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When your server does not give you exact change

So, we're Europeans traveling in the US. It's our 7th trip here and we know that the tipping system is not like ours at home. We generally tip 15 % for regular service, more if service was very good (which it very often is).

So tonight we had a quick dinner at a restaurant - not high end, but not a pub atmosphere either. Service was slow and uninterested. Example: I had a cocktail and after that asked for the winelist, waiter left it at the table but never came back to get my order, I finally ordered it with the hostess (who noticed my looking around the room in search of our waiter) so I could have a glass of wine in time for my main course.

So the bill came and it was 63,50 dollars, now we usually like to leave the amount we want to pay (bill + tip) in cash so we can just get up and leave. But we only had 20 dollar bills so we left 4 of those. Waiter came and picked up the money, did not ask if we wanted anything back, and never returned. So finally we asked him 'can we get the change, please?' and again it took a long time but then what he had put inside the cover was three 5 dollar bills, instead of the exact change.

My husband only told me this when we were walking home. According to husband this is normal because waiter was just 'facilitating' our tipping; I think it's rude. I know it's only 1,50... but I still think it's up to the customer to decide what they want to do with their money! Maybe I needed that dollar for busfare!

Who is right?

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  1. There is another thread on this very topic going on right now and there is no consensus as to the proper protocol.


    2 Replies
    1. re: melo7

      thanks, should have searched. So I guess it's normal my husband and I did not reach consensus over this ;)

      1. re: melo7

        Not really "this very topic." In the thread you gave us the link to, melo7, the OP was complaining because her server brought her .80 *too much*. S/he was not shortchanged.

      2. You are definitely correct. You've already asked the waiter to bring your change, therefore, you have given him a chance to correct his 'forgetfulness'. Tipping is straightly up to you; he has no right to give you the incorrect change.
        Occasionally, waiters complaint that European diners do not leave a tip because they mistakenly thought that service is included in the bill, like their native countries. That still does not give any waiter the right to tip himself.

        1 Reply
        1. re: PBSF

          PBSF is right, or as I saw once, the waiter explain in a loud and slow voice the tipping structure in the US to a pair of tourists before even taking their order. both approaches are just wrong. and I wonder if the expectation of no tip results in service so bad that little tip is deserved even if the guest fully understands the system.

        2. He shorted you $1.50?

          That would have been all the tip he would have gotten from me-- especially since he didn't even do his job completely (not taking your wine order and not checking with you to see if you were ready for your check). And assuming that he's earned a 25% tip is presumptuous at best.

          Either of those things would have been inexcusable in any European or American restaurant at any level above McDo, and then shorting you on the change was beyond the pale.

          The other thread wonders about the waiter having given *too much* change back...which alters the question considerably.

          1 Reply
          1. In my humble opinion, shorting someone coins is not a big deal, however you should have gotten $16 back wthout having to ask for it.

            1 Reply
            1. re: twyst

              I feel the same. For me, rounding up/down is fine, but once you get to $1+, it had better come back.

            2. Ok so I have lived in Europe for 5 years now and I do understand your confusion. A server should always always by default give you all of your change unless you tell them "no change needed". If they don't they are either stealing from you or made a mistake counting, always check your change if it isn't correct you ask them about it and if they don't correct it, talk to the manager.

              If it is good service we tip 15-20% if its bad less and if its great more. Europe is a different story where we would always look in the the menu to see if service charge was included, if it was for good service we let it be, great service leave a little extra 5 euro or so. If it wasn't then we tipped the 15-20%.

              In America the rule of thumb for restaurants in general is that service charge is not included, and what you give on tip is up to you depending on how good you think the service is. Percent wise 10-20% for good service.

              6 Replies
              1. re: BelovedofIsis

                Oh man -- here's where the can of worms opens.

                Lots of restos in Europe do not say "service included" (in whatever language) -- even though it IS INCLUDED. (It is -- by law.)

                If you ask a server "is the tip included?" he/she will always, ALWAYS say no (hello -- wouldn't you?).

                Europe differentiates between a service charge and a tip. The service charge is the restaurant-controlled portion that is given to the server (and already included in the price of your meal)-- the tip is the stuff you leave on the table. Don't ever assume that they're the same thing, because they're not. (In France, the stuff you leave on the table is called pourboire -- "for drinks" -- beer money, as that's what it essentially is)

                In Europe you generally round up to the next Euro or so -- but you never leave more than a euro or two unless the service was truly exemplary.

                1. re: sunshine842

                  Well we did always get good to great service. I had no qualms with tipping the extra in these circumstances. Maybe it was Germany in particular but every menu I've seen had had that printed on the bottom or on the back page along with the 19% VAT already being added to the pricing. Maybe we are just more generous than most, because I heard the rounding thing too and it just didn't seem right to me personally.

                  Although I do feel a bit insulted that your would imply that every server is dishonest and a cheat and that I would be too for that matter. I knew many European servers personally, outside of the restaurant, and they would never say that if asked! Actually we have asked and it was politely explained that while it is included and socially acceptable to not tip, but if you felt that you got exceptional service a tip is a great way to show your appreciation, a drink bought from the bar for the server is also acceptable depending on the establishment.

                  1. re: BelovedofIsis

                    doesn't mean they're cheating -- the service charge is different than the tip in their eyes, so if you ask if the tip is included, they're being completely honest by saying No.

                    I'd do exactly the same thing if I were in their shoes.

                    1. re: BelovedofIsis

                      Just to add to the confusion.. In The Netherlands, it is most definitely not socially acceptable to not tip! And just rounding up to the next euro won't do!

                    2. re: sunshine842

                      Europe is a diverse place with almost as many different tipping cultures as we have languages. In some countries (such as France), service is inherently included in the menu price, in others (such as the UK) a service charge will often be added to the bill, in others there will be traditonal tipping (at anything froma few coins to around 10%).

                      You cannot regard us as all the same.

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        I think 1-2 Euro in a high-end restaurant (say, for a total bill of 250-300 Euro) would be frowned upon, even if the service charge is included. That's a very small tip, and I find that the amount is proportional to the bill.

                    3. You are right. What you describe does happen, maybe 10-20% of the time in my experience in the US, but it should not.

                      I've become comfortable with being asked "Would you like change back?", thought, honestly this should just be assumed. Servers are busy and it's a shame for them to have to make a run to your table with money you would rather they just keep.

                      But, yes, if you are getting change, it should be all of it, every last penny. I'm more forgiving of leaving off small amounts of change (i.e. if my change was $14.15 and I got the $14) but I don't like it. And there is no way there should have been $1.50 missing.

                      Your husband is right too, she was just "facilitating" your tipping, and personally, when it happens to me, I don't make a big deal of it. But when it does happen, I'm not likely to tip more than 15% (my default tip is 18-20%) and it does live on in my mind as a strike against the restaurant.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: andytee

                        I can't stand the "Would you like change back?" It's confrontational and puts me on the spot, which will naturally require I figure the tip hastily, and being somewhat irritated, always results in a tip reduction. Just quietly bring me my change and leave me in peace to calculate the tip!

                        1. re: Leonardo

                          "I can't stand the "Would you like change back?""

                          I don't disagree, but I've learned to live with it. I just say, "Yes, please."

                          Best case scenario is definitely, don't ask, bring change.

                          I think the "asking" is most gracefully handled when the server says, "Let me get you some change" and then you have the chance to say, "No need."

                          But I can hang with variations on the theme, even if I don't love them.

                      2. You are correct, the waiter is a thief. I have been a waiter, and unless the patron tells you to keep the change, the full amount of the change belongs to the patron. If i as a restaurant owner found out that a waiter stole part of the customer's change, the waiter would be unemployed.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: bagelman01

                          Unfortunately, the "Do you want the change," thingy has become common. it is right up there with give-aways and unrequested items being "given" to guests who then find them on the bill.

                          All of the above are loathsome and show that the server in question doesn't know what hospitality is.

                          1. re: postemotional1

                            methinks you replied to the wrong post. I did not speak to the 'do you want the change' scenario........................
                            I just said the server was a thief.

                        2. Ms Klary

                          Totally unacceptable and a bad refection on our country. My apologies.

                          It is a little different from the other thread I started but here are my opinions:

                          - The total, 100% of the change is brought to the customer. None of this, "well it's only change" stuff. It's yours unless you tell the server otherwise.
                          - If I need a specific set of denominations, I tell the server
                          - If I feel the server is trying to create a situation where you are boxed in a corner to leave the tip from the change denominations, the tip gets reduced. In this case the server did not try this trick with the $5's.
                          - But in this case the server was bad and then he did a bad thing at the end. I would have wanted to ask for the $1.50 and leave nothing, but I would have just pocketed the 3 $5's and left him with the $1.50 he felt so inclined to steal from me.

                          Another reason I pay w plastic. Total flexibility with the tip amount.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: nobadfoodplz

                            no need to apologize! in fact, after 7 trips to the US this was one of the very few instances where we received service that we did not feel was very good. Whatever one may think of the tipping / wages for servers system in the US, it does, as a rule, make for much better service than in The Netherlands.

                          2. It is stealing the world over

                            1. i've never had someone not give me all my change

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: thew

                                I've never had this happen either. I would be ticked if the server did not bring the correct change. That is just wrong. I tip well, but I would be real tempted to tip $1.50 less than planned and would quietly relay that information to the server.

                              2. Not only that, the server was subtly "suggesting" you would leave them $10, since they only brought you back 3 fives. That's another ding. The $1.50 would have been all they got from me, for sure. I would have brought you the exact change, with six one-dollar bills and the 2 fives plus the 50 cents, so you could decide what you wanted to tip.

                                1. I usually take a proactive approach by calculating how much tip I want to give and say, "Can I get $ ___ back?"

                                  And they always reply, "Yes."

                                  It IS frustrating if someone doesn't give back change or gives back the wrong change and then I feel too embarrassed to ask so the above method works for me.

                                  Slight tangent, but I hate the way even takeout (only) places will have a tip function in the debit/credit machine now. I don't tip if I'm not eating in!!

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: S_K

                                    Then simply put a line or an x in the tip line and right the total on the total line. Many credit card machines are pre-programmed, also for those of us who do tip (for our own reasons) it is very convenient and don't have to worry about having a dollar or two on us if we plan on paying with card. Its better to be universal than exclusive.

                                    1. re: BelovedofIsis

                                      Let me qualify my statement. I hate it when takeout (only) places have the tipping function because it is a takeout place and if I don't give them a tip because all I want is a simple combo (we're talking Chinese version of McDonald's here) THEN THEY GIVE ME A DIRTY LOOK.

                                      It's the dirty look that really irritates me especially if the price was rather high. And once someone said, "No tip?" Are you kidding me? If I was eating in, then sure no problem, it makes sense. I guess the pre-programming makes sense too, but I would recommend that the cashier gets training.

                                  2. This happened to me last night at happy hour. Bill was $15.40, I paid with a twenty and got four ones back. WTF? If you don't want to use coins, you can warm my heart by giving me 40 cents extra instead of cooling it by taking 60 from me. The place is popular but IMO overrated, just one more reason not to return.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: babette feasts

                                      this is one of the great things about living in a state(OR) that has no sales tax.....most every restaurant has pricing that is even dollar amounts. Presto! no coinage!

                                      which makes my life easier when I am both behind the bar and seated at it.

                                      1. re: nkeane

                                        That IS awesome. There is a little mom and pop shop in Waterloo (Ontario, Canada) that calculates the numbers so that the total comes out evenly in dollar amounts, but that's the only one I've seen that does that.