This is plain crazy. The NY Post reports that a quartet of foreigners who now live in the United States were forced to pay an 18% tip by SoHo restaurant Aquagrill. The group, who did order in "accented English," questioned the gratuity and was told by the waiter, "We do that because you're foreign, and foreigners don't tip."
When Ludovic Audesson, who lives in Manhattan, spoke to the manager, who said sorry, explained he was protecting the staff, and offered to remove the tip. Audesson gave a pretty good brush-off: "Keep the tip, but you will never see me again." Aquagrill owner Jennifer Marshall is all kinds of apologetic, offering a gift certificate and says that the party was reimbursed. That's nice of her, if way too late, and we can't help but wonder how many other parties have just paid bills with gratuities without questioning them.
The Post noted a very useful rule from the Department of Consumer Affairs: "[A] restaurant can impose a 15 percent gratuity on parties of eight or more as long as it conspicuously prints the policy on the menu." If that's so, why do some restaurants impose gratuities for parties of as low as five? And sometimes the gratuities are 18% or more!