Lehigh Students Arrested for Failing to Leave Tip

Lehigh students Leslie Pope and John Wagner believe that they now know why tipping is mandatory at the Lehigh Pub in Bethlehem. After they received what they called horrendous service, they paid the bill with no tip. They ended up in jail for the $16.35 tip.

The students were with six friends at the pub, which charges an automatic 18 percent gratuity for parties of six or more.

They claim that they had to get their own utensils and napkins for a waitress that left to take a smoke, beg for refills on sodas, and wait an hour for salad and wings.

The restaurant took the $73 for the meals and drinks and then called the police.

Lehigh Pub thereby succeeded in pursuing $16 in exchange for publicizing to the nation what customers think of its service. So much for a rational actor theory.

For the story, click here.

54 thoughts on “Lehigh Students Arrested for Failing to Leave Tip”

  1. I got a BS, MS, and PhD at Lehigh. One thing I can say is that they charged a 22.4% tip!!

    I wonder how many times they did that. It’s gonna be hilarious when the Lehigh Pub owes some thousands of dollars in back taxes.

  2. Buddha Is Laughing,

    And what lotta said, Prof. & nal.

    You guys go together like Abbott and Costello.
    *************************************

    Or at least like the Three Stooges. Not enough for the Rat Pack though.

  3. Anonmously Yours 1, November 19, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    As a Lehigh Alum, IMHO, it has never had good service.

    ****************************

    This is not the real Anonmously Yours or should I say I did not post this. Oh, Professor…..

    I will say a self respecting Texan would have stiffed them for the whole bill. We certainly would have never gone to a school that had a name of lehigh. It would be General Robert E. Lee, Commander of the Union Army of the South. We know how to spell Lee, just in case you wanted to know.

  4. I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but as an Australian, so many of Prof Turley’s posts on this site have me wanting to respond with;

    “Only in the USofA”.

  5. And a lack of focus on one word, that lack of precision combined with a legal mangling of the actual meaning of a word, is what caused this issue.

    So I’ll stick with precision in defining words. Obfuscation of meaning is the enemy of truth.

  6. I’m not sure exactly what the patrons were charged with, nor do I have a definitive version of the PA Code, but I did find this:

    http://law.onecle.com/pennsylvania/crimes-and-offenses/00.039.026.000.html

    § 3926. Theft of services.
    (a) Acquisition of services.–
    (1) A person is guilty of theft if he intentionally
    obtains services for himself or for another which he knows
    are available only for compensation, by deception or threat,
    by altering or tampering with the public utility meter or
    measuring device by which such services are delivered or by
    causing or permitting such altering or tampering, by making
    or maintaining any unauthorized connection, whether
    physically, electrically or inductively, to a distribution or
    transmission line, by attaching or maintaining the attachment
    of any unauthorized device to any cable, wire or other
    component of an electric, telephone or cable television
    system or to a television receiving set connected to a cable
    television system, by making or maintaining any unauthorized
    modification or alteration to any device installed by a cable
    television system, or by false token or other trick or
    artifice to avoid payment for the service.

    (4) Where compensation for service is ordinarily paid
    immediately upon the rendering of such service, as in the
    case of hotels and restaurants, refusal to pay or absconding
    without payment or offer to pay gives rise to a presumption
    that the service was obtained by deception as to intention to
    pay.

  7. Buddha,

    You are right that there is also no “reasonable” disagreement about the meaning of gratuity. But “gratuity” is not the only word in the contract, and it must be interpreted in context. Other words in the contract include, “18 percent gratuity added to check of parties of 6 of more,” and “added,” standing alone, is also not ambiguous; it doesn’t mean “added if you don’t object to the service.” Reasonable people, therefore, can differ as to how to interpret the entire contract; some might say that patrons should recognize that, in this context, “gratuity” should not be taken literally. Alan, though, has a point that any ambiguity should be construed against the restaurant, so your conclusion may be the better one, but you should not reach it simply by singling out one word.

  8. Ahhh, thanks Vince.

    One cannot know all of the law. I appreciate the information in re tips. All of my actual restaurant experience, both legal and otherwise, consists mostly of dining. I am one of the few in the country who has never had a food services job and I’ve never done labor law.

    I still say it’s an abuse of the word. Plain and simple. Clearer language on the menu would have eliminated this issue. On plain logic and linguistics, that’s a ridiculous law. “We’re going to start calling ducks farggleblasts.” What? Let alone practically enforceable.

    Now Byron, I’d like to take a minute to tie this in to our discussion about functionality. You stay focused on size. This is a perfect example of size being the wrong metric. Enforceability and accomplishment of the goal of the legislation. If the goal was to provide the minimum wage to restaurant wait staff, this is simply a retarded way to do it that only benefits corrupt employers (yeah, I know, that never happens) and encourages abuse. If the goal was to provide the minimum wage to restaurant wait staff, they should have made it illegal not to pay wait staff below minimum wage and play that bullshit shell game they set up in it’s place.

    And I bet a dollar if you look into the history of the FLSO, a restaurant industry lobbyist had a hand in writing it. Poorly worded menus (yeah, if it’s not beyond obligation, it’s – duh – NOT A GRATUITY) and ridiculous unenforceable laws that not only do not accomplish their stated and desired goal, but instead encourage abuses? You should be more concerned about that kind of malfunction that how big it is. Because if you are not

    But size didn’t cause this problem.

  9. I agree the word “gratuity” unambiguously means an amount one is not required to pay. Note further that if the menu had hypothetically contained the somewhat contradictory terms “mandatory gratuity” or “required gratuity”, that would create an ambiguity in the terms of the contract, and that ambiguity would have to be construed against the restaurant who wrote the words and had an obligation to make them clear. Again, however, the reported language of the menu was not ambiguous and there was no obligation for the diners to pay amounts described as “gratuity”.

  10. MacK,

    A menu is an offer to sell and an invitation to contract for food and services as is opening your doors and advertising you are a restaurant open to the public. Commercial sales transactions, including providing food, are indeed a form of abbreviated contract and governed by local law and/or the UCC. As the menu would be the conveyance mechanism for the terms of service and items they will prepare, a menu is most certainly a document with legal impact. One cannot have a contract, even abbreviated ones, without the simple terms of the object of the contract and the related price term. A menu is simply a list of what they offer and how much it costs. The simple fact is they used the word gratuity improperly. If it was a surcharge for large parties, call it that. But a gratuity is optional by definition because it is outside the scope – beyond the obligations – of the contract. It is literally part of the word’s definition.

    There is also no “reasonable” disagreement about the meaning of gratuity. Some of you are simply wrong. You mistake your personal preferences for what a word actually means. Did any of you having a problem with this learn English as a second language? I could understand that. But aside from the OED, Webster’s has kinda been in the dictionary business a while and are widely considered authorities on etymology. If you want to make up definitions to words, well, knock yourselves out. I’ll stick with actual English.

  11. Tangentially, on waitressing (and art). I couldn’t find the video online, so here’s the lyrics.
    Thanks to The Dallas Observer’s Unfair Park blog for posting them in their entirety.

    “Well it’s not silly
    When she brings you your chili
    To grab a cracker
    And distract her…with a crunch
    A cracker crunch
    ‘Cause you’ll only see her once
    Only this one time at lunch
    And she might as well see you too
    Ahhh…it’s the last time
    You’re passing through
    And it’s not rude
    When she takes away your food
    To touch her fingers
    And let them linger awhile with your loneliness
    A cracker crunch
    ‘Cause you’ll only touch her once
    Only this one time at lunch
    And she might as well touch you too
    Ahhh…it’s the last time
    You’re passin through
    So it’s not strange
    When she brings you your change
    To bend down and kiss her
    And whisper you’ll miss her…forever
    A cracker crunch
    ‘Cause you’ll only love her once
    Only this one time at lunch
    And she might as well love you too
    Ahhh…it’s the last time
    You’re passin through

    Recitation:
    A waitress asked me what I did
    I told her I tried to make art.
    She asked me if I made any money.
    I said no…I have to “teach” to do that.
    She asked me what I taught and where.
    I told her.
    She told me that she liked art, but that she
    couldn’t draw a straight line.
    I told her if she could reach for something and pick it up, she could draw a line that was straight enough.
    She said she wasn’t interested in that kind of drawing…but had always like horses.
    I said I did too, but they are hard to draw.
    She said yes that was very true…said she could do the body ok, but could never do the head, tail or legs.
    I told her she was drawing sausages, not horses.
    She said, “no…they were horses.”

    Terry Allen, “The Beautiful Waitress” from ‘Lubbock on Everything’.

  12. Henry is right on contract law.

    And all discussants should be aware that tips are wages under federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSO).

    In a good definition, Wiktionary says “Tip wage credit: An employer benefit provided in Section 3(m) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended, (the “Act”) which allows employers to pay tipped employees significantly less than the minimum hourly wage required by the Act. The provision permits employers to classify tips received by tipped employees as employer-paid wages, and to use those wages as part payment of those employees’ minimum hourly wage. An employer benefit provided in Section 3(m) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended, (the “Act”) which allows employers to pay tipped employees significantly less than the minimum hourly wage required by the Act. The provision permits employers to classify tips received by tipped employees as employer-paid wages, and to use those wages as part payment of those employees’ minimum hourly wage.”

    So the so-called gratuitous “tip” has long since stopped being a free gift of gratitude. It is part of the price of a meal, since it is used as part of the wait staff wages.

    If the diner leaves no tip, the owner must pay the full minimum wage, since there will be no credit. But the staff is entitled to no more than minimum by law.

    Fair labor standards act violations are notoriously under reported, and the Act is cumbersome to enforce.

    I hope this helps to broaden the discussion.

  13. I think that Nal’s 4:44 comment is plausible, as is TomD.Arch’s 5:06 comment — as is my opposing 4:28 comment. In other words, reasonable people can differ on this. As a lawyer, however, I can say that Mack is wrong in his 5:30 comment. Contracts do not have to be signed, or written, to be enforceable; they can be oral. (Real estate contracts are an exception.) Requiring a patron to sign would help the restaurant’s case by preventing the patron from claiming that the notice about the “gratuity” was not prominent enough for him to have noticed it, but it is not necessary to make it mandatory, if the words of the notice state that it is mandatory.

  14. Stiff Waiter,

    Keep it up and I’ll start posting on your side more often than not…..

    Bring it on. The competition makes me sharper.

    The Buddha is self-destructing his liver, but he does deserve a shout-out. So does Elaine. And Deborah. And Vince. And everybody else I’ve not mentioned. Vince holds a special place, and thankfully, the evidence of why has been culled.

  15. I saw this story on the local NBC affiliate last night and my first thought was “boy has the world gone crazy?” but then I figured the bar needs to coerce people in to paying the wait staff because the service is so bad (based on what I heard from the story).

    I think restaurants and wait staff should remember that “TIPS” is an acronym for “To ImProve Service”. If the service is not good then no “tip” should be left (regardless of the menu statement). If the service is above the norm then a tip should be left (i.e. “to improve service”).

    Of course the students saying that they would pay the “mandatory gratuity” should either go somewhere else or get separate checks!

  16. Nal,

    I stay mostly off your side of the blawg…..

    Keep it up and I’ll start posting on your side more often than not…..

    Does not Buddha et al deserve at the least a gratuitous honorable tongue in cheek mention?

    Buddha’s liver has been offered more than once, don’t you know!

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