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Hawaii News

Panel looks into tip charge for non-English speakers


A Waikiki restaurant has attracted the attention of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission with a notice that it will add a 15 percent gratuity to the checks of patrons who don’t speak English.

The warning is in fine print on the menu at Keoni by Keo’s. The menu also says parties of six or more will be charged the same amount.

The restaurant told KITV that its customer base includes many international travelers who, by custom, do not tip. The restaurant says it is merely trying to help its customers and wait staff.

About 17 percent of the nearly 7 million tourists who visited Hawaii last year were from Japan, where people do not leave tips in restaurants.

IRS administrative rules require the restaurant to consider 8 percent of its total sales as tips, so waiters must pay taxes accordingly, even on tips they often do not receive, a representative of Keoni by Keo’s told KITV.

Bill Hoshijo, executive director of the Civil Rights Commission, didn’t speak specifically about the restaurant, but said language referring to non-English speaking customers could be a problem.

"Discrimination based on language is ancestry discrimination," Hoshijo said.

The commission hasn’t received complaints about the charge, but Hoshijo said the commission will likely send a letter to the restaurant inquiring about the practice and will likely investigate the practice at other restaurants.

"Places of public accommodation can come up with different ways to address those concerns that are non-discriminatory," Hoshijo said.

Keoni by Keo’s said the gratuity charge is printed in red on the customer’s check and is explained when the customer pays at the register. The restaurant said if the customer does not want to pay the gratuity, then they simply don’t.

Bryce Richards, a visitor from Mile City, Mont., disagreed with the charge.

"I don’t think it’s fair. I think with a mixed culture we’ve got today, they should accommodate everybody," Richards said.

Angela Militello had some sympathy for the restaurant.

"I don’t approve of it, but I see where they’re coming from. When you live off tips, when people don’t tip, it really hurts your own income," said Militello, who was visiting Waikiki from Orlando, Fla.

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