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Dec 3, 2007 02:07 PM

Servers who ask if you need change...

Had an experience at a rare lunch out with my husband today and would love to hear others' opinions about this. Went to the Friendly Toast in Portsmouth, NH, which has good food and uneven service of the tattooed hipster variety (N.B.: My stepson is tattooed and pierced, but since he lives in San Francisco he tends to save the attitude for those who give it to him first-- not so in the hinterlands of New England, alas). The bill was $29.90 (Portsmouth has gone from hippe haven to yuppie mecca over the past 15 years) and I put down $40 in the form of two $20's. The server, who had a total of three tables (it was late afternoon and the place was deserted) asked me if I wanted change. This really irked me. I suppose it's possible she had forgotten the total of the bill she had added up a few minutes before, but when I waited tables (admittedly this was only for a few summers and two decades ago) I never did this because it seems so presumptuous. Isn't it up to the customer to determine how much and whether they will tip you? And why would anyone assume that a $10 tip was in order for a $30 tab? We were polite, we didn't ask for substitutions, she was on shift and you'd think a hungry couple in the middle of the afternoon would be welcomed business. As it is, I left her $5.00 voluntarily. She stiffed me on the dime, so the total tip was $5.10. Not my customary 20%, but not punitive, by any means.

So, to repeat, thoughts about when or whether it's okay for a server to ask a customer if they need change? And note that in cases when I actually don't need change, I am careful to say clearly: "We're all set here, have a nice day".

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  1. I agree: presumptuous. Rewarded with a smaller tip.

    14 Replies
    1. re: ricepad

      Ditto Ricepad, the server should just bring change, unless told otherwise by the diner.

      1. re: ricepad

        For the life of me, I do not understand this mentality. A server says something that is somewhat annoying, so the reaction is to tip less. I swear there are people on this board that look for reasons to lower a tip--not saying this is the case here, but I read all too often about how certain standards weren't met, and in my book, not all that egregious, ergo, lower tip.

        And no, I am not, nor have I ever, worked in the industry.

        1. re: marcia

          I was going to write exactly the same thing, including "no I'm not a waitress". Too slow service, low tip. too fast, low tip, server spoke without being asked to do so, low tip, etc.
          If there's a post about tipping you can bet it's about reasons why the diner decided to low or no tip.

          1. re: marcia

            There are people who spend all day looking for slights against them. I think the reaction to a server asking if I want change would be, "yes, please."

            1. re: KTinNYC

              Well, I am a seasoned server, with more than 20 years in the restaurant business. If I see a check with money on top of it, I have NO IDEA how much money is there, nor do I usually remember the exact amount of the check. I therefore say, "Would you like change," and if the customer says yes, I promptly bring it to them. If they say no, I leave the entire stack on the table and wait for them to leave before I pick it up. I currently work in two restaurants; one is very, very busy and one doesn't have a cash drawer, which means that getting change means asking one of the kitchen staff to break a bill for me out of the cash bag. Seriously. Lighten up, people. You have NO IDEA what's going on the head of your server, and I can guarantee that 9 times out of 10 it has NOTHING to do with stiffing you.

              1. re: ctscorp

                When I worked in a restaurant without a cash drawer we were required to bring $50 in mixed bills and coins as our bank. I think that you'll find it easier to bring a small personal bank ($20 or so) than to ask someone in the kitchen for change You might need to ask sooner or later but it is a good way to start.. Just a suggestion from someone who has been there.

                1. re: ctscorp

                  This was my first thought....if the $$ was in a folder how was the server to know how much was there. A fair question I think...I'd be much more concerned about the general attitude of the staff / quality of the food.

                  1. re: ctscorp

                    When a server asks me, "Would you like change?" or "Do you need change?", in my mind, they're really asking, "Is the rest for me?" That figuratively puts their hand in my wallet, and I don't appreciate it. Just bring the change and let me handle the tip.

                    I've been on the other side, and I learned that, while some patrons don't mind being asked, others mind very much (as a customer, I'm one of the latter). In my experience, it was far better simply to say, "I'll be right back with your change." That way, I was reaffirming to the customer that I was attending to their needs promptly, and still gave the customer the chance to say, "Thanks, I don't need the change."

                    1. re: ctscorp

                      I agree...many..many moons ago I was a waitress. I am willing to bet the server in this case never counted the cash before she asked if the OP wanted change. Servers ask that question primarily because they want to know if they can just collect the check, wish the customer good day and move on to another task instead of going straight to the register. When a customer didn't require change..I might perform several other tasks on the way to the register...whereas if the customer needed change I would head straight to the register.
                      Sort of makes me wonder why people always seem to assume the worst about others...

                      1. re: ctscorp

                        Agree with ctscorp completely. I'm not their only table, and it's nice that they ask. Who knows, that may even be their restaurant policy, so to punish a server for doing what they're told is ridiculous.

                        1. re: Firegoat

                          I would never "punish" a server for asking, but it is a bullshit question. If I don't want change, I'll let the server know.

                          1. re: grampart

                            See and that's why they should ask. I'd assume I'd get change unless I let the server know. No one knows what the other person is thinking. Just saying. It doesn't offend me. Ask me straight up, no confusion.

                      2. re: KTinNYC

                        I agree. As a former server (put myself through undergrad and grad school), I think what the server meant was do you want change for the $10.10 In other words the server was asking do you need me to change the $10 bill into lower denominations?

                  2. It is never ok to ask. Never.
                    When a waiter does this it signifies one or more of the following. Waiter is:
                    Lazy, clueless, presumptuous, entitled, boorish, and/or greedy.
                    To the Practicioners of this: "Just give me my change, smile and thank me, and give me peace and quiet to calculate the tip. If you interrupt my conversation, get in my face and put me on the spot, I'll make a hasty decision that will not be in your favor, trust me."

                    By the way: here in Portland tattooed & pierced hipsters are the boring conformists!

                    12 Replies
                    1. re: Leonardo

                      Ah, Portland. As lovely, diverse, and delicious as San Francisco. You are a lucky to live there.

                      1. re: Leonardo

                        Never, eh?? Sounds like you have other serious issues than this--"If you interrupt my conversation..."??? But that is probably for another web site.
                        It is apparent to me you have never been in this industry, nor have you paid any attention to workers in this industry (from your obvious self-absortion), when you were out dining. Servers make hundreds of trips back and forth from table to kitchen, table to host stand, table to table, the list goes on. The good servers find ways to "save steps"...meaning to cut down the number of trips on the dining flloor. More than likely a server is asking if you need change because, as previously stated, they cannot see nor pay attention to how much you put on table. If this unlevels your world, ruins your chi, or in any other way makes your world a worse place to live in, I have one suggestion: Take the problem out of the equation---
                        PAY WITH PLASTIC!

                        1. re: Rob83

                          Your posting was just perfect! Some people are just too intense when it comes to differentiating between an honest quiery and some sort of intricate conspiracy concocted to harrass restaurant patrons. No rational person would ever think a Server was,
                          "Lazy, clueless, presumptuous, entitled, boorish, and/or greedy."
                          for asking a simple question...
                          And I thought NYC'ers were paranoid!

                          1. re: Tay


                            as a native NYer who has traveled the world i have to say we got a bad rap. NYers move quick, which is often mistaken for rudeness, but i find them (us) to be exceedingly helpful and understanding people

                            1. re: thew

                              Sadly, I feel for the most part, we've earned our reputation. Granted, we do tend to move at a faster pace, but in many instances we've allowed that whole,' NY Minute' thing to morph into brusque and often rude, behavior. I too have found lots of kind and helpful people in NYC,(I'd like to think I'm one of them) but I'm always amazed that so many of them come from other countries
                              I do agree that the poster I quoted is an extreme example. :-}

                              1. re: Tay

                                try this.. look like a lost tourist with a map in your hand - in new york, and in other cities in the US or internationally - see how quickly and how many people ask if u need help.... i think you will be pleasantly surprised how NY stacks up in this test.

                                ..and for my money, i don't care where your from originally.. if one is smart enough to make the global capital their home, they become NYers ( of course those of us born and raised here are naturally better sorts lol)

                                1. re: thew

                                  LOL! Wait until global warming floods the place and you all end up in Nebraska! NYC, global capital of horseshoe crabs! '-)

                                  But you're right. New Yorkers are very helpful! You guys just talk funny. Well, some of you. If I lived there, I would probably starve to death trying to catch the Cash Cab so I could win a "free lunch" at Tribeca Grill!

                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                    nah - we'll just build even higher, and raise the rents, cause every building will have ocean access

                                    1. re: thew

                                      I'm thinking I'll be able to serve lunch on my 6th floor patio which will probably be "river front" -literally, by then... Good idea, thew!

                          2. re: Rob83

                            Wow....corporate chain restaurant service mentality personified!!!!!!! Blechhhh.....

                          3. re: Leonardo

                            WOW, I used to be a server back in the 80's and I agree whole heartedly with ctscorp.
                            A server asks a simple question and you guys immediately lower the tip? So glad I never had to wait on you!

                            1. re: shorebilly

                              But you probably did and probably lost some tips that way....

                          4. We eat at the Friendly Toast regularly (we've been known to schedule any trip north of Boston to incorporate a detour to Portsmouth for breakfast at the Toast) and it's one of many places I go to where it's common to hear the waiter ask that question. It does not bother me, and I don't find it rude, for two reasons:

                            1. I can almost guarantee you that your waiter asked that question as he was reaching for the tab, and that he therefore had not looked at the money and your bill to calculate that there was a $10 difference. (Or do you somehow think that the server knew off the top of his head exactly how much your bill in particular was out of the dozen or so tables he was working? I've never seen more than two servers in the Friendly Toast, one working the front of the room and one serving the booths and the back tables: that's a lot of real estate for even the best waiters to cover.)

                            2. Eight times out of ten, my answer to that question is "No, it's all set." The other two times, it's something along the lines of "I just need a five back." Either way, I don't mind them having asked the question, because it seems like a logical one to ask. However, now that I know that it's frightfully rude, I'll be sure to give the next server who asks a good tongue-lashing.

                            Maybe we're just lucky, but as much as I've heard the "uneven service" line about the Friendly Toast, I've never had a bad waiter there. Would that question be rude in a white tablecloth restaurant where the bill will be in the triple digits? Unquestionably. Is it rude in a place like the Friendly Toast that has velvet paintings of monkeys on the walls and local punk-rock heroes The Queers playing on the kitchen stereo? Absolutely not.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps


                              She had three tables in a deserted restaurant, as noted clearly in the post, but your point that this may simply be the standard rule at FT is well-taken. Thank you for chiming in.

                            2. I agree that the server prob. was not thinking about how much the tab was when they asked. I work at the Stockpot in Portsmouth and I know many of my co workers ask this same question.. many people ignore the server for the most part, and it is more simple to quickly ask "are you all set?" than to go upstairs to the bar, get change, bring back to the customer, only to have them say that I should keep it. But, in reality, I always pick up the check and say that I will be right back with it, and leave it to the customer to tell me if i should keep it or not. Finally.. About the .10... do you really want the dime? It drives me crazy when people complain about not getting back their .7 cents... just take it out of the tip if it is that big of a deal. I always round wether it is in my favor or the customers, when it is under .25 cents. It always gets left for me anyways.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: sarahelan


                                Yes, we really do want the dime. And not for the dime's sake. When we, as customers, deal with any money-exchanging situtaion, we want to know that someone has math skills. Sloppy accounting is not okay. If that situation were inflated a hundred times, you'd definitely think about that dime.

                                Servers, just say "I'll be back with your change" and let it go from there. If the till has to cough up a nickel and five pennies, so be it - mgmt should make certain change is available. Patrons don't like to be duped, and I call dropping a dime from the change duping. It's cheating the customer, and never good for business. Or tips. Math is your friend in business. Don't round, be accurate. Don't know if you've ever negotiated a mortgage, but that accuracy's very important then, no?



                              2. Perhaps it's just me, but does something as simple as, "May I bring you some change?" REALLY need to be hyperanalyzed? If you need change, say yes; if you don't, say no. It's really not a tough concept.

                                As long as your service is fine, is it really a big deal?

                                24 Replies
                                1. re: invinotheresverde

                                  "May I bring you some change" is not the same question as "Do you need change". If I am presented a bill for which I pay cash, I expect the server to bring me back my change, regardless of what it is. Really not a tough concept. I then may leave the entire amount as the tip, add to it, or take some "change" outof it and leave the rest for a tip. If my intent at the outset is to leave the entire amount of the change as the tip, I will tell the server I am set when (s)he picks up the dough.
                                  Asking me if I need change is a huge deal for me...and will result in a reduced tip.

                                  1. re: Marge

                                    Yes Invino, it is a big deal. It's confrontational, an unnecessary interruption. Sure many customers don't mind it. Good for them.

                                    If by "over-analyzing" you mean I (and many others evidently) am simply annoyed by being unnecessarily bothered, so be it.

                                    To me it is in point of fact a measure of service. Am I unnecessarily engaged in unwanted conversation? Does waiter when delivering food ask us who gets what? Does waiter butt into and presume to take part in our conversation? These are all part of what makes for good or bad service.

                                    Would I be so stupid as to risk offending people and losing tips by doing so were I a server? No way.

                                    1. re: Leonardo

                                      It's confrontational to ask someone if they need change? I wish all of my problems were so trivial.

                                      1. re: invinotheresverde

                                        The question forces the customer to assert, "No, that money's not all for you, I want some back." It makes the customer (or this customer, at least) feel somewhat cheap, as a result. It's not gracious to force the customer to speak up for their change.

                                        1. re: MiriamWoodstock

                                          Exactly. I shouldn't have to ASK for my own money. It puts me on the spot.
                                          And those who are defending the server by saying he has no way of knowing how much the bill & how much cash is in the fold, are missing the point. It doesn't matter whether there's $60 or $5 change due me. Just quietly give me my change so I can figure it out at my leisure. Your tip will be a lot higher, trust me, Mr Impatient Server. Not out of spite, but it's common sense that people will tip more when they don't feel they are being scrutinized. I'm not looking for any excuse to lower the tip, and often this ploy, while irksome, does not result in a lower tip.

                                      2. re: Leonardo

                                        It sounds like you have social issues rather than problems with servers asking if you need change. I mean.."Unnecessary interruption"... "Unwanted conversation" It is people like you, that make me wonder what it will be like for my children when they are older. Do you see yourself coming off at all pompous here? Do you enjoy interaction with the human race? Will a 2second question with a 2 second response alter the course of your day? Please give me honest answers.
                               have now spent enough time defending your slanted view here, to waste alot more than the 4 seconds I stated earlier.
                                        P.S. My apologies for taking up your time.

                                      3. re: Marge

                                        So you do this correctly... You tell the server when to just keep it, or you say nothing and wait for your change. You have to understand that many people do not do this. They say nothing, and when the server ends us counting out your change and returning it, and then the customer says "thanks, you can keep it." It saves so much more time just to simply ask or say something so that the customer will give you guidance.

                                        1. re: sarahelan

                                          The correct way that saves the most time and tips for both customers and servers is for the server to say "May I bring you change" or "I'll be right back with your change", which prompts those who want you to keep it to tell you that and avoids offending customers. The onus is on the server here, not the customer.

                                          1. re: Karl S

                                            Wait -- how is "May I bring you some change" different from "Do you need change"?

                                            1. re: ctscorp

                                              Cts, I was wondering that muself.


                                              1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                I believe what is meant is, May I bring you some change" and "Do you need change"? are questions that require a response. That is somewhat different from, "I'll be right back with your change" which is a statement requiring no response.

                                                1. re: Tay

                                                  Tay, we were responding to Karl S, who said:
                                                  "The correct way that saves the most time and tips for both customers and servers is for the server to say "May I bring you change" or "I'll be right back with your change." One still requires a response. You're not the one I was pickin' on! :)

                                                  1. re: ctscorp

                                                    Ahhh... I see...
                                                    Feel free to pick away. I'm used to it here, lol!
                                                    This really has become quite an interesting post...

                                          2. re: sarahelan

                                            The situation you (sarahelan) suggest where time is "wasted" when the waiter or waitress counts out change only to have the customer say, 'you can keep it' is only "wasting" the wait staff's time. That's their job and what they are paid to do. Their job is to serve the customer, not to make their lives easier by asking presumptuous questions. I can't understand the mentality behind anyone asking you if you want your change back in a situation where customer service is the focus.

                                            What else are you expecting the customer to do to save the server's valuable time? Calculate the tab? Write down the order? Keep the order simple so as not to confuse the server? There seems to be a very warped view of "service" if the customer has to worry about "wasting" the (server's) time they're paying for.

                                            1. re: Orchid64

                                              Great point. Maybe I should be picking up my own food and clearing my table. Wouldn't want to waste any server's time with my expectations of what constitutes service.

                                              It's clear that most of the new people who are posting now have not bothered to read any of the earlier posts, so people now are just shouting past each other.

                                              1. re: Leonardo

                                                At least then you wouldn't be bothered by the server asking you questions!!

                                              2. re: Orchid64

                                                I would suggest that in some situations, especially in the sort of place that was the topic of the original post (yes, I have eaten there on numerous occasions), the time saved by asking a simple question actually benefits other customers and their service experience as the server can move on to SERVING their food instead of running around getting change that possibly isn't needed. The place in question is often packed, few servers covering many tables, on weekends there is a collection of people outside waiting, often impatiently - it's a zoo. It is a high turnover place, not a high end place. It so happens that the food is pretty good, but truth be told, it's only a small step up from diner status.

                                                Many seem to expect high dining service from these places, and that is just silly.

                                                It is not a crime to find ways to be efficient in high turnover situations - wanting to save time is not the same as accusing customers of WASTING a server's time. But maybe I am not reading enough into sarahelan's post.

                                                1. re: Orchid64

                                                  Orchid, be one of the other customers in the dining room this person is serving . He/she is rushing a mile a minute, your waiting...for whatever, and they need to walk whatever the distance is to make change, calculate change, then bring it back to the table. You are still waiting. And it is a proven fact in this industry, customers feel they have been waiting alot longer than it really is. Maybe your food is sitting in the kitchen window. That extra 2, 3, 4 minutes, can make a huge difference. Now they have possibly lessened service at another table. Look at the big picture...Everyone that adamantly feels that this question is taboo, is only looking from a SELFISH viewpoint. How it effects my world.

                                                  1. re: Orchid64

                                                    You know, when I am saving the servers time, YOU are probably getting better service because, instead of making useless trips to a register, they are refilling your water glass or running food to your table so you can eat it while still hot. Even though these people are in the "service industry" and their job is to serve me, having them work harder and waste time just because I can because "it's their job" is just rude. I shovel my steps to make it easier for the mailman. I rinse out my beer bottles before bringing them to the redemption center and I'll even step aside when returning from the restroom so YOUR server can bring that tray of food to YOUR table rather than force them to slide over so that I can majestically stroll through the restaurant. I know I don't have to do these things but to not do them because it's "their job" to deal with me would, well, make me a dick. I'm not trying to infer that I do everything for a server but, I don't know, moving my water glass to the edge of the table to make it easier for a server to refill it seems like the civilized thing to do. Saying "I'm all set" or "yes, please" to the "do you need change?" question is also pretty easy for me to do.

                                                    You might have concluded that, yes, I am in the "it doesn't bother me" camp. I will add, however, that I have different expectations depending on the type of establishment. If I'm dropping $100+ per person it still wouldn't bother me but I would be surprised by the question. If my server started my visit with a "coffee, hun?" then I'd probably expect it. Now, what does bother me is when there is a $9.50 tab and I leave a $20 only to have the server bring back a $10 bill and 50 cents instead of $5 and 5 singles. Now we're wasting my time, your time, and the servers time.

                                                2. re: Marge

                                                  I'm sorry, that is a very snobbish approach. So the service is impeccable, water glasses stayed full, never had to ask for anything, they kept tabs on you without being overbearing...and you throw that out the window...decide to lower the tip because of what you BELIEVE is an err in verbal etiquette? Souns a little holier than thou, doesn't it?

                                                  1. re: Marge

                                                    You really have no idea what a sever has to do to be a good server. If you want to give good service, it is imparative that a person saves steps and combines trips. You're not the center of the universe. Other people want good service as much as you do. So, whenever you can save time, EVERY second counts when you are waiting on 20 people at a time, running food, answering the phone for carry-out orders, seating people, boxing up food fo the customer, taking orders, talking to your tables, GETTING CHANGE and running cards, running drinks and sometimes making them. Almost every server makes up their own soft drinks, Iced teas, coffees, Hot Teas, waters, etc.!! All of that amongst just dealing with angry self-absorbed assholes all day!! Get a clue. And waiting for change from a manager or bartender takes forever and any 'bank' that you bring in goes fast? Seriously people wake up and stop being so self-absorbed!!!!!

                                                    1. re: Chrissall

                                                      I'd love to know where you work.

                                                        1. re: Chrissall

                                                          Took you long enough to come up with that one.