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

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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.

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    "Auto-gratuities are found in places where they find tipping is not being done to the restaurant's expectations" -> if only they just increased their prices, instead of trying to deceive their customers... – JonathanReez Jan 7 at 22:17

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'.

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    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 '19 at 5:23
  • The over 6 limit is also very common in cities in the UK too – Uciebila Nov 8 '19 at 18:40

Just to add some perspective to those who have never worked in the service industry.

Many servers are working for less than minimum wage. This is in part that servers end up making tips. Mind you, they often have to tip out to the bartender who makes drinks, as well as the kitchen.

This means a $100.00 bill for your meal/drinks, ends up requiring that server to give a percentage (most cases it’s 5%-10% depending on support staff, in large restaurants with many support staff it’s almost always 10%) of that cost to the kitchen, busters, expedite, and or bartender.

If you don’t tip 10% to that server, they have to pay out of pocket for each time you do not tip. Meaning that if you only tip 10% on your bill, they break even and make no tips, that being said, 18% actually ends up being only 8% on average in their pocket to take home.

The system is based of total sales of the night as well. So your $100.00 bill at the end of the night might seem minor to you; but if 10 tables rack up $100.00 each and you have no tips for each table, and you have to tip out %10 for each one. It adds up to them paying $100.00 out of their own pocket because of people neglecting and failing to understand the industry policies surrounding tipping.

I’ve been a server for 8 years and this has been well known to me since day one. As unfair as it seems for you to have to tip someone for service that you feel should be obliged. You need to understand that it’s also because of unfair industry standards that we as servers have little control over.

It’s painful to see people who give praise about my level of service, refuse to tip even the bare minimum, and cost me my own money out of pocket for simply doing my job.

If you can’t afford to properly tip a server/bartender, then you should really take a second to ask if you can afford to be dining out/out drinking the first place.

The only people I have ever seen religiously tip servers on or above standard, are those who have been, or are currently in the industry.

This isn’t an insult to us (servers) from those with frustrations on the personal cost to them (the consumer) when it comes to tipping policy.

This is an honest piece of insight to the harsh realities of the people working the industry; that literally waits on you hand and foot; cleans up not only the glasses and plates from your table; but also the spilled drinks, puke, blood, piss; and sometimes, even shit from the floor; who is also legally responsible for your personal health and safety regardless of how irresponsible you behave and what little regard you may have for yourself.

Here’s a tip from a career server to all customers. You can afford to stay home if you have a problem with feeling obligated to tip us. We can’t.


That server who smiled to you and still said “thanks for coming in, get home safe.” Despite loosing money on serving you.

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    'Many servers are working for less than minimum wage.' this is the problem. – jcm Nov 9 '19 at 2:44
  • I think the actual answer to the question could be made a bit more explicit here. It seems to boil down to a cultural clash between what you describe and the assumptions tourists from other parts of the world may arrive with, such as: 1) When you buy something from a business, you pay the business, and it's solely their responsibility to allocate that money to pay for raw materials, electricity, location, legal expenses, staff, etc. 2) If you're charged substantially more than the listed price for something, you're being scammed. 3) Employees work at a business because they get paid by ... – O. R. Mapper Nov 9 '19 at 22:21
  • ... that business. Thus, based upon your insightful description of the situation, it would be helpful to derive some conclusion such as "The so-called 'tip' actually is what would be implicitly included for service in the regular price in other places." followed by an explanation that the waiter may be upset about customers not paying, and a remark about whether the customer is legally obliged to pay the 'tip' after all. – O. R. Mapper Nov 9 '19 at 22:28
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    Rather than blaming the tourists, blame the employers. And if all people who now have to rely on tips would take action together, they can force the issue. – Willeke Nov 9 '19 at 23:17
  • The actual answer can't be made "a bit more explicit" because there is no actual answer in here. None of this is wrong, but no part of it even remotely attempts to address whether OP is allowed to refuse to pay it. The question is about whether that's permitted, not whether it's virtuous. – Chris H Nov 11 '19 at 7:05

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 '19 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 '19 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 '19 at 14:24
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    A "12-top" is a table that seats 12 people. I would imagine that a "12 top of foreigners" would be a table of 12 people from some overseas location where they pay their servers more than $2.13 an hour, who are used to tipping by rounding up to the next Euro. – shoover Nov 9 '19 at 2:59
  • @JakeDot there will be a cold day in hell before I tip for bad service in any country – Matt Douhan Dec 16 '19 at 11:30

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