The Gratuity Was Included, But The Restaurant Service Was Terrible. What Now?

The Gratuity Was Included, But The Restaurant Service Was Terrible. What Now?

Dear Ms. Table Matters,

We were at a restaurant in Bloomington, Indiana for a birthday celebration this past weekend. Since our party consisted of 11 people, we were told a tip would automatically be put on the bill. The house policy called for an 18% gratuity. That amount is not in itself a problem, as we usually leave 20% or better. But in this case the service was really bad—incomplete dinners, no bread, some people had to wait quite a while after others had already been served. In spite of all the poor service (and she smiled through all of it!), the food was very good and I would look forward to going there again. My dilemma: The service certainly did not warrant an 18% tip on a rather hefty bill. What could I have done under these circumstances?


Anyone would want a birthday celebration to be perfect and memorable, but the restaurant business is a human business, and not all service will be flawless. Here are some suggestions to help us all navigate through these sticky situations:

Assess The Situation

It sounds like there were two unsuitable themes at work during this meal. First is the wait person’s service. Serving bread is totally within her control, even if it’s not her role to do so. Your server is the “contractor” at the table; it’s her responsibility to be sure your dining needs are met. Unless they were short a couple of employees, the basics like bread should be provided.

Understand The Circumstances

Secondly, food arriving sporadically and incompletely may not be your smiling server’s fault. The kitchen is responsible for expediting food. Food should not leave the kitchen until the expediter gives it the “go-ahead,” which means the party is ready and the plates are complete. It sounds like this restaurant is not used to handling parties of 11.

Speak To Reason

If you are not looking to place blame, but were simply unhappy with your experience, my advice would be to speak with the manager. Ideally, this would occur when you first begin to notice a problem. After the meal is an appropriate time to approach the manager if it’s more comfortable for you, but realize they’re then under no obligation to negotiate the gratuity. If the manager is looking out for her business’ welfare, she’ll want guests to leave happy. In explaining your discontent, mention that the server was pleasant, but that service with a smile alone does not complete the experience. If asked, make an offer as to what you would consider a fair tip.

Plan For The Future

Don’t automatically take the offending restaurant off of your list because of this one incident. Since you enjoyed the food, give the place a second chance with a smaller party. When making your reservation, remind the manager of your previous experience. You might find yourself treated like royalty on your next visit!

Stay tuned for my next post about tipping basics, cautions, and nuance!

Tell us in the comments: Have you ever experienced poor service at a restaurant? How did you handle it?


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