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The story about Lehigh students arrested for refusal to pay service charge

My fellow WordPress blogger, Jonathan Turley has posted the story, a story that places like Waiter’s Rant have already covered:

http://waiterrant.net/?p=1564

http://jonathanturley.org/2009/11/19/lehigh-students-arrested-for-failing-to-leave-tip/#comment-92031

There are some interesting comments on both sites. I’ve added my own at the bottom on the Turley blog which are still awaiting moderation which has to do with the difference between gratuities, tips, service charges and autograts (which is a bit arcane).

My thoughts on this? From my admittedly biased view of this, I think that the students were acting like spoiled rich students with a sense of entitlement (not to say that they didn’t have cause for complaint). IF, and this is a big IF, they turned down getting part or all of their meal comped by the manager, and then turned around an refused to pay the autograt, their passive-aggressive behavior merited some sort of consequence (“No I don’t WANT you to take $30 off off for the bad service. WHAT??!! You expect me to pay $16 for service I didn’t receive??!!!) Hopefully they’ll learn that it’s not always a zero sum game in life.

Now we turn to the idiot management and restaurant employees. Starting with the poor service, continuing with allegedly poor food quality, proceeding to a management that couldn’t communicate their remorse in not providing decent service and ending with the arrest of the participants, the restaurant violated just about every tenent of customer service possible. Having been on the other side of arrogant, entitled and unreasonable guests, I can understand how this could have spiralled downward. Yes, I’m calling out these students as “unreasonable” even though they might have gotten the worst service imaginable (if it’s true tha tthey were offered comps on their bill). And yet, if the management sent hostile, non-apologetic, defensive and passive-aggressive signals themselves when offering said discounts, they deserve the huge hit in business and the national scorn that they’re facing now.

Hopefully both parties have learned something from this. Perhaps the students will get the message that sometimes you accept an accomodation, not necessarly “stand on principles” when it’s counter-productive to their own interests and the owners of the pub will have a better shot at success in their next restaurant after they are forced out of business with this one.  

From Yelp.com. Photo credited to Daniel H.

BTW, for those confused as to how a $16 tip on a $74 bill goes from 18% to 22%, Max, who responded to this story in a different blog seems to have nailed it down:

“Please note that other sources state the owner said “some” of the food was comped. I suspect that their bill was $105 ($89 + $16 gratuity), then when the customers complained, the idiot bartender comped them $16 dollars worth of food instead of removing the gratuity. This would reduce the bill to $89 ($73 + $16 gratuity), which would still look like they were being forced to give a tip. So they paid the $73 as was stated in the news story, and fought the rest”.

The thing is, most POS systems don’t let the service charge ‘track” purchases. In other words, when you add the service charge, it takes a snapshot of the bill and computes the service charge at that point. It doesn’t change, even if the server has forgotten to ring something in and has to add it after the service charge has been added (which means that the percentage would actually fall in relation to the bill). The only thing a manager can do is remove the service charge and start again. If the bartender comped the amount of the service charge from the food portion of the bill, the service charge would remain the same. This is where the students should have said, “It’s a wash” and just paid the darn bill. Instead, they “stood on principle” even though legally, they were still on the hook for the service charge. Not reasonable in my opinion. If they really wanted to stand on principle, they should have called the manager over, said that they wanted to pay the whole bill but have the service charge itself removed.

Just my 2¢.

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6 responses to “The story about Lehigh students arrested for refusal to pay service charge

  1. Perry Peck November 23, 2009 at 2:33 am

    Well the waiter today at lunch was very bad mixed up orders and got others wrong and was very hard to understand but we still give him a tip its his job and our job to tip.

  2. Foodie December 14, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    You are an idiot to think that the management offered to comp, why would they pay for the meal and refuse the tip if it was comped? I personally would rather pay the tip and not the meal. The owner/management just plain lied and it’s obvious.

    Also, the pub entered into a contract and did not deliver, it’s the same as ordering an entree that is never delivered yet you are charged for.

    Use some logic and quit the kneejerk conclusion that the students are “acting like spoiled rich students with a sense of entitlement”. If refusing to pay for services NOT RENDERED is that, then you are truly a moron.

    • teleburst December 14, 2009 at 10:57 pm

      You’re lucky that I let even assholes have their say, even when they’re completely wrong.

    • teleburst December 31, 2009 at 5:52 pm

      You know, i was going to let this stand as is, but now I feel like I have to say something. You ask and also posit, “You are an idiot to think that the management offered to comp, why would they pay for the meal and refuse the tip if it was comped? I personally would rather pay the tip and not the meal. The owner/management just plain lied and it’s obvious”.

      They did it because of “the principle”. They said as much.

      What is absolutely known is that the bartender took off the amount of the tip from the food bill. The thing is, the service charge was left on and that’s what riled up the “spoiled rich kids”.

      Are you such a moron yourself that the students couldn’t have explained their side to the police when they showed up and gotten it all resolved? Do you really think they did? Personally, I don’t think they bothered. They were going to “make their point” by going to jail, something that they themselves have said that they probably won’t do next time. Of course, they won both the battle AND the war, because management was so lame, they couldn’t fix a simple customer issue. there’s blame enough to go around here.

      And this is the prime reason why tipping is such a good thing. The alternative, an automatic service charge or full wages for the server, leave the patron with less bargaining power.

  3. Angela December 31, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    I waited tables for over 4 years! If you do not give good service then NO you do NOT get a TIP!!!! Why the hell would you go into a place and have to do everything yourself! Their job is to give good service and if they do not do it then NO Tip! Just like if someone came into clean your house and they didn’t do a good job, you wouldn’t pay them.

    • teleburst December 31, 2009 at 5:45 pm

      And yet, if you agree to an autograt by ordering off a menu that requires it, then it’s up to you to negotiate the tip downward.

      Obviously, there was some of this done (which is why the mgt. blew the whole deal), and yet, if it’s true that the guests got the same amount of their bill comp’ed as the tip, then they have less to complain about, right? And if they were offered even more (which some accounts say), then they were penny wise and pound foolish not to take it, especially if it was substantial. Let’s face it, the students were standing on principle. And that’s cool. But sometimes, you have to look at the big picture. Sometimes, compromise is called for (the owners of this pub found that out pretty quickly).

      Also, it’s easy to say “no tip” if the service isn’t good. And yet, there are degrees of this, right? If someone thought that you not keeping your water glass totally filled at all times wasn’t ‘good service”, do you deserve “no tip”? Or might you deserve 10%? If you actually waited tables for 4 years, then certainly you must have considered 10% a pretty bad tip, right? That’s why there’s a sliding scale. It’s not all or nothing.

      Finally, if someone came to clean your house and they didn’t do a good job, and you had a contract with them (when you order food from a restaurant, there is a legal obligation to pay according to the terms of the menu), you would still have to pay them. Of course, you would take them to court and a judge would decide if they didn’t fulfill the terms of the contract. For instance, if they missed some dirt in a corner but cleaned the rest of your house properly, even though you might not think they did a good job, a judge might decide that you owed them something for the rest of the job they did, even if you thought that the little fuzzball in the corner meant that your “house wasn’t clean”. You might have to pay them 75% of what you owed them.

      Thanks for weighing in.

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