Texas Eatery Holds Patrons Hostage Over Tip Dispute, We Grouse About Automatic Gratuity

Working in the food service business is a two-way street. Sometimes patrons offend with rude behavior, tiresome substitution requests or by carting along their obnoxious children who cry, run amok and spoil everything for everyone. And then, sometimes, it's the restaurant, chef or waitstaff who disappoint with their own rude, tiresome, obnoxious attitudes. While Gut Check isn't always the easiest patron to please, we do believe in tipping generously. We usually don't think twice about automatic gratuity being added to a bill of five or more people, but if the service is particularly bad and we don't receive exactly what we ordered and then we're held hostage by the restaurant management? Though it's a sitcom-ready scenario in story, it's less charming as a real-life business practice.

Recently, Gannett reported that La Fisherman, (and with a name like that...) a restaurant based in Houston, Texas, detained a group of patrons after they refused to pay the required 17 percent gratuity charge appended to their bill. Patron Jasmine Marks says the waitstaff at La Fisherman was rude, didn't refill their drinks and her party didn't receive their entire order. When the tab arrived with the predetermined tip, Marks asked to speak with the manager, who insisted that automatic gratuity for five or more patrons was the restaurant's policy. Marks and friends refused to pay the additional amount, which led the restaurant management to call the police, who sided with the management. In the end, Marks and her party were forced to pay the automatic gratuity under threat of legal action.

Pardon us, but is this a substance much like bullshit? While it's always a consumer's responsibility to read the fine print (i.e., does the restaurant have a policy that makes it OK for waiters to treat us shabbily because they'll be tipped well either way?), it's just bad business to pick an argument with a customer. To wit: Had the restaurant knocked off the automatic gratuity from Marks' bill, it would have been out one 17 percent tip yet saved itself the embarrassment of national attention-spotlighting its stinginess and possible hostage-holding. Yeesh.

In Gut Check's experience, keeping a level head and appealing to a manager's better nature usually does the trick. While dining at a Midtown restaurant to support a recent event there, Gut Check and friend were handed a bill with 18 percent gratuity added to a two-person check that, by itself, totaled more than $100. Nonplussed, Gut Check inquired about the tacked-on tip and the manager kindly removed it for us. Maybe we proceeded to tip our standard 20 percent, which some would argue makes the whole series of exchanges more trouble than it was worth, but hey: Can't we at least be the captain of our own ship at dinner?

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