© Patti McConville / Alamy

You’d think one of New York City’s most well-respected – and expensive – restaurants wouldn’t run into issues when it comes to gratuity for its wait staff, but under an agreement announced last week by the New York Attorney General, Per Se has agreed to pay $500,000 in restitution to workers, despite continuing to claim they did nothing wrong.

At issue is a fee for private events that was once billed as a “service charge,” but was later changed to be called an “operational charge.” That seemingly small difference is a big deal to New York officials who in 2011 passed a law requiring restaurants to clearly delineate between which charges are administrative and which go for gratuities. The Attorney General’s Office alleges that from when the law was enacted in January 2011 until Per Se changed their description of the fee to “operational” in late 2012, the restaurant was pocketing money that should have gone to employees.

For a high-ticket restaurant like Per Se, where they admit a waiter can make as much as $116,000 a year, the 21-months in question can add up to a lot of cash. A Per Se spokesman insists they did nothing wrong. “Our employees were never short-changed and no monies intended for employees were withheld,” a spokesperson for Per Se said Thursday according to CNN Money.

Still, the intensions of the law are clear: Customers should feel comfortable knowing that tips are actually tips – regardless of if they’re eating at a small restaurant or one that the Attorney General might consider a big fish.