5 Ways to Avoid Paying a Mandatory Gratuity for Bad Service

Photo (cc) by alberth2

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.

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