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In The Weeds: More Than Six People Can’t Do Math

December 22, 2009

Tis the season for drunken corporate Christmas dinners, dysfunctional family holiday dining and large-party automatic gratuities!  You know, parties of 6 or more will be charged an automatic gratuity of 18%.  Servers are all like, “That’s right bitches!” and diners are all like, “Oh no you di’int just add a tip to my bill!”

Ah, yes, the automatic gratuity.  Or service charge.  Or auto grat, if you’re street.   Whatever you call it, it remains one of the most disagreed upon topics in the food world.  Diners understandably hate it because they like to operate under the illusion that they are in complete control of the dining experience and that waiters must have the proverbial carrot dangled in front of them to perform with even a modicum of competence.  Guests love to say that they’ll get crap service because the waiter knows a tip is included.  More often, as my message board Internet research shows, guests have gotten burned on service and then burned again by having to pay an auto grat.  In those cases, I suggest the diners inform the manager of their complaints.  It will most always be removed.  Managers love to be heroes.  And they love to write people up and/or fire them.  So it’s a win win for everybody, really.  Well, except the server.  But he sucked anyways.

From the restaurant’s perspective, they are attempting to protect their servers (such a rarity) from being underpaid, something that happens often with large parties with a single payer and nearly all the time with large parties who “all throw in.”

A single payer is often so shocked at how much it costs to feed more than 6 people, he attempts to save money on the tip line.  Or he sees his bill for $600 and thinks $120 is way too much to pay a waitress.  Certainly she’ll be happy with $80.  That’s a lot of money for a girl!  Diners don’t realize that a large table is often the server’s only table and that we have to tip out the support staff of hostess, bartender, food runner, server assistant, and silver polisher.  Sidenote: Some places, I don’t want to name names but let’s just pretend it’s The Capital Grille, require the servers to pay the guy who polishes the silverware so they don’t have to.

As for “all throw in,” attempts…..c’mon.  I work in the restaurant biz and can’t even organize a successful “all throw in” when dining with friends.  It’s just too much math and stuff after a few glasses of bubbly.  Plus, nobody remembers that they did indeed order that second beer and had an upcharge on their side substitution.  They just think, “Okay, I had the salmon for $12 and one drink so I’ll throw in $18. That should do it. ” Add in taxes and the cheap friend who hopes nobody will notice they shorted the stack and f’ing forget it – there is never enough there to even cover the bill so you have to start all over again.

Having said all that, I am against automatic gratuities.  They create a sense of distrust between the server and the guest.  If you are a good server, you will work just as hard if not harder to create an amazing experience with an auto grat.  You win some, you lose some but it all tends to even out over the long run.  But then again, we didn’t have them at The Capital Grille unless the party had a contract with a set menu.  I might change my tune if I had to work at Denny’s or TGIFreaky’s.  Call me elitist but you know parties of 6 or more at Shoney’s definitely need some strict small-print guidelines on how to properly tip…and groom…but that’s beside the point.

If The Capital Grille servers were feeling a little nervous about not getting 20% from a large party, there were a few tricks to deal with that.  When delivering the check before he sees the total, “For your convenience, Mr. Parker, I can include a service percentage on your final copy.” Ready to leave and wanting to move along, “Uhh, sure, that would be great.”  Followed by the bonafied clincher, “What percentage would you prefer?”  When the question is phrased as a percentage, nearly every guest will instinctively say 20%.  Done and done.

So my dears, Merry Christmas and remember that Jesus is the reason for the season.  And What Would Jesus Do?  That’s right, tip 20%.


5 Responses to “ In The Weeds: More Than Six People Can’t Do Math ”

  1. Paige on December 22, 2009 at 10:49 am

    Charity, I like the article, but I will have to come to the defense of the polisher. On any given day, busy or slow, that is the one person that i would gladly pay my hard earned money to. You were never at the Grille when we had no polisher. After your shift was “done”, you then had to spend another hour, sometimes more during the holidays after your shift to get caught up. Even more, you had to take time away from your tables to go back and polish throught the shift just to get the items needed. So again, the polisher is my best friend at the end of the night. :)

  2. cj on December 27, 2009 at 7:08 pm


    Could not agree more! Love me some polishers…I always overtipped Jesus because he was amazing and had the most physically intolerable job in the house. And yet, he was always smiling. I’m simply saying that it is an absolutely INTEGRAL role at a restaurant like The Cap G, yet the company does not want to pay for it themselves. They would rather have the servers pay for it. Like you said, if servers have to polish, it takes time away from the guests and we can’t find any clean steak knives when we desperately need them. So guests at a VERY expensive steakhouse can’t have a clean knife unless the servers pay someone to clean them. Tuh huh?
    Love you as always and Merry Christmas Paige!


  3. Bear on December 28, 2009 at 12:36 am

    I was fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on point of view) enough to wait tables in college and never forgot how many people it takes to put a really good meal on the customer’s table and esecially a large group. 18% is a joke for parties of more than 6 and I believe in 30% as a reasonable tip. The second part of the tip is just as important though; smile, call your server by name, joke around good naturedly and show some courtesy and respect, just the same as you would like them to do with you.

  4. Slydo on December 31, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    On the flip side, I once treated my people to a Christmas dinner at the local wing joint (I owned a dry cleaner – to my folks the place may as well have been the Capital Grille). Anyway, $600 tab and I leave a $150 tip. A week later I’m going over my receipts and see the 18% gratuity that had already been added, meaning I was tipping on the tip. All told, I left a 48% gratuity. Happy Holidays!

  5. Mama H on January 3, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    I absolutely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your blogs!!! I just found them today, I wish there was a way I could link “In the Weeds” to every website I visit and my Facebook page! I have been working in the industry for 22 years, I started at 15 as a salad bar girl at a Bonanza restaurant, do they still have those? From there I have worked as a busser, a cocktail waitress, hostess, caterer, banquet server, banquet coordinator, bartender but for the last 8 years I have been a server/trainer (in addition to my 40 hour per week State job I got using my degree in Criminal Justice) on the weekends at a world wide chain restaurant that starts with an A and ends with a Bee’s. I can so totally identify with just about every topic you approach, kinda makes me want to start my own rant! There is a group on Facebook called “There is a Circle of Hell for people who tip 10% or less”. You should check it out! If I could, I would pass national legislation that would require a unit on the service industry be added to all 8th grade social studies curriculum to teach our young folks about this stuff, if their parents don’t know, at least they would be exposed in school!!! You down?