Sunday, May 27, 2012

At Mantra in Paramus, mandatory 18% tip ruins a great meal

The interior of Mantra on Route 4 west in Paramus.


I couldn't resist an e-mail from Groupon offering dinner for 4 at a stylish Asian Indian restaurant in Paramus for $75, including a bottle of wine.

The voucher said the restaurant, Mantra, would serve us 2 appetizers (up to $11 each), 2 orders of bread ($4 each), 4 entrees (up to $28 each) and 1 bottle of house wine ($28).

I bought the deal and printed out my voucher, which said I should tip "on the total bill (Groupon value, plus anything else you order)."

But Groupon didn't do its homework.

Mantra automatically adds an 18% gratuity for "parties of 4 or more," though most restaurants do that only for groups of 6 or more.

Boldly flavored sauces of tamarind and cilantro.

And on Saturday night, if I expected the gratuity to be applied to the discounted price of the food and bottle of wine ($75), I was in for a rude awakening.

Mantra applied the 18% tip to the total value of food and wine ($148) -- $26.64. 

Groupon replied to my e-mail, saying the "Groupon value" is not what I paid for the voucher; it is the total original value of the meal.

My $75 voucher cost me only $52 after a credit of $18 and a special $5 discount. So, my total cost was $52 plus $26.64.

At first, the waiter gave me a bill for $26.64, labeled "an 18% service charge," and only brought me an itemized bill when I asked for it.

That listed all the dishes we had ordered, plus the bottle of wine, and their full value. There was no mention of the $75 Groupon voucher on either bill.

A Crab Chaat appetizer, bound by thinly sliced cucumber, was as delicious as it looked.

Our entrees were Lamb Vindaloo, Goat Curry, Fish Curry and Lobster Masala.

I usually don't order a full bottle of wine, and if I do, I don't tip on it.

I have enjoyed many promotional $24.07 three-course lunches during Restaurant Week in Manhattan, and have never been asked to tip on the full value of the meal ($40 to $45).

Garlic naan.

Some of the meat in the Lobster Masala was sinewy and tough.

When our appetizers of Mango Shrimp ($9) and Crab Chaat ($10) were brought to the table, they tasted as good as they looked, and I began thinking we'd return to Mantra, with or without a discount voucher.

My son wanted to order lamb chops, but they were $30 and the waiter said we couldn't order entrees averaging $28; each one had to be $28 or under.

Our entrees were Lamb Vindaloo ($19), Goat Curry ($20), Lobster Masala ($28) and Kerala Fish Curry ($26). Two bowls of rice were included.

This is the best Indian food I've ever had and the service couldn't be faulted, but getting muscled for an 18% gratuity on the total value of food and wine left a bad taste in my mouth.

I won't be returning to Mantra.

These tables remained empty during our visit to Mantra.

Mantra, 275 Route 4 west, in the Shoppes at IV, Paramus; 201-342-8868.

Web site: Hey, big spender


  1. 20% tip is what's generally suggested these days esp. at a more high-end place. A mandatory 18% tip is not something to get worked up over.

  2. I don't object to the 18% so much as it being applied to the full price of the meal before it was discounted.

    No restaurant offering an early bird special or a fixed-price lunch that is cheaper than ordering a la carte asks you to tip on the original price.

    No restaurant except those that sell vouchers on Groupon, Travelzoo and other sites.

  3. Seems awfully petty to never go back to the best Indian food you ever had because you didn't like the way they administer a discount. Paybfull price like most customers do and the problem is solved. Unless you don't done out unless you can find a discount which seems like a shallow way of enjoying food. But whatever.

  4. what i get from reading this article is that a) just pay the 18% because thats pretty standard so don't fuss about that but b) its pretty bs when you have to pay the 18% OF THE ORIGINAL PRICE instead of the voucher discounted price. you're basically paying the original price.... no one has that money these days. its worth going to restaurant week- they dont make you tip the original meal price only on the fixed rest wk price PLUS better quality meal/service.. groupon advertises on dying restaurants

    1. If you can't afford it stay home just because you use a groupon does not mean that the servers should get less money. Waitstaff needs to make a living too. This is a business not a charity were you can go for a free meal. When you think the owners and staff are happy to see an other cheap groupon customer you are wrong the ONLY way they make money is when you come back and pay the full price otherwise stay home and how many times have you done that and support this business?

    2. It has nothing to do with whether I can afford it. Tipping is a broken system imposed by greedy restaurant owners. They pay there servers as little as $2.50 an hour and expect the customer to make up the difference.

      A restaurant that issues a Groupon or other deal is acknowledging it is in trouble and trying to drum up business. I am under no obligation to support any business, let alone a restaurant.


Please try to stay on topic.