HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


$100 Gift Certificate Tip Included?

I received a $100 gift certificate to a restuarant. If the bill (with tax) is $80, does that mean I can give the server the gift certificate and he/she would then get the $20 differnece, or should I leave a tip? (Not dumb, just never used a restaurant gift certificate.)


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I would ask the server. If he/she is comfortable having the tip come out of the gift cert. then there's no reason for you to sweat it----if he/she is not so confident that the house will pass it thru to them then I would make sure that they see the cash.
    But it doesn't seem to me to be much different from writing the tip into a credit card charge, from the server's standpoint---a tough situation if management is corrupt and a reason why I always prefer to tip with cash.

    1. I agree with the above poster. However, one other thing to consider -- sometimes it is the policy of the restaurant that certain things (tax, alcohol, tip) are not allowed to be included with the gift certificate. (I have no idea why this is but it's happened to DH and me.) So I'd say check with the place too to be sure that you can give the balance as tip to the server.

      1. A $100 gift certificate is just like a Franklin. If the bill is $80 and you want to leave a $20 tip then slip the certificate in the check presenter, get your hat, get your coat say good-byes and leave.

        This whole notion of checking with the server if this is OK is ridiculous. If the MOD/manager is corrupt, jfood wants to know nothing of it, that 's between the server and his employer. jfood is there to eat and pay, not save the world.

        15 Replies
        1. re: jfood

          Well----for some people, caring about other people is ridiculous. Sad but true. I'll continue to do so.

          1. re: JonL

            let's rephrase this since jfood came off looking like a jerk in the other post. Jfood believes that everyone deserves their due and just like placing the tip on the credit card he assumes the resaurant is doing the right thing. but he is not getting involved with inside-baseball at the restaurant. Should he check with the runner to make sure he gets his percentage, or the bartender on the way out mention that the tab was $200 and to makes sure the she gets her cut.

            But there are two types of certifcates:

            1 - For a given amount purchased from the resto, which appears to be the case here. In that case if you spend $80 and the cert is for $100, your cool. And in this case jfood would NOT check with the server.
            2 - For a free dinner, not to exceed $100. In this latter case, jfood would assume the tip is NOT included and would leave cash for the server.

            Hopefully this clears up the post. sorry for the irritation.

            1. re: jfood

              Fair enough. My suggestion to ask the server was for the purpose of providing an opportunity to express either explicitly or 'reading between the lines' if there was a problem or a preference. No--I am not interested in auditing the owners books. Just doing the right thing if/when there is a simple non-intrusive way of doing so. I am not familiar with the specifics of gift certs so I cannot comment on the subject of what is or isn't implicit in the various types.

              1. re: JonL

                Just to relate my experience. I recently had dinner in Red Bank. We had a $200 g/c . Dinner came to about $160. We decided to tip 'up' a bit and were politely and somewhat apologetically informed by the Host that a g/c could only be used towards food and beverage and that any remaining amout in excess of $25 would be returned to us in the form of another g/c. to be applied towards a future visit. I stated I thought that was unreasonable, he told me that was the policy of the restaurant. The Servor discreetly told us that they had instituted this policy b/c people often received g/c in large denominations and then used them to pay for one drink or a dessert and then wanted cash back and it was becoming a financial hardship for some smaller restaurants.

                1. re: Tay

                  Thanks to all who responded. I will use the GC as a $100 bill (which is what the giver paid for it and if the bill is $80, then I should recieve $20 "change." Which, of course would go to the server. If the bill is over $100, I would be expected to pay the difference, right? So why not if below I get the "change" and us it as a tip.

                  If the GC stated "dinner" for two, drinks, tax and tip not included," different scenario.

                  1. re: Stuartmc910

                    Why don't you just call the restaurant and ask what if anything is their policy on the matter? Unless you're looking to pick a fight over any disagreement with it once you get there, isn't that simpler than your assuming you ought to be correct?

                    1. re: Stuartmc910

                      As discounts are referred to in a few messages below, I just wanted to mention that a restaurant group (not chain) which we frequent offers cards (much like debit cards) which purchasers may maintain/recharge OR give as gift cards. It's the restaurant group's practice to always "up" the amount paid to be credited on card by 10% to 20% (holiday promos up the %). The policy is that the cards may not be used for tips and only for food/drinks, presumably because the group does not intend to "subsidize" patrons tipping (paying to server $1 tip on card, for which patron paid $0.80), and lose cash, but does want to encourage return patrons who then effectively get discounted purchases, and encourage the giving of gift cards (purchased at effective discount) to bring in new customers.

                    2. re: Tay

                      Yeah, it really depends on the restaurant. For smaller restaurants, it is an accounting issue. They get the money for the gift certificate and have to put it somewhere on the books. So it goes in to food/beverage. If the customer then wants to use only 3/4 of the gift certificate for food/beverage, the money then has to be taken out of the account. If you consider every single gift certificate issued, this can quickly become a major accounting headache. I imagine larger places and chains have the manpower to account for these situations.

                      I have no idea how they account for the food beverage separation or the tax.

                      Also, any restrictions should be clearly marked on the gift certificate.

                      1. re: Tay

                        how is this a finacial hardship to anyone?? if someone comes in and plunks down $200(or 2000, or 2million), buys a GC, and later that GC is used for $100(or 10, or 1) worth of food and bev., why is remitting the difference a burden. It wasnt their money in the first place. The only burden is the act of making change!? its not a comp/give away/coupon/discount/anything else.

                        1. re: nkeane

                          If a restaurant sells a $200 certificate it is hoping for $200 of sales plus the inherent profit on such sale. If someone comes in with the card and orders a cup of coffee for $5 and takes $195 in cash to go spend elsewhere, the restaurant has the financial hardship of the lack of $195 of sales and the profit.

                          A gift card is not "please hold my money" it is a commitment to purchase $x of goods or services.

                          1. re: jfood

                            but they had that same "hardship" before the GC was purchased! Im not saying its right to do your 5/195 scenerio, but its not much skin off the restaurants back either. Again, this is why I just give cash in these situations. A GC is like saying to the recipient, "here is some cash.........that I GET TO TELL YOU WHAT TO DO WITH!"

                            1. re: nkeane

                              That is the exact reason a lot of people like to give gift certificates, so that way they know what their money is going towards. Sure, some people might not care what you do with their gift, but many like to know it went to a nice dinner, or new clothes, or books, etc.

                              1. re: nkeane

                                The giver did not give cash, it gave a GC.

                                But here, the giver thought through where the recipient might like to eat, went there and bought a GC for the recipient to enjoy a dinner and then the recipient is upset because s/he can not convert to cash? Ouch for good manners. No good deed goes unpunished comes to mind.

                                And if you give them a bottle of wine or a box of candy, you are also telling them what to drink or eat, no?.

                                Why is the giving or receiving a gift so much a recipient's view that (a) I should be able to convert to cash or (b) I should have the full ability to exchange for what I want versus what the giver felt was a nice gesture.

                                Where did all the entitlement of a receiver of a gift come from to demand that the gift being a fully liquid instrument which can be converted to cash such that the receiver decides on what s/he should receive.

                                1. re: jfood

                                  if you want to give the gift of a dinner(which in my opinion is a great gift) just take the person to dinner!
                                  GC's(imo) are a passive-aggressive punt!
                                  btw, Cash is the greatest GC ever invented, can be used like money(cause it is), good anywhere, and never expires!

                                  1. re: nkeane

                                    well you and jfood will have to continue to disagree, and with a GC now in the passive aggressive bucket, he cannot even get into that ridiculousness. Why? because someone decides where the recipient needs to eat. To that jfood replies...Your Kidding.

                                    And people think that giving cash is the ultimate cop-out. It gives the impression that the giver believes his/her time is worth more than thinking of and then taking the time to buy a gift versus a C-note in an envelope.

                                    Just different points of view, N.

                2. I would pay the tip in cash. Just the same as I try to pay the tip in cash when I am paying by CC. You never know how long it will take the owner to pay out the tip to the waiter from a gift cert or CC. I'd rather make sure they get the money right away.

                  1. The right thing to do depends on the circumstances of how the GC was initially obtained. If purchased at face value from the restaurant, it should be treated same as cash, and it's absolutely okay to take the tip (and tax for that matter) from the GC. If obtained through a discounted source (third-party seller) or won at, say, a charity silent auction, you'll want to tip and pay tax separately, whether the restaurant's policy explicitly states so or not.

                    To best demonstrate why, I need to provide an admittedly extreme, unrealistic example. Let's say the check is $20 and you want to leave the server an $80 tip.

                    If the GC was purchased from the restaurant up front for $100, they received the $80 to pay the server the tip in cash or via charge along with the $20 to cover the check, without the need for management to reach into their pockets.

                    If the restaurant provided the GC at no charge to a charity silent auction out of the goodness of their hearts, they got nothing for it up front; management expects that you're going to use it to buy up to $100 worth of food & beverage, which really costs them an average of perhaps 40% of that amount.Then you'd pay the balance (if any) of F&B over $100 along with the tax and tip by either cash or credit card. $40 was the restaurant's expected cost of contributing the $100 GC to the auction.

                    But if you ask them to use the comped GC to settle a $20 check and leave an $80 tip, management would need to reach into their pockets for 40% of $20 (their cost of your F&B) plus $80 in cash to give to the server. What management expected would cost them $40 when making the contribution now winds up costing them $88.

                    In a situation where you're dealing with a donated or third-party GC, it's not fair to put management in the position of incurring more than the cost they thought they were facing when the GC was issued, and that's what you're asking them to do by essentially providing you the "change" so you can use that to tip the server. Giving you the change in the form of another GC keeps them within their $40 expected cost, and is obviously good business as it helps ensure another visit.

                    1. Just this evening I had a $200 gift certificate and the bill came to $184. I did ask the server to check the restaurant policy which she did and I was given the $16 in cash and I added to this for the tip. Although I did not want to make this the server's problem, I also wanted to make sure she got the tip I wished to leave. I see nothing wrong with asking. If I had a problem with the policy I could then deal with it; I did not wish to do this at the expense of the server.

                      1. AS A FORMER SERVER....come prepared to tip with cash. House policies change from restaurant to restaurant. This has nothing to do with the server. Bottom line is, that sometimes people stiff when they can't tip on the GC. Not saying that you would, just saying, better safe than sorry.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: efitz83

                          I was faced with this just the other night. My guests had a $100 gift card. Their bill was $95. They had no cash with them, only credit cards. They were hoping that they would be able to tip me on their credit card. Our policy is that we can't do that. No empty charges just for a tip. These were good people that didn't feel comfortable leaving me just $5. So, they told me to charge them for a soda and they tipped me about $20 on it. I know a lot of people would have said, "Oh too bad!" and left the $5.

                          We give cash back off a gift card, which is why we only sell cards of $150 or less per card (to make sure we always have enough cash in house to give change back.)

                          1. re: Azizeh Barjesteh

                            Couldn't you have applied the cc towards the bill and then settled the balance of the bill to the gift card? i.e. bill is $95, $20 of it is being paid by cc, $75 is being paid by gift card, balance on gift card is $25 which they can get back in cash so they leave that as tip. Or am I missing something?

                              1. re: Dave MP

                                In all seriousness though, after thinking about this a bit more, I think that the soda solution is simpler, and wouldn't require a discussion with the patrons about how much they were planning to tip. Easier to keep it as two separate transactions.

                              2. re: hsk

                                That's what we do at my restaurant. Those kind of things can always be fudged to work.

                          2. Having been a server and currently a restaurant manager, I can tell you that it is completely up to the restaurant to set those policies. You might see on a certificate or gift card the phrase "no cash value" which would obviously mean no cash back to you and by extension none to your server. Some allow cash back if the amount is less than $5.00. At both my previous position and current one the tip may indeed be paid with the remaining value of the certificate/card but no other cash is refunded. These gifts are intended to be used for purchases at a restaurant, not as a third party ATM system.

                            11 Replies
                            1. re: soxlover

                              Which is exactly the attitude that makes me never buy GC's! See, if a place is going to take the purchaser's $100 bill, and stipulate that it can only be used for food&bev. by the recipient, then shouldnt they be offering some sort of front end discount on the purchase price of the GC? it was never the restauraunts money.....it only becomes thiers when someone orders food and beverages.

                              1. re: nkeane

                                And the gratuity is never the restaurant's money either. Look at the server as an independent contractor. As jfood stated above, the restuant is looking for $200 of sales since it is the counter-party to the GC with the purchaser. If it only receives $160 and the server receives the $40 then the restaurant has not received what it hoped for.

                                Jfood is not condoning this, but explaining. He would be upset as well if he walked in with a $200, ordered $160 and was told that he was receiving a $40 gift cert and would he please leave $40 in cash as a tip.

                                And jfood does not understand you upfront discount. Why?

                                1. re: jfood

                                  I would only advocate a discount, ie. buy a $100GC get a free $20 GC, if the restaurants policy was one where the GC can only be used towards food and drink(see: no tip or tax). It seems selfish and greedy on the restaurants part to tell you what to do with YOUR MONEY!(sorry about the caps, cant figure out the italics.....lol)

                                  1. re: nkeane

                                    How is the restaurant telling you what to do with your money when YOU DECIDED to spend it at the restaurant? No one forced you to spend money, you chose to spend money!

                                    It's not like you ate at the restaurant and they told you that in addition to your current bill they want you to pay another $100 for the next time you dine there.

                                    1. re: pollymerase

                                      I didnt decide to spend it at the restaurant(me being a GC recipient) the buyer of the GC did. This is why GC's are horrible gifts.......by buying a GC you have predermined how much you are going to spend at a business! What if you got a 200$ GC for a restuarant, went in for an app. and drink at the bar, and had such a terrible time that you never wanted to return!? that crappy restaurant just got away with charging you(err, the buyer of the GC) 200$ for a cocktail and calamari!? all around bad......

                                      1. re: nkeane

                                        spend that puppy and buy a round for everyone at the bar...jfood would be happy with that outcome, or is that passive aggressive?

                                    2. re: nkeane

                                      Hmmmm. Trying to grasp the "your money" concept (jfood has never out the italics either, not to worry about the caps). But it's a triangle transaction.

                                      Person A buys gift certificate from Restaurat B. A gives GC to friend C as a gift. C goes to restaurant for a meal and uses GC. B provides up to the amount of the GC in goods and services under it's control. C uses the services of Server and pays tip as a different contract than what the GC undertakes. So whose money is it? Third Base (couldn't resist)

                                      Now there have been numerous threads on these boards about paying tips with cash instead of on the CC for various reasons. Jfood has never been on the side of the cash to the server side of the equation and always places on the CC. Now for the people that pay directly, there is always the argument of it's not the restaurant's money, it should go straight to the server.

                                      And to your $20 Freebie, huh? So do you go to Borders and buy a gift card for $100 and expect them to also throw in another $20 freebie card?

                                      1. re: jfood

                                        funny you bring up Borders.......I saw almost that exact promotion there(i think it was 15% discount on GC's) and thought " that is such a good idea, I wonder why more businesses dont do that?" although, I may have defeated the point because all I did was buy a 150$ GC and bought 175$ worth of cookbooks!lol

                                        1. re: nkeane

                                          you should just sign up for their promotion on line. Without a GC you get 30% off. Now jfood agrees...you got ripped off with the gift card... :-))

                                          1. re: jfood

                                            I do get there promo's. this predated my enrollment......much like BedBath and Beyond, I dont believe I have ever paid "full price" for anything at Borders!

                                            1. re: nkeane

                                              one day jfood will introduce you to the only person who bought full price at borders, she's jfood's daughter. She was given the certificate and told to return and get the refund. Some things you have to force into the DNA. now she studies there.

                              2. My Dad gave me a VISA gift card for my birthday and I was going to use it for a nice lunch. But just before I left it on the table for the server, I thought to read the fine print and it said that the bill had to be at least 15% less than the value of the gift card before restaurants have to accept it. Now I understand that some folks do stiff the servers but it that is not how the gift cards are promoted.

                                I am still pissed about that so BEWARE -- do not buy VISA gift cards if you mean them to be used in restaurants.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: pengcast

                                  Those Visa/Amex giftcards are a real pain in the ass. They have to be rung in for specific amounts (must be the total bill, minus 15% like you said) or they totally don't work. Then the card becomes frozen, and a manager has to call Visa/Amex to have the freeze taken off. Sometimes there's a live person to talk to, sometimes there's not. It's a huge hassle.

                                  Agree with pengcast: don't use those at restaurants.

                                  1. re: pengcast

                                    The amount of the card has to be (a certain percentage) more than the total because when a card is swiped at a restaurant it is automatically authorized for a higher amount since they assume you are going to tip and want to make sure the funds are available. The cc company/processor does this, NOT the restaurants (before someone gets their panties in a bunch). If you and I are out to dinner and the bill is $100, the server takes the card and swipes it, entering $100 as the amount. The authorization goes through for, let's say, $120. It's not a charge for $120, just an authorization. The server doesn't even see this amount, just sees that it's been authorized. So now let's say we present our $100 visa gift card as payment for our $100 check. It won't get authorized because there isn't any more value than $100, so it gets rejected. I believe the same thing goes for hotels. It's not that you CAN'T use them in restaurants, just that the amount you're trying to pay better be well below the total amount on the card. Why bother? Use it at the grocery store, for Pete's sake.

                                  2. I have not read all the previous posts so I hope my input is not redundant. I have been a server and am currently a manager. The purpose of a gift cert. is for sales of food and alcohol. If a restaurant allows the tip to be covered by the cert. that is in effect a cash refund. After all, they pay the server that tip in cash. If a customer purchased that cert. with a credit card the restaurant paid a fee for that transaction to the credit card company. My previous employer would return cash for amounts less than $5. My current employer allows the tip to be paid with the cert. with any remainder returned in the form of a replacement cert. It would certainly be considerate to ask the server about the restaurant's policy and if you have any issues speak with management. But again, an owner sets the policy and would be justified in expecting the cert. to be used for its original purpose.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: soxlover

                                      "If a customer purchased that cert. with a credit card the restaurant paid a fee for that transaction to the credit card company."

                                      How is that any different than my penalizing a restaurant for paying for a meal and my tip with a credit card?

                                      If it was bought at a discount or through a third party and the restaurant wasn't pre-paid dollar-for-dollar, then I agree that the restaurant takes an unreasonable hit on the tip portion (see my OP from June 27). A CC fee on the GC purchase doesn't fall into this category, it's a normal cost of doing business restaurants already see on most of their transactions.

                                    2. OMG, sorry I double-dipped. I actually replied to this topic last June! Guess I have strong feelings about it... I was more succint in June, lol.

                                      1. This is really an interesting question. While I usually leave a cash tip when I pay with a credit card, a gift card (to me) is different. The restaurant has already been paid the cash. It has it deposited in the bank. There's no surcharge from a credit card company or delay in processing. Why shouldn't the tip be able to be paid with the gift card? Essentially, it's plastic legal tender.

                                        (With the exception of the charity give-away scenario mentioned above.)

                                        1. Is it the LAW that a restaurant can set its own policy regarding tipping with a gift card or is it mandated that they must allow the card holder to apply excess GC money to the tip. No one is addressing this in legal terms, only lots of opinions.

                                          I have a friend who is a server @ Morton's and says people add the tip to the gift card all the time, but I just got a flat NO from a local restaurant saying I cannot. Can someone please set us all straight as to the legality of this - particularly in California.