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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"...it seems like simple human error...

            2. Man, you're a generous owner. When I worked at a corporate restaurant we were pretty much told always to err on the side of the guest. I'd get the top slip taken, so there'd be a credit slip with no signature and I could see the tip amount! The slip wasn't a dupe, but I could see the exact imprint, but was not allowed to claim a cent.

              Of course said restaurant also abolished all gratuities...

              1. #1 - don't know, would you be able to have the credit card co call the customer to let them know of the problem? Or is that esier said than done? Plus, know 5 days later would the customer be still willing to give the same %?

                #2 - I would say add the tip as posted. I have sometimes added wrong. Now I just put in the tip amount most of the time. I have my copy of what I wrote as tip with my writing, so if the total is wrong and with diferent writing, we could always compare the two. I have never had that problem.

                Honestly when I look at my statement I don't do a dollar for dollar check with restaurants. I usualy go to the same places, and know just about what the total will be. If my tab with tip was $80, and I saw $83, I wouldn't think about it. If it ws however, $90, I'd be on the phone.

                Maybe I should be checking better, but again since I'm going to most of the places frequently I don't think about it much.

                We don't live in a city, so it isn't like we are trying different places all the time.

                I do check my credit cards on-line every day just about, so it isn't like I'm trying to think back two weeks. Plus, I use just one card for most purchases.

                Sorry, so long of a reply.

                1 Reply
                1. re: hummingbird

                  It gets weird when you live in a larger city. People go out to eat as a matter of necessity as opposed a luxury. When it becomes necessity things get weirder.

                  For me growing up fast food was a treat. Now I appreciate everything I eat.

                  I appreciate every server who comes to my table.

                2. #1 - They don't "have to" tip at all, but it's fair to presume that most people do and it's not as if anyone doesn't know by now that they're only supposed to walk away with one copy of a CC slip. If they have a problem with it, they will call, have no fear. As long as you're willing to credit it back without argument (or much anyway) if they ask for it, I think it's fair enough if probably not strictly legal.

                  #2 - it's not always easy to tell what they intended. If the tip is a round-ish number and the total specific, if not accurate, as to number of cents, I'd go with the tip amount. If the total were obviously rounded off and the error in tip not big, I'd go with the total. But if I had to come up with a blanket, safe rule, it would be the lower of the two. If for some bizarre reason it happens a lot at your place, they apparently do need to turn the menu into a disclaimer.;)

                  1. Thanks, everyone for the responses. It's funny how touchy a situation this can be. Our intention is certainly not to take advantage of anyone but that just how, inevitiably it will be seen by someone.

                    The hardest part about #1 is, as someone mentioned, you have no hard copy so you can't even find their charge slip if they do call back to complain. Having the waiter stand there while they sign is simply not an option, but you're kind of hosed.

                    One place I could put the disclaimer is on the printed checks. It seems to be, by far, the least tacky of my options. Then, if someone does have a beef, at least my policy is clearly stated.

                    Once again, I'd just as soon as not have to worry about it but a restaurant has to eat enough profit on misfires, placating angry customers (whether justified or not), and the like. I'm not prepared to start eating this as well.

                    1. Well, however it is resolved, it would need to be done in a consistent and transparent way for audit purposes.

                      I would tend to think that, since the total is the instruction that is intended to go to the card processor, that that instruction is the determinative one. I would not assume a restaurant has delegated authority to override that instruction.

                      1. I'll start with #2 first:

                        The bottom line is what you must follow. That's why it is called the bottom line.

                        I have a nearly foolproof method for preventing guests from taking both copies of the credit card receipt.

                        (Note that this only works with non-carbon receipts.)

                        I wrap the customer's copy around the card and place it in the little pocket on the right hand side of the check presenter. I place the merchant copy on the left. Then I tell the guest to sign the left one and keep the one wrapped around their card.

                        Most people get it and do it properly. But, there is always someone who takes the wrong copy or both copies.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: kimmer1850

                          "I wrap the customer's copy around the card and place it in the little pocket on the right hand side of the check presenter. I place the merchant copy on the left. Then I tell the guest to sign the left one and keep the one wrapped around their card."

                          This drives me crazy. Usually by the time I get the cheque we are really ready to go, and anything that requires extra time means I get angrier. I have to write down the tip and total, then set down the pen, extract the card, unwrap the charge slip, pick up the pen and write down the tip and total again. Or, if I'm in a hurry and intend to write the amounts down when I get on the Metro, I can't just put the card back in my wallet because the paper gets jammed up.

                          Not to mention that some folios don't have even that extra millimetre of room (Ca del Sole, are you listening??) and so in extracting the card I end up accidentally slitting my copy of the receipt.

                          Also, if you aren't careful, with some of the receipt paper, the numbers on the card rub off on it, meaning I now have to shred the receipt, rather than just tossing it in the trash when I'm done reconciling (since the law in California is that only the last four or five digits of the CC# may be printed on the receipt given to the guest).

                          My complaint is really minor and petty, and it takes all of ten seconds to rectify it, but it's enough to piss me off, and a pissed off customer will tend to tip less than a happy customer.

                          1. re: Das Ubergeek

                            You just finished a nice dinner and you get all worked up because you don't have one second to spare to unwrap the receipt from the credit card?

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              It's the idea that it's done for my benefit, and really it causes me more work. It's totally petty but it pisses me off.

                        2. Not sure if I have an answer, but one time as a customer I added the total incorrectly and I meant to leave a $15 tip, but in my rush, the tip only amounted to the dollar based on the total. They only charged me what was on the total and the waitress only took a dollar. When I noticed this error the next day, I called the establishment, told them what happened and let them know it was OK to charge me the extra and to be sure the waitress got what I meant to leave her. They were very grateful.

                          1. Why not contact other restaurants and find out what they do? Or phone the credit card companies and ask for advice? (Unless you dont want to make the companies notice you.)

                            1. I saw an excellent solution to #1 last night. The customer receipt was wrapped around the cc. The merchant receipt was stapled to the original receipt and the waiter's original order form and placed in the bill fold. When the waiter handed them to me, he very casually said "here's yours" and handed me my card "and this is mine" and handed me the billfold. It only took an extra second, and it brought the point home to my drunk self. You'd have to be pretty hammered to take the merchant copy and the original receipt and the big, bulky, bright blue order form.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                This has happened to me a few times and did not realize this may be an attempt by the resto to solve the walk with both issue.

                                Other restos should adopt as it would probably eliminate issue #1.

                                1. re: jfood

                                  This is more common than you think. And I'm never so drunk that I forget to leave a tip. I may not be able to add it up right, but in those instances, I just decide on a good bottom line figure, and tell the server that's what I did. After all, it only becomes an issue if I check my credit card charges against receipts (not likely these days).


                              2. Okay, I'll buy that.

                                What is your suggestion? YOU may not take both copies,but someone else will.

                                I'm in the service industry and I'll listen to and consider any options that make your dining experience better. I'mm open to suggestions.


                                1. #1 - With all the hoopla about waiters tips that hit these boards I would say that the waiter's job does not end until the slip is in his/her hand. He is the agent for the resto on the meal and his own self-employee on the tip. If he/she fails to get the slip, tippo is zero (i know very harsh, but after the first time I bet it never happens again). The resto has no reason to just pick a number. If you condone the waiter not being diligent at the end of the service by not collecting the slip, you are enforcing bad employee habits.

                                  #2 - No right answer but total equals total. If there is a reservation with a number, the polite thing to do is to contact the customer the next day and explain the error and ask for advise. Obviously this is a small percentage of the occurances. Wouldn't the manager much rather have the conversation with the customer that the number charged was the total versus telling the cutomer he can't add. If there is a discrepancy, the manager should not pay out the "mistake" to the waiter (pay what the tip line says) but "hold" the difference aside in the event the customer calls and makes a beef about it. If the total number is too low, see #1 above, and the waiter should see that when he/she receives the resto copy and bring it to the attention of the customer.

                                  Amex now giving both food and tip amounts. My daughter used her amex card and left a 22 tip on a 60 meal. When I asked her, she told me she meant 12, not 22. She paid the 22 and won;t make that mistake again.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: jfood

                                    about #1 - many servers (particularly in high end restaurants) don't and/or are instructed to not pick up the signed check from the table until the party leaves because it can be interpreted as the restaurant trying to rush them out. there are also diners who purposefully don't sign the slip until they are ready to leave for this very reason. to say that it's the server's lack of diligence that is the cause for someone to walk out with both copies of the bill really isn't fair.

                                    1. re: rebs

                                      Fair points on both.

                                      You have two scenarios.

                                      1 - If the waiter does not I still stand by my post. Their decision, their risk.
                                      2 - If the resto's rules are not to pick it up than the reto takes the risk and should pay out to the waiter what it feels is appropriate.

                                      If this is a high end resto the appropriate thing for the waiter to do when he sees the table beginning to stand is to approach and thank them for coming and hope he/she sees them again.

                                      1. re: jfood

                                        servers thank their guests and wish them a good night after they return their card and the hosts and/or managers will thank them again on their way out. in a perfect restaurant world, it would be great if we could personally say goodbye and thanks to every guest as they are standing up to leave. if the timing is right it does happens, but realistically servers are taking care of their other guests by then. not hovering by the table for an uncertain amount of time just to say goodbye (and check to make sure they didn't take off with both slips). servers and restaurants should have no reason not to trust that someone who possesses and uses a credit card knows how to use it and knows the steps that follow the card swipe.

                                  2. First of all, count me in the camp of the restaurant that abolished tips--think of the hassle they save everyone (and it's up to them and their employees how the employees get paid). But since that's not the case everywhere, here are my thoughts:

                                    Situation 1: Since it is the customer who chooses to pay with plastic, it is his/her responsibility to do it right, and I'm okay with you adding the tip if the customer takes both slips.

                                    Situation 2: Go with the tip entered by the customer, since that was the clear intention--maybe addition is not his/her strong point after a glass of wine and a nice dinner (when did we decide that math is so much fun that we get to do it for amusement?).

                                    And finally, I understand that in many places in Europe they bring a little handheld machine to the table with the bill and slide the card through right there when the customer is using plastic - no back and forth involved, and the signing takes place immediately because that's the easiest thing to do. Why can't we do this as well?

                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: Marsha

                                      That's a new thing that caught me quite by surprise last week. They CAN let you sign for it, but most places will now use the mini ATM like contraption and you enter a PIN number . . . even for credit cards. Now I'm sure I have pins on my cards, but who ever remembers those?


                                      1. re: TexasToast

                                        Where did this happen? I'm hoping in the U.S. And I'll make the effort to remember/reset my PIN if it shortens the "Here's your bill," "Here's my card," "Here's your receipt, where's my tip?" "Here's your tip, there's my signature, which paper do I keep again?" dance that we have to go through now.

                                        1. re: Marsha

                                          No, this was in London. It's everywhere in the U.K. now and merchants can refuse to accept credit cards unless you have a "chip and pin" (and most places do). No biggie, my Amex has a chip, and I'm sure when they sent me the card YEARS ago, there was a pin, but I've never used it!


                                          1. re: TexasToast

                                            Are they right there when you enter your pin #? So that someone has your CC info and yor pin!??

                                            1. re: TexasToast

                                              I'm replying to hummingbird. It's a little hand-held device; the type you'd use to do a stock take. Here's a picture of one.


                                              There's usually a plastic guard so that the servers can't see you enter your PIN, but most of them turn their heads away as well. When you're done, the receipt is printed out there and then, and handed to you. From that point of view, you really CAN'T walk off with the wrong copy.


                                          2. re: TexasToast

                                            As people become increasingly concerned about letting any magnetic-striped cards out of their possession, these machines probably will be adopted at more and more places.

                                          3. re: Marsha

                                            I love hearing your side of things.

                                            It's really weird, I wouldn't mind the change to a more european sort of thing either.

                                            Although, I met a waiter in Belgium who was making twice as much as I was last year. He was getting tips and the whole service charge thing...

                                            Man I don't know what to do...