A Sushi Tip

Discrimination is alive and well in Westport.

And apparently, it’s legal.

Matsu Sushi — one of Staples students’ favorite restaurants — tacks a tip onto the checks of teenagers.

Some of theirs, anyway.

Without telling them ahead of time.

Isaac Stein described the practice in yesterday’s student newspaper, Inklings.

“In the event that there is a group of teenagers at a table, the server and I will usually make the decision to add a 15 percent tip to their bill at the end of the meal,” the manager — who requested anonymity — told Isaac.

However, Staples senior Morgan Garrison was hit with a surprise 20 percent gratuity.

The manager told Isaac that the tip is “not applied to regular customers, or teenagers that the restaurant knows are going to leave an appropriate tip.”

Morgan called her tip “baffling, especially because we had waited for our food for close to an hour.”

The Matsu Sushi manager claims that before the policy was enacted, 30 to 40 percent of teenagers “would just walk out without tipping at all.”  Staples student Izzy Spada counters, “I was chased out the door of the restaurant for tipping somewhere between 13 and 15 percent.”

Some restaurants note their tipping policy on the menu.  Bobby Q’s, for example, says that parties of 8 or more will have 18 percent added to their bill.

Though Matsu Sushi seems applies its policy randomly — to only some teenagers — and does not disclose it beforehand, it may still be okay.

According to Isaac, lawyers for the website justanswer.com say that because no law prohibits discrimination based on age, the policy is “technically legal.”

(Federal Title VII, and Connecticut law, bar discrimination against anyone 40 or older.)

However, the lawyers say, it “appears to be very bad business.”


Though Matsu Sushi is popular with Staples students, it’s hardly the only restaurant in town.  It’s not even the only sushi spot.

Education takes many forms.  Staples students can learn a very good lesson — and teach one to restaurant owners — by eating summer rolls at a place that doesn’t try to roll them.

38 responses to “A Sushi Tip

  1. I can’t believe this is legal. I understand the restaurant’s frustration that some teenagers have proven themselves to be rude when it comes to tipping, but a simple reminder on the front of the menu would do. “Standard tipping ranges from 15-20%, thank you.” This practice of adding a tip just by profiling is equivalent to cab drivers in NYC not picking up black people or senior citizens because of a stereotype of little to no tipping. It’s seriously wrong, and quite frankly a combination of greed and laziness.

  2. This is a disturbing practice on the part of the restaurant. While I sympathize with the problem of “under-tippers” frankly, it’s just customary not to do require tips of a certain level in this country for groups of under 8 people. In some European countries, as I’m sure most of your readers know, tipping customs are applied differently, but we are not in Europe!

    They should stop doing that and take some other initiative towards making this right with the kids admittedly bad behavior of low or no tipping. Having said that, while 13 to 15% doesn’t qualify you as a “big tipper” I think it is perfectly adequate.

    This would dissuade me from going back to Matsu Sushi, where I believe the food is actually quite good. Too bad.

  3. John Huminski

    Tipping is not mandatory. If you’re dissatisfied with the service, you can remove the added tip from the check. After all, “tip” stands for To Insure Promptness

    • The Dude Abides

      Incorrect, John. “Tip” is not an acronym for anything but surfaced as a verb and then a noun in reference to remuneration for servants in the 1700’s.

  4. Perhaps the well-heeled parents of the town should teach their well-heeled kids about decency and not skipping out without leaving a tip.

    • Bingo!

    • Well-heeled or not, teenagers are notoriously bad tippers from the Cape to Key West. Whether it be lack of funds, manners or awareness, it is what it is and always has been. To play the “entitled” card is a bit naive.

  5. i can’t believe their parents haven’t taught them to tip properly. it’s basic etiquette. does that really need to be legislated for too? i’ve never been one to say ‘the old westport knew better’ but in this case, absolutely, ‘the old westport knew better.’

    if you can’t afford a proper gratuity, you can’t afford ‘the service’/to eat out. sometimes that’s just how it is.

    leaving no tip or a low tip is the equivalent of dragging nails down a chalkboard.

  6. Tips are appropriate for good service. When did they become required in all situations? If a resturant wants them to be a customer surcharge they need to say so on the menue….and watch them go out of business!

    • If you don’t like the service you need to say so; then, not leaving one or leaving an amount considered insulting wouldn’t be considered discourteous. If you have legitimate complaint, like food not being served for over an hour, a manager aware of that would not usually even allow staff to accept a tip on that basis.

      Outside of such a unique situation, Tips in USA, etiquette-wise, they’re ‘mandatory’.

      Restaurants don’t usually go out of business if they make gratuity mandatory/surcharge; plenty of ‘tourist’ restaurants in other areas do so. having to make it a surcharge however says plenty about the character of the people patronizing the restaurant or in this case the parents of the teenagers (the teenagers can’t be faulted if they’re only mimicking their parents).

      I don’t think this is typical of the core of Westport. Anyone I’ve ever met there – from 1970’s on to today – they would be ashamed of themselves if they, their children, their grandchildren were to insult a member of restaurant staff by not tipping properly.

      • Lucas Davenport

        I doubt if tipping has always been considered mandatory or necessarily socially required. The restaurant business has instilled cheap labor with a bare minimal working wage for wait staff that relies heavily on tips for a living. This awareness by customers has equated the now presumption that you must tip. Hardly an insult or repudiation if one does not follow such practice or question the tradition. What annoys me is not the practice of the restaurant or the kids non-tipping. It is the whine of this generation running to the courts or internet to whale the word “discrimination” that eeks of nonsensical historical perspective. Pass the word, kids. Don’t go there. Or better yet, picket the damn place.

  7. Megan Restieri

    I find this to be very disturbing! A someone who has spent my entire working life in the service industry, this is bad form on the part of Matsu Sushi…and I will definitely never go there again! Discrimination against anyone is just wrong, and this is not the first time I have heard of this sort of thing regarding the Under 25 set. I recently took a Services Marketing class at Sacred Heart University. All of my classmates were under 25, a few not yet 21. For one assignment we had to write in a “service encounter” journal, and have at least 6 entry’s. When we discussed our experiences in class, at least 5 people complained about bad service at restaurants, and felt it was because of their age, as patrons who were older were seated and served first!
    A note to restaurants..a customer is a customer is a customer, and they all should be treated equal…if they are walking in your doors, and asking for a table, they expect to pay for the meal no matter what their age..and I’m sure by the time they are in High School their parents have taught them about tipping..don’t discriminate..they may come back, bring friends, bring family for their Birthday dinner and end up being a Loyal Customer!!!

  8. Student's Concern

    I, as one of these student’s that most probably has been ripped off, will eat there again. I think it is highly unfair but that shouldn’t be my deciding factor in a restaurant. As a teenager or at any age, 15% is a reasonable tip if the service is decent but not spectacular (which Matsu is – they don’t refill hot tea without prompting or stop by to check how everything is unless the place is empty). I worry that I have double tipped there previously because I have never noticed this before. I will continue my patronage but they shouldn’t be surprised if I take off some of that tip in the future.

  9. Fred Cantor

    An argument can be made that the practice is not legal, not on grounds of discrimination, but rather on the grounds that the restaurant is engaging in a fundamental deceptive trade practice. The menu not only serves as a guide to meal selections, it also tells consumers what they will be paying for those selections–and if there is a specific automatic gratuity for large groups.

    Just as a restaurant can not list an item on a menu as $20 and then look to charge you $23 on the final bill, a restaurant can not simply tack on a surcharge without disclosing that to the consumer in advance.

    By the way, I am not defending kids who may engage in poor etiquette when it comes to tipping.

  10. Having eaten at Matsu with parents and family (on not so busy nights), their service is terrible regardless, and I’m not one to complain about bad service.

    Additionally, having worked as a waiter, I know it’s not an easy job and that tipping is the main source of income for waiters. I believe in tipping around 15-20% if the service is at least tolerable, and I don’t think I’ve ever left no tip period.

    But…this policy seems to be a little ridiculous on the end of the restaurant, and they should at the very least put a notice saying so before hand.

  11. The Dude Abides

    Mr. Cantor has a valid point. Legally, it is a deceptive trade practice although has become widely used in restaurants when a large party is involved. I doubt the validity of an age discrimination argument for that is a federal violation and no federal court is going to hear such a case.
    I always tip 20% and am annoyed when they enact a 18% gratuity for my former wife was a waitress and helped put us through law school working such. I also leave a cash tip for many places take 3-5% out of a waiter’s tip if a charge card is involved.
    On a double date for the Senior Prom in ’66, I walked out without tipping at Silvermine for my fellow buddy could not cover his half let alone a tip. When I explained it to my father the next day, he drove me back to the restaurant and reimbursed the servers “for putting up with these numbnuts.”
    Never forgot it and never will. Now they want to sue the place. Different world that I am beginning not to recognize.

    • the father of The Dude Abides, he is exactly the mind set that people should have. and those that don’t, they should eat at home or at fast food cafes. i don’t think it’s a different world as much as, figuratively speaking, ‘the wrong side of the tracks’. the restaurants should ‘require reservations’ that way notoriously poor tippers can be rejected ‘legally’.

    • The IRS assumes (Form 8047) that tips are paid, and taxes individuals and establishments accordingly. Just FYI. The actions of the restaurant may be questionable, but I agree with the observation, that if the diners have gripes, they should take them up with the restaurant, and if not staisfied with the response eat elsewhere. I don’t see why anyone would want to frequent a restaurant that did not provide service worthy of a tip.

      • The Dude Abides

        Wait staff used to be a target for audits by IRS for unreported tips. I had dinner at Vee’s last night and was informed that now they actually withhold for their employees. Not so sure the wait staff enjoys that but avoids chaos down the line.

  12. Fred Cantor is correct. This is a bait and switch. If the menu doesn’t say that there is an automatic gratuity surcharge then the patron should refuse to pay it. If management argues the police should be called. Period.

    Does Matsu base the percentage on the cost of food, liquor and tax, the entire gross check, or is it calculated pre-tax (not that it matters, I’m merely just curious)? Traditionally food was calculated at one rate and liquor at another while tax was never in the calculation. Nowadays 20% of the gross check (including tax) seems the norm at any “full service” restaurant. If I leave less I always tell either or both the server and manager exactly why I have chosen to leave a smaller tip. Smart management is usually happy to have constructive criticism. If they fail to listen to their customers they won’t be around for too long and even Gordon Ramsey will not be able to save their ignorant selves.

  13. Doug Conner

    I recommend posting your thought on Yelp.com. If Matsu Sushi gave you a sub par experience, say it so on Yelp.

  14. Most restaurants inform you on the menu or the charge slip that a certain percentage gratuity will or is being charged. That should certainly be within the contraints of the law. Arbitrary charging as to age, race, religion went out with the Jim Crow laws or should have. That being said, I wish someone would write a book about tipping. To whom, when, how much, etc. e.g a barber is always tipped but the manager of the shop is not? Florist delivery guys are not tipped now but cab drivers are always tipped while limo drivers’ tip is pre-billed? How about Woogie? Another book.

  15. Stacy Prince

    I had the same thing happen to me in Little Italy/NYC last summer. Friends and I stopped at a tourist spot for dessert and were treated to a 20% tip surcharge. We complained, had it explained (“often people do not tip at all”), and subsequently left less — though we probably would have tipped 20% had we not been shanghaied!

  16. There you go Stacy. A little self-help does wonders. Beats whining about it.

  17. Westporter95

    I’ll eat sushi somewhere else-

  18. Tina Dragone learned the hard way and now Matsu Sushi shall as well: You don’t mess with 06880 blog!!!

  19. First, congratulations to Isaac Stein, who saw this as a news story that is relevant to students, their parents and the community. It is in the best traditions of journalism lay out the facts and hear opinions from both sides.
    Furthermore, as a parent, it’s information about a local business that I am glad to have. I’d also be interested to know whether the servers, when noticing that students did add a 15 to 20 percent tip to the bill that already had it added (students who didn’t notice because they are just beginning to dine out on their own and have been taught to always to leave a tip) were honest and pointed this out to the teens. Call me cynical, but I doubt it.
    Again, kudos, Isaac. Keep it up.

  20. Student's Concern

    I am proud to announce that Matsu did not pre-add a tip to the bill yesterday to me and my three clearly underage friends. Therefore, the server received the 20% tip that she deserved for (for once) being kind, attentive, and prompt. Seeing as they have stopped the awful practice, would everyone please go back to eating there? It is so convenient having sushi downtown.

    • John Huminski

      A pen is mightier than a sword.

      What made you return?

      • Student's Concern

        Because it, for all its flaws, the food is good and in an accessible area of town. I wouldn’t go out of my way, but I don’t feel the need to put them out of business.

    • Young Westporter

      If that had ever happened to me, I would never return. There are plenty of other Sushi places around, and I wouldn’t want to support a dishonest business either way.

  21. Do you live in a hole?

    TO EVERYONE ON THIS THREAD WHO HAS SAID THAT “PARENTS NEED TO TEACH THEIR CHILDREN BETTER ETIQUITE”……..STOP TALKING. If you have ever been to Matsu you would realize that the service is TERRIBLE. I have waited for a full hour before my food arrives, in a dead restaurant, last time i checked sushi isn’t cooked. I myself have been a victim of this “tip” that they add onto your bill and to be quite honest the first 2 times i didn’t notice it and yet still tipped on top of it. It is honestly pathetic that a restaurant like this would even begin to do this and i believe that readers of this blog should band together and pull a “tina dragone” on this s*%@ hole of a place.

  22. Do you live in a hole???

    TO EVERYONE ON THIS THREAD WHO HAS SAID THAT “PARENTS NEED TO TEACH THEIR CHILDREN BETTER ETIQUITE”……..STOP TALKING. If you have ever been to Matsu you would realize that the service is TERRIBLE. I have waited for a full hour before my food arrives, in a dead restaurant, last time i checked sushi isn’t cooked. I myself have been a victim of this “tip” that they add onto your bill and to be quite honest the first 2 times i didn’t notice it and yet still tipped on top of it. It is honestly pathetic that a restaurant like this would even begin to do this and i believe that readers of this blog should band together and pull a “tina dragone” on this s*%@ hole of a place.

  23. We live in a Westport, not a hole. And not a s*%@ hole either. Your point is well taken, regardless of its intensity and duplicity. Perhaps you should quit eating sushi altogether if it affects your blood sugar as such. Tina and Matsu will sink on their own. My only concern is what kind of teenagers eat sushi?????

  24. Throughout most of Europe and many other parts of the world, service (tip) is included in the bill. I appreciate this; I’m a generous tipper but I still hate figuring out the tip – bad arithmetician that I am – after a good meal with wine!

  25. Eel and Avocado Enthusiast

    As a young Westport victim of the Matsu Tip Tacking fiasco, I have been offended on various counts by the staff at Matsu. However, due to their delectable and irresistible sushi, I return…and simply tell the server that he or she is “undeserving of a 20% tip due to poor check etiquette, so kindly remove the 20% addition and allow me to tip accordingly, please and thank you.” Nonetheless, tipping education is seriously lacking in a town where standards are held high. It is clear that restaurant staff assume that ALL young people were raised with poor tipping taste. Despite the disgraceful sense of entitlement and poor form exhibited in previous comments, we are not all unreasonable. Dan: I encourage you to start a Westport Youth Gratuity Etiquette Movement…it would help alleviate Westport restaurant-vs-young-customer tension. I mean, this is AMERICA. Bon apetit!