Went to the new Houston's which opened a week or so ago in Santa Monica on 2nd Street about a block from the Promenade. My girlfriend and I would stop in to the Century City Houston's every so often and decided to try this one as it's closer to home.
As I was looking over the menu, I noticed at the bottom it said that an 18% service charge will automatically be added to the bill. I found this strange and asked the waiter about it. He said that it was because Houston's "guaranteed service in line with that charge" and that this was a new policy specific to the Santa Monica branch of the chain. We then went on to have a meal during which the only service "highlights" were that my girlfriend's fish sandwich was not cooked through and had to be sent back, I was served without silverware, and my drink sat needing a refill for the last 15 minutes of the meal.
I would certainly have NOT left an 18% tip for this meal, given the quality of the service. Frankly, I dont think it should be legal. I don't like having the amount of the tip being taken out of my hands - I've heard of places doing this for parties of 8 or more, but never for smaller parties. So, be warned - if you're tempted to stop in to the Houston's in S.M., be prepared for 18% to be added to your bill as gratuity regardless of the level of service you receive.
I won't be going back.