Even though we all now have phones with handy calculator apps, some restaurant diners are still confounded by the math when trying to sort out the tip, particularly when splitting the bill. Many restaurants now do the math for you and print a suggested tip on the receipt, but some Cheesecake Factory customers say the popular chain is enriching itself by suggesting misleading tips on split bills.
In a potential class action filed this week in California Superior Court, a customer of The Cheesecake Factory alleges that when the restaurant divvies up a bill for a group of diners, it is deliberately suggesting tips based on the total bill for the full table, rather than each person’s total.
Split Checks, Same Tip
According to the lawsuit [PDF], when a table splits the check at the chain, each patron receives a bill for a portion of the meal. This bill offers a suggested tip area with gratuity recommendations based on 15%, 18%, 20% and 22% of the bill.
However, the suit claims that instead of basing these suggested tips on the customer’s share of the bill, the restaurant allegedly bases these suggestions on the table’s total tab.
So imagine you and two friends run up a total lunch bill of $60 then have it divided three ways by the restaurant, meaning you’d each owe $20 plus tip. You’d expect that the suggested tip amounts on your receipt would range from $3 (15%) to $4.40 (22%). The plaintiffs claim that at Cheesecake Factory, your suggested tips would instead range from $9 (15% of $60) to $13.20 (22% of $60).
The plaintiffs argue that if customers aren’t paying attention and just go with the suggested tip amounts, they could end up paying tips that are 30% or more.
Customers expected the company to “deal fairly and honestly” and to perform accurate mathematical calculations, the suit states, noting that customers relied on the “accuracy of the preprinted suggested gratuity amounts on their sales drafts and paid one of those suggested amounts, while intending only to pay half (or less than half) of those amounts.”
A Bill Discrepancy
For instance, the plaintiff in the case says that when she visited a Cheesecake Factory restaurant with friends her share of the bill was $38.50. The suggested gratuity for the tab was listed between $11.50 and $16.94.
In the end, the customer left a $15.40 tip, which was represented on the bill as being 20% of the tab, when, in fact, it was closer to 40% of the split cost. The guest later realized the issue and complained to the chain, but she says nothing was changed.
The lawsuit alleges that the practice of basing a split bill’s gratuity suggestions on the total tab has been occurring for at least four years at nearly 213 restaurants under the Cheesecake Factory and Grand Lux Cafe names, affecting an estimated 10% of all diners paying by credit card.
According to the complaint, even if the chain never intended to mislead customers, it should still be held accountable to have known about the practices.
The lawsuit seeks to require Cheesecake Factory refund customers for the tip amount made in excess of what the gratuity should have been were it based on the split check’s amount.
A rep for the Cheesecake Factory tells BuzzFeed News that all gratuity amounts listed on checks are suggesting.
“Guests are free to tip as they please,” the rep said. “We believe our guests appreciate service provided by our hardworking staff and tip accordingly.”
Consumerist has also reached out to Cheesecake Factory regarding the lawsuit. We’ll update this post if we hear back.