When Kenneth Boxer called, you could hear the sense of betrayal in his voice.
Boxer is the owner of the Italian restaurant Palazzio in Santa Barbara, Calif., a restaurant known for its generous plates of pasta and servers who might spontaneously sing along to Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore” on a Saturday night. He he was calling to share his story of a scam he fears might be happening in restaurants across the country.
Recently, Boxer said, he discovered that a server he had employed for about 18 years was double charging customers for tips.
The restaurant has had a long-standing policy of including an automatic gratuity on parties of six or more, which is noted on the menu. It’s also the restaurant’s policy that servers are supposed to make that rule clear to their larger tables.
This one employee — now a former employee — however, was neglecting to point out the automatic gratuity. Often, larger parties would add a tip to their bill, not noticing that it already had been included.
And the server was pocketing their mistake.
When Boxer learned of the scam, he looked back through his sales data to see how long it had been going on. It turned out the server was being double-tipped on the vast majority of his larger tables.
“He was raking in about $175 to $250 per week by ripping people off,” Boxer said.
The restaurant also lost money in merchant credit card fees on such charges, Boxer noted.
Not surprisingly, the server was fired. Boxer checked out the practices of the rest of the staff and found other incidents — though perhaps some were unintentional.
Boxer said he called other operators to see if they had similar experiences. Some peers said they never looked for it, but others blamed the customer for not looking at the bill.
To help address the problem, Palazzio has created a stamp that goes on every large-party check, notifying customers that the gratuity is automatic, and he’s watching his servers more carefully.
Ironically, Boxer is a believer in the notion of trust. The restaurant, which has served up big bowls of pasta since it opened in 1993, offers wine decanters with an honors system. People serve themselves.
“It’s a socializing opportunity. They meet at the decanters and pour their own glass,” he said. “We have found that people are very honest.”
And the credo Boxer teaches his staff?
“Let’s not be 1,000 percent better than the competition; rather, let’s strive to be one percent better in 1,000 different little ways.”
I admire Boxer’s honesty.
He shared his story with the hope that others — both customers and restaurant operators — will be aware.
“I’m so angry at myself for not discovering it sooner,” he said.