I understand the point of view of both the restaurant and the customer in this case. I get that large groups sometimes don't tip adequately, especially not for how much work they can be for waitstaff. With good waitstaff, one large group can take up all of their time and energy for however long they stay.
I still don't like the concept of "automatic gratuity"--Odysseus and I have had far too many bad waitstaff bring refills exactly twice: once when they bring the food, and once when they check to see if we want dessert. I would not want to reward behavior that bad.
Good waitstaff, on the other hand, are worth far more than the standard 15%--we often tip 20 or 25% for friendly service, keeping the drinks full (which can include leaving the tea pitcher on our table, if it's a busy time and section--we don't mind that), and keeping us up on what's going on with our food ("Kitchen's a little behind," or "It'll be out in a couple more minutes").
That said, I don't think that I'd be risking the waitstaff being all great in a place that sets an automatic gratuity on parties of six or larger. Every place I've been that have them starts at ten or twelve. Starting the automatic "You must tip--we add it to your bill" at six strikes me as an admission that their waitstaff are uniformly bad. Setting the automatic gratuity at 17% is reinforcing that impression, as well as the bad behavior that the idiots permitted by being willing to eat at that establishment. So... that means the customers made a bad choice.
And the manager didn't help. Instead of making it right, and perhaps offering a free dessert (possibly distracting from the automatic gratuity), the manager got snotty, defensive, and called the cops. The story made the national news (granted, on a smaller news site, but still). The restaurant's reputation has to have suffered, both locally, and in a little bit wider of a venue with the possibility of tourists who hear about it going somewhere else.
There was no good behavior, were no good choices, displayed in the news story linked. Both sides screwed up by the numbers. Nobody walked away from that happy--not even the manager, after the story broke, despite having won the small skirmish of forcing the customers to pay a good tip for shitty service.
19 minutes ago