Wednesday, July 6, 2011


First, allow me to define the term: Autograt (automatic gratuity): an involuntary service charge that is added to your bill at the discretion of therestaurant.  Often applied to large groups (or in some cases parties of 6 or more?!?)

I personally have mixed feelings regarding this concept.  As a server who has been badly burned by guests in large groups who think either [a.] they can get away without tipping and no one else will notice because everyone else is tipping OR [b.] their friends are taking care of the tip!  I appreciate the option to add a service charge to large parties so that I don't end up paying to serve the table.

But, on the other hand, when dining out myself I feel that I am a fair tipper.  Though I don't always over-tip just because I'm in the business, when I receive great service I tip accordingly.  The same goes for when I get poor service!

Though I'm sure every server in the world thinks they are perfect, but sometimes large groups get poor service.  In the event of this possibility I think it is unfair to tack on a 15% (or more) gratuity to a bill.  However, there are some customer types that are a higher risk than others and therefore I'm not opposed to autograt-ing a party of, say, 10 or more? (especially if they require separate cheques!)

Having a policy regarding auto gratuities means that you feel your staff are entitled to the tip.  I wholeheartedly believe that tips are earned not  deserved (though I too feel indignant when shorted).

As a floor manager in a restaurant you should evaluate each service individually, know the strengths and weaknesses of your servers and autograt appropriately - or not at all in some cases.

All things considered, I've gained more than lost by letting my guests decide for themselves what kind of tip they feel is appropriate.  It's kind of like gambling, except you're betting on yourself and if that's not a good bet, perhaps you should re-evaluate your own service abilities!


  1. A good topic that needs debating. Although we do charge an auto-grat for larger parties, I choose to roll the dice when it is a one cheque corporate function. In the case of Blue Hairs rattling change purses, I'll always opt for the 15%.
    I have seen less energy put into service from FOH staff because of the auto-grat, but it is rare, usually demonstrated in the circumstance of a mass of Hockey Parents.

  2. Maybe the whole concept of tipping should be re-evaluated. There are few industries where this still exists. Perhaps servers should be paid a fair hourly wage for their work and that's that. If the server is excellent, they would get a raise on their hourly rate.

    Just a thought.

  3. It is interesting that you use the phrases "though I too feel indignant when shorted", and "think, .. they can get away without tipping", confirming the expectation that somehow doing one's job automatically deserves some level of additional compensation and you are annoyed if you don't get it! But I digress as your topic is groups. In my experience I find going as a group results in generally poorer service than going as a couple. Perhaps there is something in the dynamic of a large order that adversley affects the kitchen dynamics? I really would like someone to explain why a group is bad from a restaurant perspective. It seems it would be the opposite - a large number of people arrive at your restaurant, they are generally crammed into a tighter space (more orders per square foot), and (generally) fewer service staff are allocated to them (although I have noticed that at food delivery generally a team approach is used!). So in my experience service is generally below par and given a choice of restaurants will move to a different restaurant that does not auto-grat.

    What is the justification for the auto-grat? And do tell, what is wrong with separate cheques? And before you explain the additional time it takes to process orders individually, let me ask you in this digital age - who carries cash? Separating a single bill with debit/credit cards is no shorter route. Perhaps a new approach is required - how can we (the restaurant) change the process to facilitate groups to make it a pleasant eating and paying experience - and is efficient so that we'll love groups (cards have been around for a while and restaurants typically still have one sever hauling a single machine guest to guest)? And heck, people may even leave a tip on their own.

    All things said, I do love your blog and agree with your opinions on almost all other things you've talked about.

  4. Purpose of Auto-Grat on big groups - a poor tip from larger groups rarely reflects service. It is almost always due to the fact that one person is forking out the cash for the bill. Maybe they expect others to tip. Or maybe $50 on $500 seems large in that moment. But the way I've gotten around this is to request or encourage, right off the bat, separate cheques. Preferably couples. And this always seems to do the trick. Back to 15-20%, sometimes more.
    Yes, it is more difficult to serve large groups. Getting 10 drinks to the table at the same moment may sound simple, along with making the drinks, preparing the food and stopping all other table's meals, etc. It's complicated on many levels. Big groups are a pain-in-the-ass. For kitchen and wait staff. If service isn't perfect it can be as much to do with that group as it is some server. I don't mind the separate cheques. But it's really fun when everyone switches their seats around. Especially before the meal arrives.
    Also, large group reservations often lead to a third, maybe more, not showing up. This is quite frustrating for a town dependent on it's very short season.
    And servers don't just walk away with the entire tip. It's normally a fairly large tip out to bar, kitchen, runners, dishwashers, sometimes house. I have walked away with nothing after tip out. And my service has not always been perfect. But that doesn't seem to be the issue, usually, anyways. Most of the time people who tip big or small do it that way regardless.
    I do agree we need more debit machines though. Good point.
    And with all that said - i rarely implement the auto-grat. It often back fires. And you win some, you lose some. It's the name of the game. I just wanted to join the rant and make some points to those above that know so much about the "customer" perspective.

  5. Thanks for your comments! Check out the next post for a response and thanks for the topic!