Please visit the new home of Majikthise at

« The Talking Dog interviews Gitmo lawyer H. Candace Gorman | Main | Mole electrocution mishap claims "unorthodox" gardener »

January 17, 2007

Aquagrill of SoHo sticks "foreign" guests with tipping surcharge

shooting RAW, originally uploaded by Robin Tremblay.

Last month the fancy SoHo fishouse Aquagrill tried to tack an 18% surcharge onto the bill of a French-born Manhattan resident dining with three European guests. When the diner asked why, he was told, "Because foreigners don't tip":

Ludovic Audesson, who was dining with three European visitors, almost choked on his Sancerre when he got the check at posh Aquagrill.

"It's the first time this has ever happened to me," said Audesson, 32. "I think it's very disrespectful. It is insulting to me."

It's more than insulting - it's also illegal. [NY Post]

In fairness, when Aquagrill's owner found out about the manager's behavior, she refunded the full cost of the meal and offered the diners a gift certificate for another meal.

[HT: Gothamist]


Tipping is one of the weirdest, most common source of worry and misunderstandings among travelers. Sometimes, you don't know what the rules are --they're often unclear.

You don't want to cheat the worker, nor do you want to be an idiot by giving a 17% tip on top of a continental service charge that is meant to take care of the matter.

Japan intrigues. You simply don't tip there most of the time. It can be seen as an insult if you do tip.

A few years back we had a couple visit from France - French husband, Virginian wife - and they took us to dinner to thank us for hosting and tour-guiding (the husband is an industrial historian, and so we drove through the [largely deindustrialized] Steel Valley south of Pittsburgh). We had a lovely time, and closed the place on a slow Sunday evening.

You can see where this is going: they failed to leave a tip. We got an embarrassed email a couple days later, and went back to the restaurant (one we frequented) with a twenty and an apology.

As illegal as Aquagrill's move was, I can't help but wonder what restautants should do. Since servers need tips to reach even minimum wage (much less to live in NYC - although I doubt Aquagrill pays $3.80/hr), a $250 table that leaves no tip represents a HUGE loss of income - half a slow night's takehome, and it's not coming from anywhere else.

Well, there are some people who just don't tip (e.g. Mr. Pink), but I imagine most foreigners who don't tip, don't tip because they're confused about the local practices (even if they come from somewhere that does tip---imagine how silly you'd look tipping at a McDonalds).

Since pretty much everyone who travels knows that tipping customs differ in different places, I would think that if a restaraunt had problems with a tactfully worded notice (on the menu maybe?) would probably do the trick.

I like it when the rules are clear.

In Ireland or England, you don't tip the bartender.

In France, service is included with a meal.

Yet, I find the service at a Dublin pub or Paris restaurant just as good as their US equivalents..though some disagree.

I'm not sure that a tactful notice is a great idea. Unless it is in your face, some will miss it. And customers resent those things. Even the "tip calculator" ( "helpfully" showing what 15% or 20% of the bill comes out to be ) was unpopular with customers, who thought it intrusive, pushy.

I'm really OK with the concept of a service charge, and would be happy if it were more widespread here. The clarity would be welcome, waiters wouldn't get stiffed, income would be reported more consistently (don't even ask if bartenders declare all their income).

I'm okay with the concept of a service charge, too--provided there was a law that said that any percentage billed as a service charge was going directly to staff rather than going in to general revenue.

As a customer, I find tipping to be a hassle. The minor inconvenience of calculating the appropriate tip outweighs whatever leverage I might have on future visits for tipping properly.

As illegal as Aquagrill's move was, I can't help but wonder what restautants should do.

Pay servers a living wage? Crazy talk, I know...

Tipping in restaurants is completely stupid. Restaurants should pay their staff decent wages and tipping should not be expected. If you happen to like the server you can leave a small amount.

Adding a line item gratuity is marginally better, and one assumes this amount is distributed to the servers. But this is again an idiotic concept. Servers should be paid a fair wage... and probably more where the restaraunt is raking in the big bucks.

Sure it cost loads to open and run a restaraunt, but why is labor exploited? How about restaurants which are very old and have already recovered their startup costs.

Having said the above.. travelers should avails themselves of the local customs re tipping and not assume that they local custome applies.

This has happened to me so often in NYC actually. I am a foreigner, and when with american friends or with other foreigners and the language used is english there is no problem. But when speaking my own language, the tip often gets put on the bill (and yes even when the party is less then five). Interestingly enough this happens, in my experience, mostly in midtown, never in brooklyn, east village etc. I was wondering if anyone else has been through that situation enough times so we could decide which area of NYC is the worst. I never bring family or friends to a midtown resturant anymore since I simply get embarrassed when it happens, and then rather pissed.

The comments to this entry are closed.