According to media reports, Leslie Pope, a senior at Moravian College, and her boyfriend John Wagner, a grad student at Lehigh University, wound up in the back of a squad car after complaining about the lack of service they received at the Lehigh Pub in Bethlehem, Pa. on October 23. They evidently had good reason to complain.
"It took over an hour for the wings and salad to get out," Wagner told Philadelphia's 6ABC WPVI-TV. Pope got drink refills, napkins and silverware for the table as their waitress took a break to smoke a cigarette.
When the establishment tacked a mandatory gratuity onto their $73 check (the group included about a half dozen or so friends), the couple had enough and refused to pay the $16.35 tip. Particularly galling was that the mandated tip was 22% and not the 18% charged to large parties, 6ABC said.
Bethlehem Police Commissioner Randall Miller told the Express-Times that this was the first time in his 25 years of experience that he recalls seeing anyone get cited for not paying a tip. The National Restaurant Association, the leading restaurant trade group, had never heard of a similar case either.
Morally, Pope and Wagner are clearly right. Gratuities are supposed to be rewards for good service. The service they received at the Lehigh Pub was indifferent at best, incompetent at worst. Tipping is capitalism at its core. You have to give something to get something. Unfortunately, many food servers look at a tip as a given and act accordingly.
About the only legal argument the restaurant might have is that its mandatory tipping policy was disclosed on the menu. I am not a lawyer, but that argument seems ludicrous to me. Calls to the mayor, local prosecutor and police were not immediately returned.
These days, restaurants who provide poor service are committing economic suicide. Diners are much tighter with their money because of the recession. In fact, Annika Stensson, spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Association, tells DailyFinance that restaurants are paying more attention to customer service now so that diners will return.
I guess the Lehigh Pub didn't get that memo.