Eater Investigative Report: Getting to the Bottom of Mandatory Services Charges

March 6, 2009

©, author Amanda

Following the recent hubbub over mandatory service charges at restaurants around the city, we've received a number of queries from readers wondering what's legal and what's not. Meanwhile, we noticed that both Apotheke and the Box add a 20% charge for table service, something especially troublesome given the high pricepoint, how unlikely it is to notice small print on a menu at bars (if you even get a menu), and how likely it is for guests to pay while inebriated.

Enough is enough. We decided it was time to do some digging and figure out what's illegal, what's merely frowned upon, and how any of the tipping rules can be enforced:

Before we get to the actual Dept. of Consumer Affairs rules, we'll hand it over to Carolyn Richmond, Co-Chair Fox Rothschild's Hospitality Practice Group, to explain:

"...the provision that has suddenly created an uproar in NYC's restaurant community is not actually a 'law' but rather a 'Rule'—an important distinction. In addition, nowhere in the Rule does it reference 10 point font, 15% or 8 party limitations. [Eds: as mentioned here]. Those specifics came about as an "interpretation" from the Department of Consumer Affairs."