Our check arrived at the end of dinner, and there it was. That little line right under the sub-total: Service Charge.
The establishment has seen fit to include a tip on the bill for me. Now, I'm used to seeing that line when I'm in a group of more than six people. Almost every restaurant prints a disclosure on the menu indicating a gratuity will automatically be added on bills for large groups (usually defined as more than six people). Usually, that gratuity is 18%. What's not usual is when a gratuity is added to a bill no matter how many people are served.
That happened to me two nights ago when my wife and I went out to dinner. The bill was for $80+ dollars and then a service charge for $16+ dollars appeared right below the sub-total. "Okay," I thought to myself. "That's 20%. That takes care of the tip." But then I saw that gut-wrenching, confidence-sapping line below the total: Additional tip.
Additional tip? I've been writing and teaching about the etiquette of tipping for a long time. One of the questions I ask groups I'm speaking to is how much they tip on a restaurant bill. The answer is almost always the same: 20%. A smattering of people indicate 15%, but rarely, if ever, does anyone indicate more than 20%.
So what to do? If I put an extra $5 on the "Additional tip" line, I'm now tipping 26.25%. That seems excessive by any convention of tipping today. Yet, if I put nothing on the line, I wonder if that makes me appear to be a cheapskate. Ultimately, I decided that while the server had been pleasant, nothing out of the expected norm had occurred that would have prompted me to tip more, so I left the check at the printed amount with the 20% gratuity.
I was sitting with a friend the next day at lunch, and when the checks arrived, I pointed out the 20% tip, commented on the "Additional tip" line, and asked her what she does. She said it seemed awkward not to put anything on the line so she always added a "little something."
So, my question to you: If a check arrives with a 20% gratuity figured in, what do you do?
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About the author
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."