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Sep 14, 2006 05:22 PM

Tip questions for all- Would love your opinions.

There are two issues that come up reasonably often at our restaurant and we always end up sort of winging it. I'd like to come up with a consistant policy and would like to hear the opinion of all you regular diners out there.

#1) Customer takes both copies of credit card reciept. I've instructed to waiters to say, "Please sign and leave one copy for me and feel free to take the other for yourself." Despite that, some take both and the waiter is left to determine what the tip should be.

#2) The amount of money the customer writes down in the tip space and the amount they write down in the total space don't add up.

My inclination for #1 is to simply auto-grat the table at the same rate that we apply to large parties (18%). My inclination for #2 is to assume the tip is accurate rather than the total.

All that said, I've heard more than one person on this board complain about restaurants that don't clearly state gratiuity policies on their menu. We do mention the bit about large parties but don't want to turn our menu into a list of disclaimers.

Anyone out there a) have a problem with my proposed solution and b) care if I don't bother to mention it unless questioned?

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  1. A waitress friend told me that the bottom line total, regardless of what was written in the tip sections, was what she's required to go by. I don't know if that's law or policy here, but it was at a large chain restaurant. If that's what they're doing, I'm guessing that's the best way to do it according to the lawyers.

    1. tough questions.

      in the first instance, if i were the owner/manager, and assuming this doesn't happen too often, i would assume there is no tip, but then make it up to the server "under the table". the problem with guesstimating it is, if you guess wrong, and thereby irk the customer, you have a customer relation/service issue on your hands which can potentially cost you more, through appeasement comps and negative word of mouth, than slipping a few bucks on the sly to the server would.

      for the 2nd question, i'd say your assumption that the tip amount is correct is pretty safe as long as the total amount isn't a nice round number. if the tab is $18.33, and the total line shows $20.00, but the tip is $2.67, i would assume the person wanted to spend $20.00, then erroneously worked the math "backwards" to calculate the tip. i know a few people who make balancing their checkbooks easy on themselves by using nice, round numbers whenever possible. sucks to be on the receiving end when they want to use an easy number, but they don't care about that, and it is unfortunately one of the pitfalls of relying on tips for income.

      as far as mentioning it on the menu/elsewhere, i don't think that's necessary. if it's happening often enough that it seems some notice is warranted, then i would instead see if the staff can be trained to surreptitiously monitor the situation. they should, in most cases, at least be able to monitor whether there's a charge slip on the table. as far as checking the math, that's a little more difficult. i'd make it a habit to try and check the paperwork before the customer has completely left the establishment, but without looking like a vulture swooping in as soon as the party has stepped away. you can't catch every instance in a timely manner, but vigilance should go a long way. after all, it is the server's income, and they should have some stake in seeing that are paid.

      1 Reply
      1. re: mark

        I disagree w/r/t #1 - it's the customer's fault that he/she took both receipts(inadvertently or not), thereby preventing the restaurant from correctly charging the tip. I think I would err on the size of caution for a small party, and add 15%. If the customer calls and complains, then you can explain that they took both copies of the receipt with them etc. I see no need to put any disclaimer on your menu about what you do if customers take both receipts.

      2. Regarding # 1, 15% if for a small party and 18% if >6.

        Regarding # 2, yes, the cardholder made an error adding. ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, read the tip as accurate. Then, adjust the total accordingly.

        <Added> I say this so that the customer assumes most of the liability. An error in addition is the fault of the customer, not the establishment. IMO, the customer is liable, not the restaurant. Diners who cannot add should remember to bring a calculator next time.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Cheese Boy

          I agree completely with Cheese Boy on thsi issue regardless of what others say below.

        2. Regarding #1 - this causes more problems than you might think. Establishments are required to keep a signed copy on hand, and that signed copy usually shows the entire CC number (in case of disputes later). So by walking out with both copies, the customer is making it difficult for the owner to reconcile, and impossible to dispute any chargebacks. If this is happening regularly, I'd instruct the waiters to wait there while the customer signs.

          Chase the customer down the street, but get that signed copy, regardless of the tip amount!

          1. If the customer takes both copies, I don't think you can arbitrarily charge an amount for a tip UNLESS you put the customer on notice first. Along the same lines, a lot of bars have signs saying "$25 fee added to all walked tabs" or words to that effect. Otherwise, you're charging someone for MORE than they (might have) agreed to pay, which, no matter how you look at it, is credit card fraud. I say might, because while it could have been an honest mistake on the customer's part, perhaps they didn't WANT to leave a tip, and you can't put a charge in for more than the bill amount they owe you.

            As for number 2, I think you're stuck with what the TOTAL amount written is, regardless of what the tip line says. I say this because sometimes, I've left a cash tip, stricken through the tip line, and written the same total. I was told that this was okay, but then, what do I know!


            3 Replies
            1. re: TexasToast


              #1: When I order food or when I start a tab, there is an automatic gratuity (guesstimate) added to that amount by the credit card company for approval, no? So, in the case of the customer taking both slips, wouldn't this be a sort of default amount for totalling the tab? If there is a dispute, the customer takes it up with the credit card company... The opposite is that the wait staff gets stiffed...unintentional as it may be, if it is a large tab it stings, they still pay taxes and they did earn their tip...supposedly :-)

              #2: I believe it is an addition error on the part of the customer, I have done that after a bottle of wine :-), and the tip line should be accurate because people do put thought into what they write down. In the case of a cash tip, there is no math to take into account. Sometimes it is obvious, others not so much...

              Does anyone know the "right" or legal answer?

              1. re: Michele4466

                Some credit card machines pre-auth an automatic amount (usually 20%) when the card is first run. When it's returned to the customer and the slip filled in, the proper adjustment is made. However, unless the customer fills it out, or the restaurant has a mandatory tipping policy, you CANNOT simply add any amount you feel like. To illustrate the point, suppose the server was dissatisifed with a 15% tip and ran a 20% one instead? Would you condone such a practice?

                As to the second issue, no, you have to go by the total, becuase that's what the customer signed for (so long as it's more than the food bill).

                The last few lines of this article answers the first question--at least in the state of Washington.


                Any lawyers out there care to comment?


                1. re: TexasToast

                  I see, I never really thought about that pre-auth tip amount. For some reason I thought it was more in the lines of 15%. I agree, 20% would be wrong, though I guess the way you put it, any amount would be wrong if you have no idea what the customer wrote down before they took both slips...

                  I will check out that link for more info...

                  In regard to the second one, not sure there is really an answer here...unless it is a legal one...

                  Either way, it is unfortunate that the server gets stiffed... Unless it is a case of poor service but in these "for instances" seems like simple human error...