What's a Reasonable Automatic Gratuity?

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A bill with no included tip. The way it should be? [Photograph: Robyn Lee]

There are some situations in which we'd expect an automatic gratuity—say, a party of eight at a restaurant on New Year's Eve, or a birthday party at a crowded restaurant on a Saturday night. But increasingly in New York, we've been noticing restaurants tacking on tips for parties as small as 4 or 5, and a few weeks ago, Eater NY even reported that the Ace Hotel was adding a 18% gratuity to every single drink served at the bar.

From a restaurant's perspective, it makes some sense: waitstaff depend on gratuities as a major part of their income, and when they get stiffed, it makes a significant difference in their take-home wages. That said, tacking on the tip for you takes away part of the diner's control, leaves less room to leave a gratuity that reflects the diner's experience, and, some would argue, disincentivizes good service.

What do you think? Should diners be ready to pay a tip determined by the restaurant? Or should restaurants steer clear of this policy?

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