No restaurant should withhold tips from its workers, but it's even crappier when said restaurant is one of the priciest in the nation. And yet, that's exactly what happened at Per Se, Thomas Keller's celebrated Manhattan eatery—and now they're paying the price. The Attorney General has announced a settlement with the restaurant to the tune of $500,000 for not paying out gratuity in private dining and banquet services from January 2011 through September 2012. Meanwhile, the eatery charges $310 for their tasting menu.
An investigation revealed that a 20% service charge added to the bill of private diners was not passed on to servers, despite the restaurant referring to the charge as a gratuity. Emails from the restaurant indicated that "service/gratuity is certainly included in the pricing," and the service charge was listed on the restaurants receipts and other printed materials. As noted by the Attorney General, restaurants cannot withhold any kind of money deemed to be a gratuity and there are also incredibly specific rules—including font size!—about "service charges" and how they're explained to customers.
The restaurant is claiming the ignorance card in light of the settlement. "In an unintentional oversight, Per Se, unaware of a new state regulation, did not update the description of the operational charge in its private dining event agreement during a 21-month period in 2011 and 2012," a spokesperson for Per Se told us. "Nearly three years ago, in September 2012, Per Se modified this contract language at its own initiative and has been in compliance since that time."
Per Se isn't the only restaurant found guilty of shoddy tipping practices. In 2012, Mario Batali and his partners were sued by employees for tip skimming, resulting in a $5.25 million settlement with disgruntled workers.