, remember:  they usually have to split their tips (tip out) to others as well:  the busboys, the bar back, the hostess, etc.  Sometimes even to the manager! 

  • Obviously this so called reporter/commentator as well as most of the people commenting here, have never worked in a restaurant. It is by no means an easy job and most of the people who complain about gratuities are cheap and generally the most difficult people to wait on. to the “reporter” unless you were in the party you reference, you should take it with a grain of salt. I will repeat because this cannot be stressed enough the most demanding restaurant customers are also the cheapest and the first to complain about tipping. Here is a thought if you can’t/don’t have the desire to tip keep your cheap ass*s at home, so the server can actually have someone at their table who understands that dining out involves tipping at least 15%, now 18% due to inflation. If you would rather go to the european system where the dining out is much more expensive because they actually have to pay the servers a decent wage and therefore tipping is rare, we can do that but you cheap ass*s would squeal about that as well. Oh and your suggestion about splitting up the tables good luck, these same difficult patrons are usually not flexible in the slightest. Every person in this country should have to serve in the military, wait tables for a month and do some other form of menial labor so they won’t be so quick to write or agree with bullsh*t such as has been presented by this this so called reporter.

    • brianguy

      I got very poor service last week at a local popular joint — I couldn’t even get them to bring us two waters, and the waitress also ignored us for 15 minutes at another point in the meal.  pitiful.  this was after I waited for a table inexplicably for 10 minutes while the place was basically empty and open for dinner.

      we were the second ones to sit down in the entire restaurant, and they had at least  four waiters/waitresses working so it shouldn’t have been that hard.  I cheerily left the gal a 9% tip on a $55 bill…and she deserved it.   for the record I always leave 15% for average service, and round up.  so your comment is quite misguided.  

      I bet the places you regularly dine at don’t even have utensils on the table…  oh, and I’m sure you declared 100% of your tips on your taxes from your job (sarcasm in case you couldn’t tell).

      •  As if I need to justify anything to you, I actually worked in a restaurant where we had to claim 100% of our tips, so suck on that chump as*.They wouldn’t serve your kind in the restaurants I dine in because they require that your knuckles not be dragging on the ground and clothing is not optional, being smeared in excrement is not a suitable substitution.

      • Dude you are so a troll. Being contrary for the sake of being contrary is so passe. If your comments here were not meant to be inflammatory then maybe you should watch where else you post. Anyone ever hear the story about the boy who cried wolf?

    • Most good restaurants are not going to tolerate poor service, if they do, go somewhere else. Restaurants go out of business at such a high rate for a reason. Chances are if the food is great the service will be as well. Upgrade the establishments you frequent and the service issue will no longer be a problem. Also take into account what exactly you are expecting from a server as well, keep your expectations reasonable. If you go somewhere and you see one person trying to handle more than 4 or 5 tables, you are likely in for less than stellar service. Keep in mind dining out is supposed to be an experience, so many people today just go into a restaurant because they want food and they don’t care what it is and they usually want it fast. If that is your MO go to a fast food restaurant. Dine out (at a sit down establishment) only when you are not in a rush, keep your expectations in check and you may be pleasantly surprised. If you are the kind of person who guzzles down your beverage the second it hits the table and then bitch that it takes 10 minutes to get another, do us all a favor and just stay home, I say this as a former server and a witness to this abhorrent behavior on more than one occasion. Finally, look around where you are, how long did you have to wait, are they overworking the staff, remember you are not the only guest in the restaurant and more than likely not the only one your server is waiting on.

    • Christopher, you are a piece of work BOY. You must be one of those usless workers. I have to say I agree 100% with this artical, and I have worked in the restaurant buisness for more than 3 years !! As for being the prude non-tipping type, hardly ! Just yesterday we were at a place. Our final bill was $26 and the service was great and freindly. And for her fine work and freindlyness she was acomidated for it. We left $35 in case you can’t understand, that is $9 about a 35% tip! I bet you NEVER received a tip like that. She did everything and diserved the tip. Had that of been manditory, all she would have received is the 18%. I will reserve my  right to choose if you do or don’t dserve a tip even if at all. The next time I go to a place, I will use these suggestions and if they are obliged, I will stay. If not I will leave. Let this be a lesson to you !!! Get your baby whining ass to work and you may get a tip, or not.

      • It really is amazing how a-holes like you get so upset when someone defends people that are generally treated badly and looked down upon for what they do, obviously you harbor some feelings of guilt for your own shortcomings. I never said you should have to tip for bad service, but I did indicate that people need to get a clue when it comes to the job and what is and is not the servers fault. Basically this reporter gave a bunch of cheap losers ideas for things to complain about or more excuses to not tip properly than they already had. I bet you are the kind of person who holds the server responsible for the slow kitchen or even the food you may not like the taste of so don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back for your so called great tipping skills. BTW sucking dick in restaurant bathrooms does not count as working in the restaurant business for more than 3 years.

    • Wow, after I posted to your comment, I read the rest and realized how much of a whiny litle baby you really are. You ARE a piece of shit, not a piece of work. I am sorry I wrote work before, so let me clairify again, “SHIT” you are !!!! Get lost LOSSER !!!!

      • TROLL! calm down there troll bryan, this has you so upset that you can’t even spell. 

    • Anonymous

      I have. And there is no excuse for the shoddy service that many large groups, or the smaller groups seated next to them, recieve exactly becuase they know that they are going to recieve a large tip regardless of how they do thier jobs. That is not by any means to say that most staffs do this it is only to say that the ones that do cause unnecessary difficulties for the ones who do provide exemplary service. It is also to say that as long as you tell me there is a mandatory gratuity beforehand then I will have no problem paying it. But I have been to a restaurant with my three children, who on this occasion were very well behaved, and their father and I asked specifically if we would have a mandatory gratuity added on and were told no. When the check arrived at the table a 25% gratuity had been added, now we had decent service but by no means was it what I would call good let alone exemplary, and I called the manager over explained my position and the manager and I reached an agreement. She had added on the gratuity herself by deliberatly setting up the appetizer as another diner on the ticket. Needless to say the manager agreed to remove the gratuity and dealt with the waitperson.

      • Let’s get something straight, I am not making excuses for sub par waitstaff, if they are bad you speak to the manager. Generally the weaker servers do not get large parties, if you worked in a restaurant you should know this. As I have said in another comment, If the food is great you can usually count on great service. A great chef or a good manager isn’t going to tolerate bad service. Everyone on here keeps bringing up extremes in poor service, does it happen, yes, if it does speak to a manager, but make sure what you are complaining about is actually the server or the server fault. I will reference the guy who had to wait for a table for what he considered to be too long, is that the servers fault, absolutely not, but I bet you he took it out on the server. The point of almost every comment I have made here has been: don’t expect to go out for dinner without tipping at least 18% for standard service, tip more for exceptional, and try to be aware of what is going on. Is what you want to complain about truly the servers fault? I personally have walked into a restaurant assessed the situation and gone somewhere else because I could see that they were not going to be able to provide the service I expect. It is all about choices people, not about being petty and cheap and taking out your bad day or your overblown expectations on the  poor server. Up until now I haven’t mentioned that large parties also will take up a servers entire section for a good portion of an evening, couple that with people who want to find reasons not to tip properly and it is a big FU to the server. I’ll finish by adding, don’t piss off the people who handle your food, I have seen (not done, seen) food go from the floor to the plate and let’s not even get into bodily fluids, If you have a real issue by all means bring it up with the manager. If you ever really worked in a restaurant you know exactly what I am talking about.

    • I totally agree with your opinion of mandatory military service, it would be the best thing for our country.  I also agree that Americans would benefit from working in the food industry and/or work a menial job.  I did all of these things.  However, what I’ve discovered by doing these things is that they are, in fact, as you say “by no means an easy job.”  So, here’s what I did……..I GOT THE HELL OUT OF IT.  Don’t complain about your job because others make it hard for you, get a new job, one you enjoy.  If you really did serve our great country, and do the “menial jobs” that to imply, then you wouldn’t be here bitching about how bad people treat food servers, you would have been long gone from those places, like I and most people did in those circumstances.  If you can’t handle public service, being treated like crap, expecting to be dumped on at any point in the performance of your CHOSEN profession, then GET OUT OF IT, do something else, please.  You’re the food server who complains about the guests, the one who makes it hard for your, and your employers guest’s, to enjoy the entertainment and good experiences.  I am always extremely polite to my food servers, always tip 20% (ALWAYS!), and I still have been shit on by servers like you, who simply want to be able to do your job the way that you think it should be.  Food service, like military service, is not about you, it’s about others.  Again, I beg you, find another profession, I don’t ever want you to wait on me, no matter how good you believe you are at customer service, I simply don’t see that being true based on your comment.   

      • blah blah blah. I do not work as a server. Had you really bothered to take the time to read the comments I made, that would have been clear. So funny that whenever you stick up for people who generally are abused and taken advantage of in this country you sure draw a lot of ire. You should really go back and read your own comment, it makes you sound like an ass, if you really believe people should expect to be treated like shit when they work serving the public then I truly feel sorry for you and would like to scold your parents for raising such a narrow minded neanderthal.

  • brianguy

    went to a restaurant about 10 miles from my house last week.  they were very rude about giving us the table we’d patiently waited 30 or 40 minutes for, for an early weeknight dinner, and then tacked on the shameful 18% for our party of 6 without completely disclosing it ahead of time.  normally I expect it for parties of 8, but anyway we ordered a LOT of food and appetizers, so with soft drinks, 2 beers at our table, and tip it came out to right around $30 a person (plus an extra dollar and change).    

    the service was fine, but when it came time to pay the check, 2/3rds in cash, and the rest split on 2 credit cards, we had to wait over 10 minutes for the gal to come collect it and bring us our cards back.  then, she rudely quipped “uhh, I’m $2 short”.  I already had the $2 in my hand I’d simply forgotten to put on the tray at the end of a long meal and long work day.  So I handed it to her and she brought me back the obligatory 39¢ change (hey, keep it at this point…)

    but then came the kicker, if the steep prices and slap in the face with the tip wasn’t enough, we asked her to bag up 2 out of the 3 portions of leftovers three separate times before she acted on it.  she finally said “OK” and we watched her whisk them away and then suddenly reappear with a doggy bag.  imagine when my wife and I got home and half of our leftovers (the one my wife was really looking forward to eat, most of which was intact) were missing.  she just threw them away.  we were celebrating a friend’s accomplishment, but celebrating or no, last time I go to that place.  there are a lot of similar restaurants competing for our business that are equally capable of serving us, better prices have little wait, and have basically the same menu.  vote with your wallet and your feet.

  • Christopher, stop commenting. Your usless babble is bothering every one !!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • bothering who? are you now so full of yourself that you think you speak for everyone? 

  • oh also Christopher, your inflation comment is rediculous. The price of the meals already went up and therfore so did your tip. If you don’t understand, Higher priced meals meens your tip will increase also .

  • When it comes to larger parties I don’t agree with this.  The server might be trying very hard and SHOULD get the “18%” added. And by the way it is most likely going to be 18% before tax which is more like 15% which I feel is a poor job of service, anyway.  I feel if the server was RUDE that is another story.  The server could have been working their ass off but they have a party of 15 that is very picky and rude.  For example if I ask the table, “does anyone need anything?” and no one answers -then I go back to the table and check up on everything and one person says they need something. No big deal.  But if I ask that question before leaving the table and not getting an answer and get one thing then comeback and someone else needs something. THAT”S when it’s BS. I make 10 trips for the table when I could have made one or two.  As a large party you need to pay attention to the server so that they may give good service.

Check Out Our Hottest Deals!

We're always adding new deals and coupons that'll save you big bucks. See the deals to the right and hundreds more in our Deals section.

Click here to explore 2,091 more deals!