Do You Have to Pay a Mandatory Gratuity?

Sometimes when a person eats at a restaurant, the restaurant will charge a "mandatory" gratuity, often applied to parties with a set number of people in them. Generally, the restaurant will inform the patron of this gratuity before the meal. However, in some cases, the restaurant will not tell diners until after the meal has already been concluded. In either case, the diner is not legally compelled to pay the gratuity.



The term "tips" is an acronym of the phrase "to ensure prompt service." Tipping a restaurant employee is not legally considered mandatory, but it is considered polite in many places, including the United States. Generally, diners will be left to calculate their own tips. A tip on a meal between 15 percent and 20 percent is considered polite. However, some restaurants assess "mandatory" tips on meals.

"Mandatory" Tips

According to the "New York Times," a tip is not legally enforceable, even if the restaurant declares it mandatory. In 2004, a New York restaurant patron refused to pay a mandatory 18 percent gratuity on a bill and was arrested for theft of services. However, the judge found him not guilty, stating that the payment of a tip is not legally enforceable by a restaurant.


"Service Charges"

While a restaurant cannot technically mandate the payment of a tip, this does not mean that the restaurant cannot charge another fee that resembles a tip but is given another name. For example, a restaurant can charge an 18 percent "seating fee" or "service charge" on large parties. This money is not technically considered a tip and is therefore legally enforceable. However, it must be announced before the party begins its meal.


While a tip may not be legally enforceable, a local police force -- or a local judge -- may see the matter differently. This means that even if a restaurant patron declares to the restaurant that it does not legally have to pay the mandatory tip, police may still be summoned and the person may still be arrested. Whether a restaurant will choose to press charges, however, is up to the restaurant.