(BURLINGTON, Vt.) -- It costs money to speak a foreign language in Burlington, Vt. -- especially if you go out to eat.
Anne-Marie Humbert discovered this the hard way, after a gratuity fee was tacked onto her restaurant bill three different times at different restaurants.
The last time it happened, the French-born Humbert, her husband, Steve Hulsey, and her nephew were eating at Splash at the Boathouse, and speaking French.
At the end of the meal, they glanced at the bill and wondered why it was so hefty. Then, they realized that an 18 percent gratuity had been tacked on -- common for parties of five or more, but generally not added to the checks of smaller groups.
"Three times in less than a year I thought, 'There's something going on here,'" Humbert, who lives in neighboring Williston, Vt., and has been in the state for 30 years, told ABC News. "It was not a mistake."
So she asked the server why the tip was added on and was told it was because she had been speaking a foreign language. Burlington, which is less than 100 miles from Montreal, gets a large number of Canadian tourists over the summer.
"They explained to us that they get pretty bad tips from people from Quebec and Europe, and that they had a policy to add gratuity to get what they needed," she recalled.
Barb Bardin, the owner of Splash at the Boathouse, would not comment when contacted by ABC News. But she told Seven Days, that her restaurant has no official policy regarding mandatory tips. That said, she often tells her wait staff to decide what to do.
"Because the servers really have such a hard time with it, I just leave it up to them," Bardin told Seven Days, adding that she tells her staff, to "do what you feel is appropriate for you."
Splash is not the only Burlington eatery to automatically include gratuity on checks. Humbert had a similar experience at Asiana Noodle Shop, twice.
The first time she paid her bill and said nothing. The second time she asked the server what had happened and was told that it was an error, which was subsequently fixed.
Owner Sandy Kong told ABC News that she usually only adds on 18 percent to a group of five or more and for customers that aren't good tippers.
"But some Canadians come in, they spend like $100 or $150 and they leave the wait staff maybe a $1.00 tip," she said. "It happens pretty often. I realize that the Canadians think it's discrimination, but on all the receipts it's printed out on bottom -- 'we suggest an 18 or 20 percent tip.'"
Like Bardin, Kong lets her servers decide whether to add on a gratuity.
Part of the problem, perhaps, is that Burlington restaurants have no uniform code on how much to charge foreigners in tips, so it varies from spot to spot. What's more, many cafes and restaurants in Europe and Canada automatically include a gratuity in the bill, and many tourists expect it to be similar in the States.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio