Sunday, September 03, 2006


We've all experienced moments when a sudden shock of recognition makes us want a do-over on an action just taken. For L.M. of Yorba Linda, Calif., it came the morning after she had hosted a birthday dinner for a group of 10 relatives and her husband at a restaurant at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

"We all had a wonderful time eating, drinking and celebrating," L.M. writes. "The service was good, but not outstanding. When the bill came, I added an appropriate 20 percent tip and charged the meal to my credit card."

L.M. was surprised when, as she was leaving, the waitress gave her a big hug. The next morning she had a good idea why.On the bill for breakfast, she noticed that a gratuity had been automatically added. When she checked her bill from the night before, she realized that she had added a tip to one that had already been charged.

When L.M. made the reservation, she was not told that because of the size of her party a gratuity would automatically be added. She wants to know if the restaurant has a responsibility to let its customers know ahead of time.

L.M. is right in thinking that it's good service to tell customers when gratuities will automatically be added. At many restaurants, a note to this effect is included on the menu.

But as long as the automatic gratuity was itemized separately and clearly on the bill for the meal, the restaurant technically fulfills its minimal obligation of informing the diner of the charge.

L.M. also wants to know if the waitress did the right thing by accepting the double gratuity without checking to see if it was an error. "Is it OK to take advantage of someone who is in the throes of entertaining guests who are celebrating a special occasion?" she asks.

The assumption that the waitress took advantage of L.M. and should have said something presumes she knew the double tip was a mistake. She easily could have thought that L.M. was simply being overly generous on this special occasion.

L.M. says that her letter to the manager of the MGM Grand's restaurant asking for clarity on the policy has gone unanswered. Even if the manager doesn't agree with L.M.'s complaint, it's wrong for him not to respond. That's just good customer service.

The right thing for the restaurant to do is to make its automatic-gratuity policy clearer to diners. On the Web site for its restaurants, there is a note that all parties over six must call ahead. When called, the restaurant representative should inform the customer when an automatic gratuity will be charged. The customer shouldn't have to ask.

But that doesn't mean that L.M. shouldn't be held responsible for paying the bill she signed off on. The right thing for her to do is pay it. You can bet that from now on she'll read her dinner bills much more closely, regardless of whether she's caught up in the celebratory moment.


Anonymous said...

I must say LM must be the type who dumbly signs her credit card bills without checking, especially necessary in a place like a restaurant, which are known to make mistakes and notorious for taking tips up front in group situations. Has she been living in a hole? I'm sorry, but people like LM blithely sign their bills without checking it over and then think they can blame the restaurant for not telling them up front about the preset tip. Was LM so inexperienced in restaurant eating that she didn't even consider being group billed for a tip? Some people are too clueless to be believed. You were exceedingly kind to be as understanding as you were!

Charlie Seng

Anonymous said...

Anyone who pays with a credit card has the responsibility to review their bill before accepting and signing it. Also, as far as restaurant bills; it is customary to add the gratuity automatically for large groups; not only should she have asked before hand if this was the case, she should have also asked what the amount was. This assures servers are treated fairly and tipped a minimum amount for the additional work on a large group.

Whether or not LM had the service she was expecting is a completely different matter. She has every right to mention (within an acceptable time frame)to the management her displeasure (and why) of the service and/or food. Allow the management to attempt to correct it. The management has no way to correct problems if they are unaware of them to begin with.

While it is an unfortunate incident; by alerting the management of service she felt was unacceptable, the management has an opportunity to "adjust the bill". If, when it is all done and said, and LM is still not satisfied, she has the ultimate recourse of contacting her credit card company while the amount is being disputed.

On a final note; the server probably did not realize that she had inadvertantly been tipped this amount; it appears she thought it was a geniune offer of a generous tip. Allow this one mistake and learn from it; servers aren't the rich folks in this country; allow the one mistake and watch the credit card bills more carefully in the future.


Anonymous said...

I was reading your article in this Sundays paper (Sept. 3, 2006), about L.M. of Yorba Linda, Calf. , and I have a few "sticky points" to reveal. Being in the restaurant business myself, I agree that a statement should be printed on the menu about large parties and gratuity, but first let me point out that in most cases a server only gets paid $2.13/ hr. , and relies on tips. Second, let me point out that automatic gratuity is printed out on the credit card slip, for the customer to see. And most importantly... many fine dining restaurants have a printed policy in their employee handbook that states, "a server shall not ever question a gratuity" ! good or bad ! So a server is really caught in a 50/50 situation. And I do agree, that the manager should have responded to her letter... that is GOOD BUSINESS, and ensures REPEAT business !
Thank You,
Jeff S.
Cols. Ohio