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article imageOp-Ed: Diners locked in for not paying tip. Should gratuity be required?

By Leigh Goessl     May 4, 2012 in Lifestyle
Houston - Recently a woman and several of her friends went out with the intention to have a nice dinner at restaurant located in Texas. The night ended up not quite as well as they'd probably hoped.
Turns out the restaurant experience was not a good one, so the group did not want to provide a tip.
According to Houston's KPRC, Jasmine Marks went out with her friends to a restaurant called La Fisherman. KPRC reported Marks indicated, "the service was less than stellar; the wait staff was rude, their drinks didn't get refilled and they didn't receive their entire order."
So the group appears to have collectively decided the server did not earn the 17 percent automatically generated tip that came along with having a party of five or larger diners. Marks asked to speak to a manager.
"We asked her, could the gratuity be removed? Could we give our own tip? She said it was part of their policy and there was nothing she could do about," Marks told KPRC. "If you're not satisfied with the service, you shouldn't have to pay gratuity."
Marks and her friends paid the bill, but did not include the amount added for the tip. When the group tried to leave, it was reported the staff locked the door and called local police, citing an "unsettled bill." Eventually, the group paid the 17 percent gratuity because they just wanted to avoid problems.
The added gratuity was not a surprise to Marks and her friends, as La Fisherman, not unlike other restaurants, reportedly noted this displayed on the menus. The problem the group had appears to be with the service they were given.
This leads to a long debated question. Should a set percentage or amount of tipping of servers be required, even for larger groups?
In the U.S., tipping is customary, but this is not a consistent practice across the globe. However, for those regions where tipping is expected, should a required amount be set regardless of service? And, is it illegal or unethical to not leave a tip?
It appears there is some grey area in this type of situation. U.S. Federal law does not require tipped employees to be paid the standard minimum wage, and sets the dollar amount at $2.13. This, however, could vary by state, depending upon individual laws. Tips are expected to make up the difference in wages to meet regular federal minimum wage of $7.25 for jobs that fall under minimum wage laws. If the tips do not, it is the employer's responsibility to balance the difference if tips are short.
Time's Moneyland notes the differences between "service fee" and gratuity, indicating the former may not be as negotiable. The article cites many cases where a diner refused to pay a 'mandatory' gratuity, and charges against them were dropped.
The article does pose the question, however, if skipping on the tip is worth the hassle since the legal fees involved fighting it will end up costing more, provided the case is won, than the tip would have had it been paid.
Over time this debate has come up repeatedly, with one camp noting that servers depend upon the tips, since the minimum set rate is set so low for tipped employees. On the other hand, many feel that tips should be earned through good service. It has also been questioned whether or not some employees, knowing they are guaranteed a set amount, such as in the situation of a large group of diners, might get complacent with service.
In a 2009 New York Times piece, the author notes that tips are factored into overall operating costs, stating, "If restaurants paid their workers significantly more and took us off the hook for tips, they’d no doubt transfer the expense of those higher salaries to us, in the form of higher appetizer prices, higher entrée prices, steeper wine mark-ups, maybe even flat cover charges of some kind."
What would happen if a 'required' tip of 25 percent became standard policy, as some unsubstantiated rumors that are floating suggest? If this were to occur, does this mean restaurants would pass on this savings and allow consumers to enjoy lower prices on menus? If I were a betting person, I'd venture to say, probably not.
Should tipping be compulsory or truly be based upon service? Was it right for Marks and her friends to be locked in for refusing to pay the amount of the tip tacked onto the bill? What do you think?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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