After lawsuit, Jon & Vinny’s adds explainer on customer checks about 18% service fee
Nearly two weeks after former servers at Jon & Vinny’s filed a class-action lawsuit against the popular Italian American restaurant, alleging that the establishment violated California gratuity laws, the restaurant changed the language tacked on to the end of customer bills regarding its 18% service fee.
At the bottom of customers’ checks, it now reads: “The service charge is not a tip or gratuity, and is an added fee controlled by the restaurant that helps facilitate a higher living base wage for all of our employees. Please scan the QR Code at the top of the receipt for additional information, or speak with a manager.”
As recently as June, receipts at the Fairfax and Beverly Hills locations did not mention that the service fee was not a gratuity. Instead, the receipt had a QR code that, when scanned, linked to a web page headlined “What We Believe.” There, customers are told, “No, the service charge is not a tip or gratuity, it is an added fee that is controlled by the restaurant.”
Over the weekend, servers received a message from management about the change.
“We have decided to further update the guest check and QR Code summary page regarding the service charge,” the message read. “Although we have always been very clear with our guests and our staff that the service charge is not a tip or gratuity, unfortunately the recent LA Times article has created confusion and we don’t want that to affect our staff or our customers’ experience. We believe in this team, the experience, and our ability to come together to preserve what’s so special about Jon & Vinny’s.”
A spokesperson for Jon & Vinny’s declined to comment beyond the note sent to staff.
The restaurant says the 18% service fee attached to checks is part of a vision to make pay more equitable among all workers. The suit filed Tuesday in L.A. seeks damages for what servers claim are tips.
The announcement and change in billing language comes after a Los Angeles Times article published on June 21 about the class-action lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court against Joint Venture Restaurant Group Inc., which owns Jon & Vinny’s. The workers claim that the company denied them tips and therefore shortchanged them on their take-home pay because of confusion resulting from the 18% service fee.
California’s gratuity law requires that tips be remitted in full to non-managerial service staff.
Through a spokesperson, the restaurant group — including partners Jon Shook, Vinny Dotolo and Helen Johannesen, well-known figures in the L.A. culinary community — denied the claims. The business partners said their service-charge model democratizes a dining staff’s earnings for everyone in their restaurants, and that customers are offered information that states the fee is not a tip.
“Ten years ago, we recognized that the traditional tip model rewarded some employees, but left many employees behind — creating a huge disparity where some employees did very well and others did not,” the group said in a statement sent to the Los Angeles Times. The service fee, it added, “not only unquestionably benefits hourly employees, but it is unquestionably legal, having been vetted by independent leading professionals in the hospitality industry.”
A class-action lawsuit filed against the restaurant group that owns Jon & Vinny’s has started a larger conversation on the ethics of service fees and tipping. L.A. Times readers share their thoughts.
A server who currently works at the Jon & Vinny’s Beverly Hills location said the new language might be clearer but didn’t please some of their diners on Sunday evening. The server didn’t want to be named due to fear of retaliation.
“It certainly doesn’t solve the problem, because people are still pissed about the 18% and where it goes,” the server said. “And it clearly didn’t make them tip more last night.”
Sunday night, the server said, diners left fewer tips than usual for him. He said customers left “a lot of zeroes” in tips or wrote “included” in the tip line.
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