Muzzling the Wait Staff: A Major Red Flag

If  customers ask whether the gratuity is included in their meal bill, some restaurant wait staff have been told by their employers: Answer and you’re fired! And, for some employers, that’s been part of a profitable—if illegal—practice to deprive wait staff of tips because customers don’t understand that the “service charges” they pay aren’t going to the wait staff.

Under New York’s Labor Law § 196-d and New York’s Hospitality Wage Order, effective January 1, 2011( the October 2010 proposal of which was discussed on this blog last November), employers violate the law when they lead their restaurant patrons to believe that a charge for an item as “service”or “food service” is a gratuity, but don’t pay that gratuity to their wait staff.

 We’ve found that muzzling the wait staff so they can’t set the record straight—even if the customer asks about it—is often a major red flag.

Have you had this experience as a restaurant customer or employee?