I am a good tipper.
I never tip less than 20 percent in restaurants and bars if I get decent service, and I tip more for excellent service.
I tip hotel maids.
I tip Uber and Lyft drivers.
I tip the guy who drives the shuttle from the remote parking lot to the airport terminal.
I tip the woman who cuts my hair. At Christmas, I tip her a lot more, and also tip my mail carrier and my newspaper delivery guys (including the one who drops off a weekly paper that arrives whether you want it or not).
I don't have money to burn, but the folks who fill those types of jobs work hard and don't make a fortune. I've known a lot of people who have toiled in the lower rungs of the service industry, and their tales aren't pretty.
Lately, however, my fondness for tipping has been sorely tested.
While on vacation in Florida last month, after enjoying a dinner for two, I was handed a bill with an 18 percent gratuity tacked on.
I've seen restaurants add tips to the bill when a large group of people is involved, usually six or eight, but never have I seen a tip automatically added to a dinner for two.
When I expressed my displeasure to the manager, he told me they always add a tip because “we get a lot of transients here.”
Duh. You're in a tourist area. Of course you get a lot of transients. So what? A tip is OPTIONAL. I don't have to tip one penny if I don't want to.
I agreed to pay the Florida tip — after pointing out that the waiter would have made more money if the tip hadn't been preordained.
Then, only two weeks later, I was at a table of five at a busy restaurant in Washington, D.C.
We ran up a $310 bill. The person who picked up the tab glanced at the total and tacked on a $60 tip. Only later did she notice that a 20 percent tip had already been added to the bill.
In other words, she had effectively tipped $110 for a $260 dinner.
My friend called the restaurant the next day, told her tale and asked that the extra tip be credited back to her card.
She was given the email address for a manager and immediately wrote a note explaining what happened. Three days later, after no response, she called again. This time she was told a manager would call her back within the hour. Didn't happen.
She called again the next day. Zip.
Finally, she sent another email describing her attempts to reach a manager and threatening to dispute the entire bill with her credit card company. That worked.
Makes you wonder how many other customers have unknowingly paid enormous tips.
Yes, you could argue that people should look more closely at their check. But when you're surrounded by friends and plans are being made for the next stop and the line-items on the bill are many, it's easy to just skim it.
Unless the automatic tip policy is displayed prominently on the menu or the check — which it was not in either case — the very least a restaurant should do is require its servers to circle the tip on the bill.
I contacted National Restaurant Association and asked whether it had any statistics on the percentage of table-service restaurants nationwide that include automatic tips for all bills, and whether that number is growing.
Media Relations Director Vanessa Sink said her group doesn't track tipping trends, and that her researchers are unaware of any group that does.
No tip for her.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31