I got the following receipt at some restaurant in the USA:

enter image description here

Can I refuse to pay auto-gratuity, or pay a lower percentage of gratuity, given that it wasn't mentioned on the menu and no restaurant employee told me about it?

I know that laws in the USA can be state-dependent: I am mostly interested in Massachusetts and California.

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    I don't know what your legal rights are in this regard, but it normally is mentioned on the menu, usually in small print somewhere out of the way. – Flimzy Jan 2 '15 at 19:45
  • And by the area code, this one was in California (San Deigo area) – JoelFan Jan 2 '15 at 22:42
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    At a minimum, not doing so is a tremendous dick move. Far more so than their adding it to the bill, IMHO. – LessPop_MoreFizz Jan 3 '15 at 5:16
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    @LessPop_MoreFizz Sure, no intent to open a debate around tipping, just curiosity :) – Franck Dernoncourt Jan 3 '15 at 5:19
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    You can leave a negative "Additional Gratuity." Denote the updated amount on the "Total" line. Problem solved! – user29727 May 19 '15 at 17:37

To answer the actual question, in general if the 'gratuity" is actually stated on the menu, then yes, you can be obligated to pay it. You might be able to find a lawyer who can wriggle out of it, but not at a cost less than the gratuity. There have been (extremely rare) incidents where the police have been called over refusals to pay a gratuity.

If the tip wasn't explicitly mentioned on the menu (or if you don't remember it being mentioned) then you should absolutely query it. Some places have been known to add a strictly optional tip making it look as if it was part of the bill. At least ask if paying the tip is compulsory.

18% is considered a normal tip. However if you think the service was not up to standard, you should absolutely talk to the restaurant about getting it reduced. They are going to be much more amenable to you explaining about the late food, or the wrong order, or failure to refill drinks than if you simply refusing to pay. Asking for it to be reduced will often work, because most restaurants want happy repeat customers more than they want a few dollars in tip.

Auto-gratuities are found in places where they find tipping is not being done to the restaurant's expectations. Tourist areas do it, but auto-gratuities for large groups are common if they don't believe those groups can work out tips for themselves.

Other than that, this sort of thing is just a cost of doing business in North America.


Interesting comments about Bandar Persian Restaurant on the net (including a claim that a tip was added to the bill after signing it with no tip), but nothing about adding auto-tips to small parties. It's a pretty common practice with larger parties (6, or sometimes less) but it's normally noted on the menu. I could see them wanting to do it if there's a coupon or some other kind of promotional thing going on, since the servers do just as much work for a discounted dinner as for a full-price dinner.

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I wonder if this is a phenomenon that is most prevalent in very touristy areas (Gaslight in SD or NYC).

Here is an article from NYC about the same thing happening there (photo from NY Daily News)

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If you really felt it was improper, you could probably have asked them to take it off the bill. If it's not shown on the menu, I doubt you're legally responsible. If they disagreed you could have paid cash for the amount you did agree to (as shown on the menu) and have left (and never to return, from what servers have told me happens to the food of customers who stiff them..). Personally, I'd simply cough up the money (the full amount they asked for) and vote with my feet, unless I thought it was an error of some kind.

Epilogue: Sadly for the above-mentioned scruffy Mr. Dimond, his $5.5 billion (!) class-action lawsuit has been dismissed.


The judge cited in particular the fact that the auto-tip was conspicuously noted on the menu and that Mr. Dimond's suit had technical difficulties. The applicable laws (specific to New York City) are listed in this legal firm's 'Labor & Employment Alert'.

  • An automatic gratuity for a large party is common in the USA. An automatic gratuity for a party of one or two people, as in that Olive Garden receipt, is extremely rare. – Michael Hampton Aug 5 at 5:23

This is done is mostly in places where tourists are found. Restaurants usually do this because tourists for the most part don't tip correctly, or don't understand the concept of tipping. Imagine working a 12 top of foreigners and when it's time to pay, they cover the bill in the hundreds and add a dollar or two with added loose change from their pocket and expect it to be extremely generous. This would cause employees to seek employment in other location far from the tourists which would lead to a high turnover rate. So restuarants who would like to keep employees, add 18%. This is the cost of doing business here in North America. Don't like it, then go to a grab and go place and serve yourself.

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    Funny that said restaurants can't just increase their menu prices and pay their employees higher wages. Nope, gotta do it through "tipping". – JonathanReez Jul 9 at 15:34
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    "[...] because tourists for the most part don't tip correctly, or don't understand the concept of tipping" - yeah sure, we don't understand the US concept of tipping - at home I'm tipping between 10 and 20% and also did on my US trip. Being forced to tip, even for bad service, is something I'll prefer not to understand though. – JakeDot Jul 9 at 21:04
  • "Imagine working a 12 top of foreigners [...]" - while those are all words I know, strung together like this, they don't mean anything to me. Can you rephrase this so that is easier to decipher? – PhilippNagel Aug 5 at 14:24

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