Observations From a Tipless Restaurant, Postscript 2: Auto-Grat

This is a postscript to a series detailing what I learned from operating our farm-to-table flagship restaurant, the Linkery, as a “no-tipping” restaurant that instead charged a fixed percentage for service, from 2006 to 2013. During the writing of the series, I received a lot of great comments and questions that I’m covering in a few postscripts. Click here to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.

I have a couple, more involved, postscripts still to write, but it’s Friday afternoon so here’s an easy little nugget. Our former Director of Operations, who had read a couple online discussions about this series, messaged me to ask:

I’m curious why it seems that nobody has a problem with “parties of 5 or more will be subjected to a 20% service charge”, but, in the minds of some people, “parties of 1 or more will be subjected to an 18% service charge” is heresy?

In other words, it doesn’t seem like this can be a matter of principle, if the principle only kicks in with parties of four or fewer people.

I’d add that this is a particularly pointed question since the “auto-grat” for large parties is often not noticed by the guests — specifically, the server often doesn’t alert the guests — who may then tip another 20% on top of the automatic “gratuity”. On the other hand, the 18% service charge we charged all parties precluded any further tipping (there was no tip line on the credit card bill, and if you left extra cash it was donated to charity).

Also: catering. At least in these parts, it pretty much always comes with an 18-20% service fee, presumably to cover the waiters and bartenders.

Both the “auto-grat” and the service charge for catering and hotels are so standard that they’re specifically addressed in California sales tax law. Why would some people feel such an approach should be off-limits, applied to all guests in restaurants?

Click here to proceed to Postscript 3.