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I have seen something along the lines of "parties of 8 or more will have a 25% gratuity added to the check" on menus in many US restaurants. Its been on menus for as long as I can remember. I assume its legal if it is visible, as it is virtually no different than listing the cost of the food - it just requires more mental math. However, that doesnt make it so, so I was curious. Is this legal? What if you didnt read that part of the menu? Can you be expected to read the entire menu?

I went to lunch by myself today (in Virginia) and I was shocked to find a 20% gratuity already added to my check. It was not written on the menu, nor was I told about it. I have been to this restaurant dozens of times previously, but this was the first time in ~6 months. When I asked the waitress, she said there was a sign at the front of the restaurant. I went to the front and there was no sign. I asked for the manager, who (of course) said it was legal and the waitress should have told me (she didnt). He went to look for the sign, but it was not there. He found it behind the cashier's counter (as in someone took it down and it was not displayed). He offered to take the gratuity off, to which I said no. I normally tip 15% for normal service, 20% for good. so I wasnt going to argue over a change.

On a side note/rant, charging almost 2x the cost of a 2 liter bottle of soda for a glass of soda should be illegal :P

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3 Answers 3

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Automatic tips are only legal where they have been communicated in advance by whatever means (visible sign at the front, note in the menu etc.).

As in your case it wasn't communicated, it wasn't legal. This is pretty much why the manager offered to refund it.

Can you be expected to read the entire menu?

Moot point. It probably can be argued that you can't, and that any notion of automatic tip must be prominently visible.

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  • That is interesting. There are some restaurants I go to, where I do not read the menu. I go to them to get specific dishes and I havent opened the menu in years. If the slipped that policy in, I wouldnt know.
    – Keltari
    Mar 4, 2023 at 16:06
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It has to be noted clearly

In Italy, there are several different types of extra charges that can apply to a dinner in a restaurant:

  • Table/Service Charge - either flat per seat or a percentage of the ordered food + wine
  • Bar Charge - per drink pulled from the tap or percentage of the costs of the drinks
  • Life Music Fee - usually a flat amount

All of this need to be clearly stated on the menu in a readable and visible place. This is NOT a gratuity or tip, but an ordinary billing item.

A mandatory Gratitude is not allowed

In France, any service fee needs to be part of the addressed prices. Those prices already have to contain the 15% service compris since 1985. As such, a mandatory tip would violate law.

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  • I can understand if it is noted clearly. However, then there is the issue of what defines "clearly." In my case, it wasnt noted at all. However, what if its in the menu and I didnt read the menu? I often go to a restaurant and order a dish I liked before and do not even open the menu. What if it was posted on a small sign and I simply didnt see the sign? "Clearly" isnt very clear and defining it seems ambiguous.
    – Keltari
    Mar 4, 2023 at 16:36
  • @Keltari in italy, the law is you have to note it in a clear way, which is typically on the bottom of every page of the menu or the first page. The menu also has to be publicly hung or be available before entering the restaurant. it is not upon the restaurant that you did not read the menu handed to you or hung up.
    – Trish
    Mar 4, 2023 at 17:22
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Service charges (automatic gratuities) may require notification, or not, depending on state law.

In , RCW 49.46.160 requires customer notification of automatic service charges:

An employer that imposes an automatic service charge related to food, beverages, entertainment, or porterage provided to a customer must disclose in an itemized receipt and in any menu provided to the customer the percentage of the automatic service charge that is paid or is payable directly to the employee or employees serving the customer.

There are no particular requirements as to how that notification is to be made. Michigan attempted to pass such laws twice but failed.

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  • The quoted passage talks about the % of the tip that the waitress gets, not how big the tip to be paid by the customer is.
    – Greendrake
    Mar 4, 2023 at 7:43

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