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Short Changed in NY?

I'm visiting from SF and enjoying many of the fine restaurants in your city. Today I had lunch at The Spotted Pig. The food was fine. At the end of the meal, I paid my bill in cash. When I received my change, I noticed that they didn't give me any small change (coins). In fact, they rounded the bill up so that I received less change than I should have.

It was less than a dollar, but I was intrigued (and needed that change to ensure a full 20% tip). I asked the server whether it was a mistake or the restaurant's policy. He said, 'We don't have change so we always round the bill up.'

Small change is not a big deal. That said, why not give this small change to the guest? After all it's the restaurant's responsibility to have change. I travel quite a bit, so I've eaten at restaurants in many different cities. I've had items comped or bills rounded down, but this was a first for me.

I wonder is this specific to The Spotted Pig or:

Is rounding the bill up a common practice in NY Restaurants?

Spotted Pig
314 W 11th St, New York, NY 10014

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  1. I've never encountered it, but it definitely happens (note that this thread isn't about Manhattan):


    I would be pretty ticked off. Money is money.

    3 Replies
    1. re: small h

      small h, Thanks for posting that discussion link -- interesting.

      I just wasn't expecting it. Granted, this is a pub, not some fine dining establishment, but I've had little mom and pop places graciously round down bills in such situations. I wonder if this crew also rounds up their guests bills at The Breslin?

      The Breslin
      20 W 29th St, New York, NY 10001

      1. re: wanderlust21

        I usually pay with a credit card (and I must have when I went to The Spotted Pig), which would be a way to guard against this particular practice. Not that you should have to guard against it, 'cause it shouldn't be happening at all. I've read a number of posts about The Breslin and don't recall anyone mentioning this rounding up business.

        1. re: small h

          I can't say i'm terribly surprised that a restaurant wouldn't have change. I'd imagine a great majority of their business is done by credit card or even dollar cash tabs for drinks at the bar.

          Not sure if its ever happened to me or to be honest, if i'd care if it did happen. I'd probably think it was unusual and then promptly forget about it.

    2. I don't frequent NY restaurants so can't answer that question.

      But....I sure wouldn't worry about giving them the "full" 20% tip if they pulled something like this. They already got some of their tip in the change they didn't return to you.

      1 Reply
      1. re: 512window

        I'd be tempted to say, "Sorry, but that change was your tip."

      2. you NEVER round up. "i'm sorry we have no singles, you're $11.23 tab will be charged at $15." Same difference. First rule of physics is for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. if a server EVER told me they do not give change, I do not give a tip. I know I know, not the server's fault...it is.

        1. Let me preface this by saying that i've been going to Manhattan restaurants for 40 years and have NEVER had a check rounded up. Ever.

          1. My restaurant, in MA, rounds. If the bill ends in $0.49 or less, we round down. If it ends in $0.50 or more, we round up. We keep no change in the restaurant at all. No one has ever brought any opinion on this to management's (my) attention.

            14 Replies
            1. re: invinotheresverde

              No one may have brought it to your attention, BUT you are riope for a M.G.L.chapter 93A Consumer suit. The treble damages at a maximum of $1.50 aren't much, BUT attorney's fees are MANDATORY, the judge has no discretion. Attorneys love this kind of nuisance suit as they pick up easy thousands in fees..............

              Scary what three years of law school in Massachusetts teaches you....

              You'd be better off rounding it all down to avoid the exposure, or start keeping change in the till.

              I would be POd if you, or any other merchant rounded up my bill. I consider this picking my pocket. That said, as an old time retired retailer, I always carry singles, fives and a couple of dollars worth of change in my pocket. If Your server presented a check that had been rounded up from 44.58 to $45, I'd ask why? If I was told the restaurant doesn't have coins for change, then I'd tell the server that I'm happy to pay with the correct amount of coins.

              That said, It's unlikely I'd patronize your restaurant a second time. I'd wonder: "If they are willing to cheat me out of my change, what else are they cheating me on? Maybe those scallops are just punched white flesh fish, etc."

              The system as you describe may work for you, but as a customer it doesn't work for me.

              1. re: bagelman01

                Hey, that's cool. We're crazy busy (like 500 people a night), so people mustn't mind. As mentioned, we also round in the customer's favor if the change portion is under fifty cents.

                This is also pretty common around here. The last three restaurants I've worked at didn't use any change.

                1. re: invinotheresverde

                  It's illegal. Period paragraph. I hope the place gets sued.

                  I have very rarely had this happen. I don't care if it is "only" 23c or whatever. That's MY 23c, not yours. I ALWAYS insist on correct change on the rare occasions this happens. It's called "short-changing" and it's stealing.

                  Whats the name of your "crazy busy" restaurant? It won't be "crazy busy" anymore after I call the state attorney general's office and get the place shut down.

                  1. re: ZenSojourner

                    Martha Coakley is far too busy trying to save her political life to go after this. The AG's office doesn't have the authority to 'shut the place down'...the commissioner of Consumer Protection could investigate and fine. The IRS and Mass. Dept of Revenue could examine the books and these untaxed/unclaimed dollars. That said, chapter 93A of the Mass General Laws requires an individual consumer who has been wronged to bring suit.
                    A smart attorney bringing suit could subpoena all records during discovery, get names and numbers from the reservation lists, contact past patrons and develop a class action, reaping untold rewards for the attorney.

                    A POd customer could contact the consumer reporter at The Boston Globe and Channel 2 Boston and the bad publicity could harm or cause the demise of the restaurant.

                    Thant said, I don't wish Invinotherresverde harm, as I suggested, if her place doesn't want to use coin, than round every sale down, don't steal the customer's change///////

                    1. re: ZenSojourner

                      take a chill pill Z. this is totally wrong but pahleeze this is far from a political activist's call to arms. Do the math...500 covers, average 4 per table = 125 checks. half will benefit so down to 63 checks...average hurt equals 25-cents total harm = $15 per night over 500 people. and so easy to fix

                      two suggestion for Invino:

                      1) always round in the customers' benefit
                      2) place prices as whole numbers on the menu and state "all prices include tax."

                      As i said above if i were one of those chosen few who they decided to round the wrong way i would just nix the tip. What is being done is convenient to the restaurant, may not be a big deal in the restaurant's eyes, may not be noticed by most of the customers since they have had a bit of wine from the sommelier's suggestion.

                      But it is still wrong and it is still illegal.

                      BTW - new thread later today, "do you tip pre-tax, post-tax, or post-tax-post reach into pocket"? :-))

                      1. re: jfood

                        Excellent suggestions, jfood.
                        I especially like your number 2.

                        1. re: jfood

                          Jfood, as is often the case, has offered the perfect options. I would not trust a restaurant management that chose otherwise. It's a basic issue of trust, which is a foundation of hospitality.

                      2. re: bagelman01

                        Wow. I'd somehow like to think that, no matter how litigious this country gets, that no one would bother suing someone or an establishment over less than $1 worth of change...especially when one was going to tip at least 15% on top of the bill anyway.

                        1. re: yfunk3

                          and i would hope that restaurants would not knowingly and willingly break the law and steal money from a customer. Would I sue, never, but would I take personal action at the time and make the matter known, absolutely. I fought a state tax audit 25 years ago over $36. All my friends thought I was nuts, maybe I was but I was right as well and could not sleep. I won the audit.

                          1. re: jfood

                            The taxman and the restaurant above are entitled to their due, AND NO MORE.

                            What's mine is mine, and if I choose to give it away, throw it away or spend it, it is my choice, NOT the restaurant's

                          2. re: yfunk3

                            I'm not advocating a lawsuit, merely explained the potential liability. The MA statute is set up to protect consumers. Most attorneys would never take a small suit without a law like this. The consumer gets treble damages, BUT attorney's fees and costs are mandated by the law.

                            I f abusiness thought, "We can steal 49 cents from every other customer with immunity" they will do so. If the restaurant knew that they could be sued for the 49 cents, pay the consumer $1.47 in damages, but be on the hook for 2-3 THOUSAND dollars in legal fees plus their own defense costs............
                            If the atty put together a class action, the restaurant could pay his/her salary for the year.

                        2. re: invinotheresverde

                          Invinotheresverde, it's nice to have a restaurant's perspective on this. It sounds like you havea good relationship with your guests. jfood makes some practical suggestions. Here's a business perspective:

                          I understand that margins in the business can be thin and handling change is a hassle. It's fine if you don't want to handle change, but then it makes sense for you to bear the cost of the decision or notify the guest on the menu to adjust their expectation.

                          Is there a reason that the guest should be penalized for the restaurant's decision not to handle change?

                          I agree rounding up or down sounds like a much fairer practice than 'always rounding up'. From the restaurant's perspective, it theoretically balances out because the guests would benefit as many times as they are penalized. However, that's on a collective basis. A one time, individual guest who gets short changed will never get the benefit of having their check rounded down.

                          If your average check is $20, then 50 cents is 2.5% of the check, that's a noticeable margin. It's too high a proportion of the check, so it seems inequitable to round up. To illustrate with an extreme example, imagine if a sandwich shop charging $5.50 rounded up?

                          But then if your average check is $200+, shorting your guest 50 cents seems uncouth and petty. Your relationship with the guest (even if they are price insensitive) is probably worth more than the 50 cents you benefit.

                          So either way, it makes sense to always round down in favor of the guest.

                          Of course, the cost of any rounding will be recovered through higher prices or some other way, but then it would be spread across all the guests and avoid a negative impression of the restaurant's billing practices.

                          1. re: wanderlust21

                            I'm the sommelier, not the owner, but I've had a conversation with the owners in the past about why they don't offer change. They say it's a hassle and people always leave it on the table anyhow.

                            I'm not one to argue with them; they've owned and operated successful restaurants for over thirty years, all of which are still open and thriving. They're not going to change this practice. And like I said, it's been this way at three other places I've worked, too.

                        3. in a restaurant in Boca a man was shortchanged by his server for 35c and called the next day to complain and said he would be in later to pick it up - and he did. The server gave him 35 pennies.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: smartie

                            The Boca story sounds like an urban myth. But I digress...

                            Anyone who intentionally shorts me on my change will be shorted on the tip. There's no excuse for reaching into my pocket like that.

                            1. re: Leonardo

                              While I am against this practice of stealing from the patron. I do have a problem with saying the server intentionally shorts the change. here it seems that the servers are under orders by owner/management to steal from the customers. I would call the manager/owner over and ask for the rest of my change, NOT penalize the server for following orders, but would likely never return, as well as make public this occurence.

                            2. re: smartie

                              the appropriate response from the restaurant would have been an apology. but no problem...guess how i would pay for my next meal in that restaurant, with one penny too much and the words, "keep the change."

                              1. re: jfood

                                it was an unknown error, I knew the waitress she had never had complaints before about shorting change to anybody and she always carried about 10 bucks in change as well as a stack of singles. It was more anecdotal that someone would check their change after they had got home, called later that evening and bothered to drive the next day to pick up 35c. And it's a true story. And for all I know this person does this at every restaurant he goes to.

                                A waiter last week in a deli told me and my fellow diner about a woman who went to the bathroom, came back to her table, called the waiter over and said all her plates had been cleared by the busboy while she was away from her table. He apologized and was off to order a new dinner for her when another diner called him over and told him to check her shopping bags. In large tupperware they found plates, food and silverware.

                                I wonder if diners cheat restaurants more frequently than the other way round?

                                1. re: smartie

                                  para 2. i firmly believe that many feel that the stuff on the table is theirs whether used at the table or taken home.

                                  para 1. hey if the guy wants to drive to pick up his change it is his change. it was the pennies that crossed the line. especially if it was an honest mistake

                            3. Never heard of that happening.

                              If the restaurant choses not to use change, because they feel that it is to their advantage then they should round down in favor of the customer. Not up in their favor. It may just be lose change. But anyone who has a change jar on their dresser knows the changes can add up rather fast.

                              1. Some famous dead person once said something like, "It's easier to steal a dollar from 1,000 people than to steal $1,000 from one person."

                                My thoughts are along the same lines as other posters: What else are they cheating on? Are they watering the drinks? The only difference between a small and a large iced tea is the size of the glass and the amount of ice? The possibilities for further "short-changing" is endless. No, not rounding is no guarantee any of the other stuff's not happening, but I am more likely to question the rest of the operations after such a blatant rip-off.

                                As others have said, the first time would be the last time for me...and the "kept change" would be the tip. This is one time I *would* make a scene. It's one thing for the server to make an error, but when it is "policy' I would want everyone there to know. And if they called the police on me, all the better...I'd love the publicity. O.K., O.K, I wouldn't make *that* big a scene, but I wouldn't go quietly, either.

                                The 49 cents won't break me, but it is the principal of the thing. There are just too many other good places that aren't this obvious about ripping me off...even in Syracuse. And, yes, if this happened here I would bypass the legal channels and head straight for channel, 3 channel 9, and the Post-Standard.

                                1. On CH I usually can see two (or more) sides to the issue. In this thread....the practice is unethical . What else can really be said? " Everybody does it" didn't work in high school any better than it does here.