Florida combats abuses of automatic gratuities

Following reports of potential abuses of automatic gratuities, South Florida restaurateurs are being told to educate both their employees and their customers about tipping policies.

After receiving complaints about unclear practices, including a complaint posted by a reader of TheTravelPro, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) and the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) have launched a campaign to raise awareness about rules regarding service charges.

“Florida’s hospitality reputation relies on caring, exceptional service,” Carol Dover, president and CEO of the FRLA, said in a statement. “It is imperative that our industry clearly communicate tipping policies and adhere to all legal requirements … and abuses should be reported to our partners at the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation."

A number of years ago, many restaurants in South Florida adopted the practice of adding an automatic gratuity to compensate for the area’s large complement of overseas tourists, many of whom either had not educated themselves about the tipping norms in the U.S. and whose tips didn’t meet current norms, or who simply refused to do what they don’t do at home.

While adding an automatic gratuity is both legal and ethical, Florida law Title XXXIII, Section 509.214 requires that restaurants that choose to add an auto-grat “[S]hall include on the food menu and on the face of the bill provided to the customer notice that an automatic gratuity is included.”

“Florida businesses want to do what’s in the best interest of both the employee and the customer,” Ken Lawson, DBPR secretary, said. “To help ensure restaurant employees are rewarded for their hard work by satisfied customers who look forward to coming back, it’s imperative for all parties to understand the importance of clearly communicated tipping practices and the requirement that automatic gratuity notices must be published.”

If you are dining in a restaurant in Florida, particularly the Miami Beach/South Beach areas and the menu and bill says “Gratuity” or “Service charge,” that constitutes the tip. Most establishments will remove the automatic gratuity if requested so that the guest can leave whatever they deem appropriate after they have finished their meal.

The bottom line is this: The auto-grats in Miami were established to protect wait staff from the double whammy of low base wages and tiny tips left by foreign tourists. If you live in North America and dine out regularly, my advice is to use the same judgement you’d use elsewhere. If you are a diner who rewards excellent service with a 25 percent gratuity and you received excellent service in a Miami restaurant that set its automatic gratuity at 15 percent, do what you would normally do and leave another 10 percent. If the service was only adequate, then the auto-grat could be as well.

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.

Photo by Carl Dombek
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