My thanks to every restaurant that tells customers when a gratuity has been added to their bill. And no, that fine print at the bottom of a menu — “Gratuity may be added to parties of six or more” — doesn’t count. It’s an ambiguous disclaimer to deflect lawsuits from ticked-off diners who unwittingly left a 38% tip.

Now if the menu states, “Gratuity WILL be added to parties of six or more,” the situation is clear, and a buyer should beware.

But I know the deal. I waited tables through four years of college. That vague menu disclaimer teaches every server to gamble a bit while sizing up a group of diners. Do you get the manager’s permission to “grat” a large table, guaranteeing yourself an 18% tip? Or do you roll the dice and assume they’ll tip more than that? It can go either way.

Personally, I tip at least 20% — unless a restaurant or server assumes I’m a cheapskate by including an 18% tip on my tab. Then I won’t give anything more.

I understand both sides — server and diner.

When the party of six or more includes two or more high chairs or booster seats, then, yes, by all means, grat them. The server will spend more time sweeping up cracker crumbs and fries than the group took to eat their meal. Besides, chicken fingers and Sprites — with lids, of course — don’t make for a high ticket price. And by the time the check comes, the grownups are so immersed in their own toddler nightmare, they’re unaware of anything but their escape.

Get the 18% and get them out of your section. Sorry, parents, but let’s be honest. If you don’t enjoy dining out with your own young children, why would anyone else? 

But make them aware of your 18% decision.

I had a lovely dinner Monday with my visiting in-laws at Thai Island, where our attentive server took the time to circle the bottom line of our printed bill, “Gratuity has been included.”

That’s all it took. We saw it. We appreciated the disclosure and we added $10 cash to the included tip.

The situation was vastly different back in February, when my parents were in town for three weeks, returning to some restaurants several times. (My dad’s a creature of habit.)  

In one case, my dad and a family friend were puzzled by a bill that was $50 higher than they had mentally tallied, as they planned to split it.  Only after 15 minutes of confusion and questions, did the server say, “Oh, maybe it’s because gratuity is included.”

Really? Maybe? Ya think?  She got nothing extra from our party of six that always tips 22-25% (because their daughters have waited tables.)

I was embarrassed. My mom was reminded of a dinner 20 years prior at a different place. A French couple at the next table — two people, not six — seemed eager to comply with American tipping customs. They showed me their bill and asked what they should tip. Unbeknownst to them, an 18% gratuity had been added. As a server, I get it. International travelers can be less likely to adhere to local tipping customs, making the 18% “grat” a less risky option. But, come on, let the customer know.  I told the couple what had happened and advised them not to give any extra.

People are spending a ton of money to visit. Let’s be honest with them.

Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.