Many restaurants are now adding a service charge to a customer’s bill saying that some people don’t tip, but how much of that money goes to servers?
Jose Fernandez says he was having dinner with his wife and friends at Old’s Havana restaurant until the check arrived.
“I’ve been in Miami for 28 years and this has never happened to me at any other restaurant,” Fernandez said.
His bill of $79.35 turned into $101.12 when the restaurant automatically added service charges and 18% tax.
Fernandez’s receipt also suggested a 15, 18, or 20 percent tip, which would bring the extra charge to 46 percent of the bill.
He says the waiter told him he didn’t get anything from the service charge, so he considered adding that tip.
“If you see the service charge and sales tax after the service charge, that money goes to the employer,” attorney Ruben Saenz said.
He says what the restaurant does with that money is up to them.
There are still some rules. Florida law states that restaurants that add automatic tipping or a service charge to the price of the meal must include a notice on the menu and on the bill that automatic tipping is included.
Two NBC 6 employees traveled to Old’s Havana and its sister restaurant, Salao’s, to see what was going on. The restaurants are a short walk from each other in a touristy area of Calle Ocho.
At both locations, we saw a notice at the bottom of the menu stating the automatic 18% service charge.
Both bills included the 18% service charge and suggested a tip of 15-20%.
When our team asked the server if she received the service fee, she told us that 10% of that fee went to her and the rest was split among the other staff.
At Salao, our $63.25 bill went up to $92.62 with the automatic service charge, tax, and just over 15% tip.
Jeannette Escudero’s firm represents Old’s Havana and Salao’s.
She says that while a restaurant may retain the service charge, in this case the owner does not.
“The service fee accrues to the employee,” she said. “100% in this particular place.”
Escudero told us that the owner adds the service fee to protect its employees.
“Not all tourists, and this is a very touristy area, understand the concept of tipping. So they’ll sit at a table for hours and hours and then come out,” Escudero said.
When we asked about servers not getting the full service charge, Escudero said “he’ll never get 100% whether it’s a tip or a service charge because he does not work alone. There are food delivery people, there are buses, there are other employees who get a piece of the cake for helping out.
Escudero also told us that, at both of these restaurants, since the service charge goes to the staff, you don’t have to tip unless you think the service went above and beyond.
Lawyer Ruben Saenz told us that you should look for service charges on your bill before handing your credit card to the waiter because once they bring you the receipt the details are usually not there and you could unintentionally end up paying more money.