Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
I’m always suspicious when a restaurant server makes suggestions.
They might reveal, for example, a special that they just know I’ll love. (Chef has likely told them to push it, as the protein’s going off a little.)
Sir, you don’t know me. For all you know, I may have had a bad experience with such a rabbit risotto at a difficult time of my life and in a very public place.
I worry, though, about another suggestive practice of which the Cheesecake Factory stands accused.
As BuzzFeed News reports, customers are complaining that when there are several of them dining together and they split the check, the suggested gratuity at the bottom is calculated not on the individual customer’s share, but on the whole amount.
You’ve surely seen restaurants make their suggested tips — often 15, 18 and 20 and even 22 percent — at the bottom of the check.
Well, Marcel Goldman says that Cheesecake Factory suggested a supposed 20 percent tip of $15.40 when her share of the meal was only $38.50.
Enthusiastic mathematicians will notice that Cheesecake Factory allegedly suggested she offer a 40 percent tip, masked as 20.
Goldman hired an attorney called Julian Hammond. Because, yes, there’s a lawsuit. A potential class-action lawsuit.
“Why are we left to our own devices to do arithmetic acrobatics when the suggested gratuity represented is not true? The mathematic calculation is misleading. It must end. It needs to change,” Hammond told BuzzFeed.
Hammond claims that the Cheesecake Factory has been doing this at more than 200 locations over the last four years.
I contacted Cheesecake Factory to ask what it had to say. I will update, should I be served with a comment.
The restaurant group did tell BuzzFeed: “All gratuity amounts listed on our guest checks are suggestions only. Guests are free to tip as they please. We believe our guests appreciate service provided by our hardworking staff and tip accordingly.”
Ah. Oh. Well, now.
In theory, then, the Cheesecake Factory could suggest that you offer a flat $50 or $100 tip without even claiming it represents a percentage of anything but gall. It’s all up to you, after all.
I do struggle with the sleight of mind that inspires such obviously incorrect math.
I also struggle, though, with customers who don’t notice.
Even if you are in a generous — or even inebriated — frame of mind, surely you can divide the pre-tax amount by five to get your bearings. Or can you?
I mention the fact that service charges should be calculated on the pre-tax amount because some Cheesecake Factory customers also accuse it of allegedly making its tip suggestions on the basis of the post-tax amount.
Which makes airline nickel-and-diming sound like charity work.
Noted cheeseburger-eating Latin scholars will drily mutter: “Caveat emptor.”
Some might think, though, that there’s a certain brazen intent on the part of anyone who might attempt such sneakiness. And in a service business, too.
You can just imagine airline executives, though, looking at this and wondering whether they, too, could add a poorly calculated service charge to ticket prices.
When it comes to restaurants, many rely on repeat business. They want you to keep coming back.
If the lawsuit is presenting accurate information, you have to wonder how many people might have been taken in over the alleged four-year period.
It could leave a very bad taste in the mouth.