Not long ago we wrote about how a few airlines were using new software that allowed flight attendants to leave notes to their peers about passengers’ personal details. At the time I mentioned the software would be a great way for FAs to know specifics about what passengers like to eat or drink (i.e.: I prefer “no ice” with my soda) or if they had a preferred nickname (like my husband’s name is Joseph, but he prefers to be called Joe). But it could also lead to shared information that might benefit FAs more than the passengers, perhaps with notes that Mr. So-And-So tends to become “handsy” when he’s had too much to drink, or that they overheard Mrs. You-Know-Who tell the person next to her that although she boarded the plane using a wheelchair, she really didn’t need it; she just wanted to get on the plane faster.
Apparently some restaurants in an iconic beach resort in France are doing something similar, but for much more nefarious reasons.
Saint-Tropez is a coastal town on the French Riviera, in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of southeastern France. Long popular with artists, the town began attracting the international “jet set” after the release of 1957’s And God Created Woman, starring Brigitte Bardot (many scenes were filmed on the fishing village’s beach). The town remains known for its beaches and nightlife and still attracts the rich and famous from around the world. It’s currently the second-most expensive town in France.
However there’s trouble in paradise, and it all appears to be focused on tipping. Well, and revenge.
As a tourist town, Saint Tropez has a multitude of restaurants, bars and bistros. And it’s recently come to light that some of the town’s fanciest restaurants are keeping tabs on how generously customers tip. The information is stored in a secret database, which is then used to either accept or deny these guests’ future reservation requests.
If they’ve been considered to be good tippers in the past, they’re able to get a reservation. Then, once they’ve eaten, these customers are being ‘encouraged’ to leave huge American-style ‘extra tips’.
But wait, it gets better – if potential patrons are listed in the database to have been considered cheapskates, they’re blacklisted. They’re told the restaurant is fully booked that evening. So sorry, monsieur! Maybe try elsewhere?
A high-end Saint Tropez restaurant owner, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Daily Mail they love their tourists, “and they spend a lot of money here but those who don’t have unlimited funds need to be warned.”
Another said: “It boils down to nightclub economics – if you’re known for buying large bottles of champagne, you get the best table; if you sip at half of lager all night, they don’t want you back.”
When the mayor of Saint Tropez, Sylvie Siri, found out about this secret database, she went ballistic. She called it ‘extortion’ and ‘racketeering.’
“These illegal practices must cease immediately,” said Mayor Siri, who was born in Saint Tropez. “These forced tips are akin to organized racketeering. We are a long way from the essence of a tip, representing customer satisfaction.
“This means a tip is paid at the discretion of the consumer, when it is not part of the bill, because in France service is included,” she continued.
Quick clarification: Secrets of Paris explains that a 15% service fee is automatically included in all cafés, restaurants, bars, and other eateries in France. It’s included in the price of each item, not on top of the total. Until the mid-1980s, the French used to leave 15% for the service, PLUS a tip. But in 1985 the French government passed a law (it’s known as le SMIC in France) that requires all employees to be paid at least minimum wage. To make sure patrons are aware of this, all menus in France are required to state “15% service compris” (this also justifies restaurants having prices that cover that 15%). This is the law in France (this is the official statement from the Ministry of Economy that says as much), so it’s known that tips are optional, and how much of said tip is totally up to the client. French people still leave a small tip if they’d like, but they know it’s “extra” for the server).
Anyway, back to the story at hand.
Mayor Siri said on record that the practices of these restaurants were “detestable,” not only for visitors “but also for the people of St. Tropez.”
She also said using that sort of method to determine reservations was “extortion, pure and simple,” noting that the database was an illegal use of data,” since the customers aren’t given the option to consent to their information being stored.
Mayor Siri also said, “We have already been driven out of our homes,” (due to price increases in the entire Saint Tropez area) “and soon we will no longer be able to eat out because we will be driven out of restaurants. St Tropez gets more expensive every year and if you can’t afford to compete with the big rollers, you could find yourself humiliated,” she continued.
The area’s local newspaper, Var-Matin, recently reported that one angry waiter handed a €500 (U.S.$540) tip back to a large party of diners, saying he expected, “a minimum of 20% on top of the bill.” Another unnamed staff member said it would cost €5,000 (U.S.$5400) to reserve a table. Still other restaurants have reportedly introduced policies of “mandatory gratuities” or minimum spend per head of around €1500 (U.S.$1621)
No word on if or how city officials plan to end the dirty database. But Mayor Siri did tell Var-Martin that these restaurants were flouting several laws, including extortion and disregarding data privacy laws. That could result in the loss of their late-night licenses, which are required to sell alcoholic beverages.
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