15% added for parties of 6 or more, legally enforceable?

A recent thread on tipping has left me with this question. When you purchase a meal from a restaurant you are entering into a contract to pay for it. Usually that contract only covers the cost of the meal and applicable taxes, with tips being optional. They can ask you never to return if you don’t tip, but they can’t make you pay. Many places note in their menus that they will add a tip, usually 15 or 18%, for larger parties.

Is this legally enforceable? The bill will already have the tip on it. If I have terrible service: long waits, wrong orders, rude service, food spilled on me, can I just not include the the tip portion or am I responsible for paying it? Usually in such a case of bad service the manager would probably comp the whole meal, but say I had a complete jerk managing a terrible waitor. Have I legally stolen from the restaurant?

No Lawyer Me, but I’m guessing that if there is a clearly posted policy that they’ll be adding an amount to your bill, then by ordering, you’re accepting a contract to pay that amount. This might mean you are responsible to pay it regardless of level of service.

However, arguably (there was a thread about this recently) you have a legal basis to refuse to pay the restaurant anything if the service is bad enough. You’re not just paying for the food, you’re paying for the service and the restaurant experience. If they fail to deliver this competently, they have failed to deliver the product you were trying to purchase.

If the manager’s a total jerk and insists that you pay the tacked on gratuity, though, then you’ll have to make your case in court, and that’s probably not worth the effort.

Hopefully someone can cite some law on this. In the other thread, only British law was specifically cited, and I have yet to see any explicit Unistatian law on this one. (Are you in the U.S.?)


What Frylock said.

I understand the distress this kind of policy might cause, but as a server I was grateful for the opportunity to “grat” large parties. Because as we all know, when you go out with a group of people and you get the bill, by the time everyone throws their money in, you’re still short money. No one figures in tax and tip, and then either one poor sucker throws in more money because he’s the only one with a conscience, or they just stiff the waiter.

Also, bear in mind. When you enter a restaurant, you are subject to *that particular restaurant’s * policies. They have the right to refuse to serve you if, for example, your clothes don’t match the dress code, or something. If you’re a complete jerk, rightly or wrongly the manager is allowed to ask you to leave. By sitting down and ordering food/drinks in a restaurant that has a displayed policy, you are agreeing to abide by that policy.

Quick hijack:

People seem to think that Wal-Mart’s “the customer is always right” policy is a universal belief or law, but it isn’t. Obviously, treating the customer with 100% courtesy and respect and good service is the best business policy, but it doesn’t give the customer the right to assume they MAKE the policies. Yes, we want you to choose our business over someone else’s, so often we will bend over backwards to make you happy, but we don’t HAVE to. And if you disagree with a business’ policies, you as the customer do have the option, and the power, to choose to patronize a different establishment with procedures more to your liking.

The best option you have is to educate yourself on the policies of a business before entering into any sort of transaction with them.

/End of hijack.

Offer: We will serve you the following foods and charge you the following prices. If you are a party of 6 or more, we will charge you a fixed gratuity.

Acceptance: Waiter, I’d like to order the duck confit, the caesar salad (no anchovies) and the lobster stuffed ravioli. And let me have the white chocolate bread pudding for dessert, please.
Offer, acceptance, consideration (I presume I need not spell out the consideration from both parties). Yep, we have a contract! :cool:

Perhaps the perceived problem with such practices is that they are generally not very obviously advertised. Small print on the bottom of the alcohol section on the penultimate page of the menu isn’t really a very nice position to hide service charge information. On the other hand, any party of six or larger should automatically seek this information out because this is such a common practice for large parties.

If you don’t like the practice, do what I do: just pay the service charge. It saves me more than 25% on what I would have left without such a policy in the first place – that’s win-win.

Protest to manager and if not resolved, put him on notice that you will file a complaint with the credit card co. [IANAL] Otherwise pay the base bill in cash and walk out. It may result in a trip to court but the bad publicity would be bad for business. Call the media, they might find it of interest.

But when the duck is nasty, the salad does have anchovies, and there’s no real lobster meat in the ravioli, have they held up there end?

And, you forgot: “We will perpare you this food, served at the proper temp, within a reasonable time period, and with the skills and grace expected of professional waitstaff. That means we won’t be rude, or put our thumb in the soup, be too damn slow, won’t stare down your date’s dress too obviously, and will bring the food in a timely fashion”.

Contracts go both ways. They have to hold up their end, too.

The server, certainly.

You definitely have the right to dispute the check with the manager, but in the end, you owe what the check says, whether it’s the original check, or the manager-altered version after a dispute.

This is one of the considerations for it not being binding that I had considered, though I understand it is weak

There are many ways of resulving the issue. Here I am more concerned with the legality of the situation (though I admit that this is mostly academic as any manager worth his salt would reach an amicable solution with the customer).

These are exactly the reasons that I would think you would be obliged to pay. However, there is the additional consideration that the fixed gratuity may not be obvious (as mentioned by Balthisar), and that there may be some case law dealing with the idea of making a gratuity required. I could see it being the case that you cannot make that which everyone in the culture understands to be an optional payment a required one without explicitly informing people before they enter into the contract.

The server has held up their end of the bargain.

HOWEVER, there is no reason for you to pay for food that is terrible. Restaurants in general will respond gratefully should you bring something like that to their attention. If your food really is that bad, let the server and manager know, and you will likely get it for free. There’s no need to fight the tip, it’s the BAD FOOD you shouldn’t be paying for.

If the service was abysmal, ask to speak to the manager. More will be done for you this way than if you simply stiff the waiter or jump right into seeking legal assistance. In general, if the service was really that terrible, your 15% gratuity will be waived.

If, however, you’re just in a stink because you have to tip, that’s another story.

Agreed. Please see above.

Some citations of law would be good here, though I’ve had no luck in finding them.

I would expect that if food is served incompetently enough, then the terms of the contract have not been fulfilled.


Hardly a win for the server, who lost out on what would have been a bigger tip.

If you don’t send the food back then you accept it.

(I am not a lawyer but I play one on the Internet.)

Cite? We really have to pay for inedible food, served improperly? :dubious:

Some jurisdictions do regulate autogratuity notices.


I think some people are missing a point. If the menu says, “a 15% gratuity will be applied to parties of six or more”, then you will owe that money. If it says “a 15% gratuity will be applied to parties of six or more if you find your service acceptable” then you could refuse to pay it. I think some people are confusing what is expected of the staff, and the actual terms of the contract they just entered into.

Of course its reasonable to expect decent service, but if you agree to the terms of the “contract”, then you legally have to pay. You may have a civil case if the service is bad, but you could be charged criminally with theft if you don’t pay it. If you really feel the service was that bad, then pay the bill (with the gratuity added), and take them to small claims and tell the judge. I know it doesn’t sound like its worth the effort, but that’s the way it is.

When I was a waiter in a fine dining establishment we had on the bottom of the menu:
*Parties of 6 or more may be charged a 18% service charge.

It was the servers option to add the gratuity or “roll the dice”…I typically let the guest decide, usually payed off in the long run.


None of that is in the contract. A sales contract involves the selling of an item for money (food for your money). Now, you can complain to the restaurant about the food, the service, etc., and they may do something. But the contract is pay x$ for the widgets (food, in this case).

People always want to have things their way; you don’t want to pay an automatic gratuity? Go eat somewhere else. :rolleyes:

Case law. On a gratuity. Get real. :smack:

Now, if you wanted to go to, say, small claims court, or if you were fighting a charge of theft brought by the restaurant, you might attempt to establish lack of a contract because you weren’t reasonably on notice about the provision. However, I doubt you’d get very far. It’s usually pretty prominently displayed at the bottom of the menu, at least as prominently as the warning about eating undercooked food items.

And, as someone has noted, there may be state laws or local regulations that affect the practice, though with the exception of a very few localities (Santa Cruz, CA comes to mind), I cannot conceive of them prohibiting the practice.

Certainly, unless you and the establishment agree to a change. It’s known as “theft of service” and can actually be a felony in many places when the dollar amount is high enough.