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Tipping with a credit card

Yesterday morning we went to a local place for breakfast. It's a nice little restaurant that's run by a couple of guys and they have some really good food and very creative dishes. Not really gourmet, but not your run of the mill selections. Our waiter was very nice and efficient. We weren't thinking very clearly, so he would leave the table and then my DH decides he wants water. He'd come back with water and leave. Then I realize I need another plate, oh, and could I get some extra butter? Oops, this isn't raspberry tea! In other words he really had his hands full with us, and the place was crazy busy. So we wanted to leave him a 20% tip, but we had to pay with our credit card. You pay at the front, so the waiter never sees your tip unless you leave it on the table, but we didn't have any cash on hand. So the owner tells us how much the bill is and my DH hands him the card, get the receipt and writes down the tip. I make sure to ask him to let our waiter know we put the tip on the card so he wouldn't think we stiffed him, and complimented his service. We went to another place and my DH hands me the receipt, so I can record it, and he left a 40¢ tip! He swears he left 20%, but just added it wrong on his copy, but it was right on their copy. I insisted we go back and double check. This is a neighborhood place after all, they know us, and I want them to keep liking us. So I go in and the owner asks what did I forget? I explain and he goes through the receipts and yup - 40¢! But the full amount (the 20%) was written in the tip line, but the total reflected 40¢. The question is what do they go by? The amount on the total line, or do they go back and check the math and adjust the total? My DH says they would have caught it at the end of the day, but I'm not sure. What do you think?

BTW, I made the owner fix it to reflect the correct amount. He was appreciative.

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  1. People add incorrectly all the time, they might mean to round up to an even number but they're off by this or that. Places I've worked go by the total, since that's in the end usually what the customer intended as their total to pay to the restaurant. It's a good thing you went back.

    1. Every place is different. My place goes by the actual tip, not the total, since there can be a math error, but the tip itself is what you meant to leave, regardless of the math.

      1. Thanks for the insight. Now I know to 1) double check his math ;-) and 2) go back just in case!

        1. Places I have worked, management usually made us go with the lower total, just to cover their own asses.

          1. I always go by the total line regardless of what was written on the tip line. If the customer recorded the total in his/her ledger, my inputing the tip line could potentially cause an overdraft/over limit situation down the road. Better to be safe than cause problems for customers.

            1. By contract establishments are obligated to go by the total. Customers make math errors all the time but you can not bill a charge card for more than the total signed for even if there was an obvious error. I never saw any reason to be upset with a guest for this. We are all human. We all make mistakes. I think you deserve big props for going back and making it right! :)

              23 Replies
              1. re: Docsknotinn

                Are you saying that, for example, a customer has a $223 bill, writes $50 in the tip line, miscalculates to $473 instead of $373 that you'd put a $150 tip in?

                Math errors work both ways, positive and negative.

                1. re: invinotheresverde

                  Going strictly by "the book" you would. The person signs the slip agreeing to pay the total reflected.
                  Merchants need to use common sense in situations like this. Inputing the lower figure is the safest way to go to avoid problems.

                  1. re: invinotheresverde

                    I'm stating that an establishment may not charge more than the total the guest filled in. In the reverse a little common sense applies. Do you honestly not think in your example that the guest would be calling MC or Visa and disputing the charge? It's not a complex issue. ;)

                    1. re: Docsknotinn

                      "By contract establishments are obligated to go by the total".

                      I was just implying that no hard and fast rule can apply to all situations. Your quoted statement left me confused, since in my restaurant we use the "obvious" figure, which is usually the tip, since the math mistakes usually happen during the addition process.

                      As a side note- can a guest dispute a total he's already signed? I mean, he signed it and did the math himself. Can anyone clue me in? Thanks.

                      1. re: invinotheresverde

                        There are indeed hard and fast rules. You can not charge a customer more than the total on the bottom line. Period. If they dispute the charge they will win. Tips are gratus so a guest is under no legal obligation to pay a gratuity even if you feel an error was made .
                        A guest could most certainly dispute the charge in the second example you gave as the mistake would be obvious if the total was greater than the bill and the gratuity.
                        The bottom line is that the guest always gets the benefit of the doubt.
                        Personally I always charge my meals and tip in cash. That way my server can report the appropriate income.
                        Wink. Wink.

                        1. re: Docsknotinn

                          I agree that you can't charge more, but how is charging less legal? Wouldn't the bottom line be the bottom line be the bottom line?

                          Also, per soup's example below, the guest doesn't always win in a dispute.

                          Not trying to be argumentative here, merely curious how the rules work both ways. :)

                          1. re: invinotheresverde

                            I'm sorry you lost me with the charging less or working both ways. If you are referring to your previous example where it would be obvious there was an error because the math doesn't add up the guest would easilly be able to document an error. You said;

                            " a customer has a $223 bill, writes $50 in the tip line, miscalculates to $473 instead of $373 that you'd put a $150 tip in? "

                            No of course you could not charge a $150 tip because the guest filled out the tip line with $50. Absolutly the guest would win this dispute. I never said nor suggested the guest is always right or always wins. SK's example is prime. The tip and total obviously matched in her example. Your signature is a contractual obligation to pay. Now if in her example a tip of 10k or 100k was left and the patron was drunk I certainly think that the guest in question would file a law suit against the restuarant or bar. I'm not a lawyer but I don't think you can enter into a binding contract under the influence. Of course we are all from different states and countries so that is subject to the law where you reside.

                            1. re: Docsknotinn

                              "I'm sorry you lost me with the charging less or working both ways. If you are referring to your previous example where it would be obvious there was an error because the math doesn't add up the guest would easilly be able to document an error."

                              Then how is this statement correct, "By contract establishments are obligated to go by the total"? If, by contract, the establishment has to go by the total, why wouldn't the server receive the $150 tip in my example? This is what I'm confused about. If sometimes you go by the total, but not others, why say establishments MUST do so?

                              1. re: invinotheresverde

                                A little common sense goes a long ways. You are using an example where an obvious error was made that could be easilly documented. I fail to see why this would confuse in any way.

                                1. re: Docsknotinn

                                  Obvious errors occur all the time, which is why I'm asking. I've seen (many) such examples with my own eyes. I thought you go by what's in the tip line (to avoid addition errors), but others here are saying to go with the total (yourself included).

                                  1. re: invinotheresverde

                                    Yes but in the example you are giving the guest filled out the tip line and would be able to document the error. IE Charge, tip and total do not balance. It's really not complex.
                                    If you want to play the devils advocate use your example, same charge, same total but the guest makes the error of adding wrong and leaves the tip box blank. Now you have a sticky situation depending on the integrity of the server. How that would be resolved will vary by a huge margin depending on the banks and how intelligent the individual is filing the dispute.
                                    In either event most patrons call the restaurant and indicate an error has been made. I've never found theese situations difficult to avoid or resolve.

                          2. re: Docsknotinn

                            Are you saying that you regularly go out of your way to aid strangers in falsifying their reported income to the IRS? Why?

                            To stay on topic, there was one occasion where I miscalculated the tip, and the amount of the total line was several dollars below my intended tip. Somehow, I realized this the next day and when I checked my credit card statement, the "total" amount was the one charged.

                            1. re: Agent Orange

                              I don't concern myself with some one elses taxes or those who are inclined to the overly dramatic.

                              1. re: Docsknotinn

                                Touché. Concerned enough to reply, though.

                          3. re: invinotheresverde

                            i recall an instance that was in the papers several years back where a bachelor's party went to a strip club. the fellow who signed a cc slip to the establishment was evidently so pleased that he wrote in an enormous tip-- i don't remember whether it was $1000, $10,000, $100,000. . . but a nice round number like that-- to the waitress, the establishment said :)

                            well the charge went through and caused all kinds of problems for the guy, and he challenged the charge. his whole position was that "he was drunk, he was just kidding, wouldn't that be obvious to anyone, why would they charge him what he actually wrote?" the strip club employee took him to court and the courts ruled in her favor. to me it sounds like another dumb&*^% gets what he deserves lol :)

                            1. re: soupkitten

                              LOL Now thats funny. You can't fix stoopid.

                              1. re: soupkitten

                                and wasn't the real issue that the charge was on his company credit card? I'm happy to hear that he was liable for the amount.

                        2. re: Docsknotinn

                          In the biz and wondering if you can refer me to an official source for that contract rule. I've checked a few online card provider rules sites and can't find a specific reference to addition errors and/or correction of same by the merchant either way (+ or -).

                          1. re: Midlife

                            You would have to find a non-official site that has acquired a copy of the operating rules and regulations. Of course the card companies could then dispute that information.

                            from the Visa USA website ".....In addition, to protect the confidentiality of the rules, we are requiring that qualifying merchants and agents sign an NDA before gaining access. ..."

                            1. re: hannaone

                              Don't get me wrong, I'm not arguing with your point on this, just trying to find it in black and white. I was able to get to the Visa rules by simply going to usa.visa.com: http://usa.visa.com/download/merchant...
                              I couldn't find anything specific about using the total line only but I did find reference to chargebacks arising out of math errors.

                              Interestingly, I did find an admonition to merchants that they not obtain authorizations for restaurant charges including the tip amount in advance of the customer filling in that part. Several discussions on these boards have explained that restaurants get pre-authorization of your estimated total via their merchant service company automatically adding 20% to the check amount to cover the tip. When the customer goes home and checks online the charged total shows 20% tip until the merchant has processed the corrected transaction. Visa specifically warns merchants not to pre-authorize including an estimated tip for that very reason. What's interesting is that all the posted explanations I've read have said that the 20% tip estimate is built in to the merchants charge routine by the merchant services company. Sounds like a whole other discussion for another topic.

                              1. re: Midlife

                                The 20% is built in but the bank adjusts it on your statement once the actual transaction processes.

                                1. re: M_waitress

                                  If you go online quickly enough you will usually see the transaction including the 20% because that's the amount sent to the credit card processor for approval, but it is changed to reflect the ACTUAL total when the establishment goes back and adjusts for the actual tip you write in. In some places that happens immediately after you leave, but more usually at the end of a shift or at the end of the day. At least that's how it works with the systems I've used.

                                  Actually, this discussion was about what happens if a guest writes in one amount for the tip but writes in a total that does not reflect what they wrote for the tip. IE- $25.00 bill; guests writes $5 on tip line; guest writes total as $28, not $30. That's a totally different issue as to whether the business has the legal right to change the total the customer has written in.

                        3. http://bitten.blogs.nytimes.com/rss2.xml

                          That's a link to a blog Mark Bittman wrote yesterday titled, "Who Wons the Tips?" Its the third article down.
                          Timely, I think....