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Should a server automatically bring change in denominations in accordance with standard tipping?

It's hard to believe there's a tipping question that hasn't already been bludgeoned to schist but I couldn't find this situation in searching.

I recently had a solo dinner at an ethnic restaurant which only had one other table occupied, by a couple. My tab came to just under $15. I put a 20 in the folder. The waiter did not ask if I wanted change. He took it, returned a little while later with the folder, then vanished. It contained the coins, and a $5 bill. Though service had been slow and inattentive, I was planning on leaving $3 but assumed the waiter would be bringing the change in singles. I only had two singles in my wallet. Adding that to the change brought the tip to $2.35, which was 15%, so that's what I left. Had the waiter reappeared, I'd have asked him to make change for the $5 but I have never before had a server who did not automatically break $5's or $10's in this type of situation.

Servers and other restaurant employees, what is the norm? Did I need to specify that I needed singles, or should he have foreseen that possibility and made change accordingly?

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  1. In my experience, it's rare that servers don't go the extra mile in terms of giving you change in denominations that will allow you to tip correctly. If they don't, ask for them to break whatever bill is the problematic denomination. If they can't, it's their problem.

    1. this young man was green, green, green.

      Most servers figure out pretty quickly that if you give the customer their change in singles, the chance of the customer leaving you some of them goes up pretty dramatically.

      I never gave the last $5 in change as change -- it was *always* singles -- the cashier would return the 5s as change, and we'd just swap them out from the singles in our aprons. Everybody was happy -- the cashier didn't have to keep a stack of singles, we lightened our load a little, and the customer had singles to leae as change.

      2 Replies
      1. re: sunshine842

        Au contraire.

        I would say the server was anything but "green".

        He knew exactly the type of denominations he was providing.

        It was, shall we say, change provided with "tipping aforethought."

        1. re: ipsedixit

          I agree, he was a greedy little devil. Yeah, sure if the service was fantastic, he might have gotten $5, but not giving the OP that choice . . . lets call it the coup de grâce. He never knew how lucky he was that the OP had $2 in hand.

      2. Yes, I do think a server should bring change back in denominations that facilitate tipping. This was the first thing I learned on my first day waitressing.

        Yet many times I need to send the server back to break up a larger bill. For example, if I put $60 in the folio for a $37 check and tell the server "I need change" probably 50% of the time, the server comes back with 3 ones and my $20 intact.

        1. Maybe they were low on singles? I've only been a server once for a very, very brief period of time, but in that time, I learned how ridiculously cheap people are. I would never presume that by giving someone change back in a higher denomination would mean I would get a bigger tip. I liked to make things as easy as a possible on people to ensure that I would receive a fair tip. Considering you said service was slow and inattentive, I probably would've left what you left if I could not get the proper change. Had the service been good, I probably would've left the 5. I actually don't think $5 on a $15 tab is that much.

          2 Replies
          1. re: SaraAshley

            I would leave $5 for tip if the service was great but in this case, service wasn't so good so I would not leave $5.

            1. re: Monica

              Yeah, I said in this case I would leave what grey did.

          2. Just leave the 5 and stop fretting over it; or if you want to stiff him/her that is your option too.

            7 Replies
              1. re: ospreycove

                15% may not be a generous tip, but it's hardly stiffing the guy.

                (And I have previously foresworn commenting (or reading tipping threads so I will stop there. LOL)

                1. re: ospreycove

                  I would have 'stiffed' him/her based purely on the fact that he/she didn't break the 5.
                  Stupid move.

                  1. re: latindancer

                    I can't imagine stiffing someone for this. Perhaps because I have actually dined with someone who stiffed a server for brining back five singles instead of a five. The reason? It was presumptuous to break the five--server was assuming she'd be getting a tip. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

                    1. re: debbiel

                      <I can't imagine stiffing someone for this>

                      The waiter obviously wanted and felt entitled to the 5.
                      The OP mentioned, "had he reappeared" eluding to the fact the waiter pretty much didn't feel it necessary to reappear because he/she was assuming the OP would leave the 5.

                      That kind of arrogant assumption, and the lack of coming back and asking if the OP needed anything else, deserves a stiff.
                      Different strokes.
                      In threads like this I always feel it necessary to state that I'm a very big tipper…
                      Normally I tip between 25-30%.

                      1. re: latindancer

                        That kind of assumed arrogant assumption. You do not know why the waiter did not reappear. You are assuming it was because they felt entitled to the $5.

                        1. re: latindancer

                          Right because the server couldn't possibly have been busy elsewhere? Talk about presumptuous.

                  2. Only if they are smart!! If a generous tip would be $5 and the server brings back a $10 bill and a couple of quarters I just shake my head and make the best of it. An experienced server would never do this.

                    1. How about this;

                      "Do you need change"?

                      That is one of my biggest pet peeves of paying at any establishment. They take the billfold and without looking just ask "Do you need change"? Well let's see the check was $30. and I placed a $100. in there, no that's fine I don't need change. I hate that.....just bring the change regardless of how much, bring the change unless I say, "Keep the change".

                      An experienced server should try to make it as convenient for you to leave a proper tip as possible. If not make them run back and get you the appropriate change. I've got a feeling the server that doesn't bring you the appropriate changer are the exact ones you need the change for to reflect the proper tip amount.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: jrvedivici

                        I've had this happen and it has been beaten to death here, but it automatically means a smaller tip for a presumptive attitude. I once placed in plain view 40 bucks on a 22 dollar dining alone tab and asked if I wanted change. Subtract one dollar from normal 20% tip.

                        1. re: James Cristinian

                          In a situation like that my standard response is "just give me a $20 back. (Or any amount in excess of my actual change due) Then just sit back and watch them try to figure out my request.

                          If they question me I simply say, you asked what I wanted, not what I'm due.

                          1. re: James Cristinian

                            Who has the presumptive attitude? The server because you think he expects a 5 dollar tip, or you for assuming that is what he thinks?

                            1. re: rasputina

                              What 5 dollar tip? It's an 18 dollar tip on a 22 dollar tab. I wasn't talking about the OP, read my post.

                          2. re: jrvedivici

                            For those of you complaining about this, do you see the server look in check fold first? I feel like they ask before even looking at what I've given them a lot of times, in which case it doesn't bother me.

                            1. re: SaraAshley

                              Sara, in this case I was the only one feeding, and I left the tip where it could easily be seen, two 20's kinda like a couple of cards at the beginning of a hand.

                          3. I've served alongside people who do this purposely, including the disappearing act, to try to force you into leaving the 5 because you may not have anything else and it seems "easier." I think it's crappy and manipulative.

                            Only if I was so weeded I wasn't thinking straight when I made change would I not break the change down adequately enough so that the person could leave a decent tip out of it. But yeah, some people do it purposely.

                            1. You will definitely get a better tip from me if you bring me my change broken down.

                              1. I'd say you did the right thing, since you were able to leave a 15% tip. That is not "stiffing" the server for so-so service.

                                Most servers tend to bring back some ones, in my experience.

                                1. I have no problem telling the server, " I need singles for my change".

                                  1. "I put a dollar in the change machine. Nothing changed!"
                                    G. Carlin

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Motosport

                                      oh, the great George Carlin - he is sorely missed!

                                    2. I'd have asked him to bring ones, in this case. There's nothing clandestine about tipping in this country, and restaurants are exempt from a lot of minimum-wage laws based on the commonness of the practice, so ensuring that the proper amount can be left is simply making the transaction easier.

                                      One of our favorite and frequently-visited local restaurants has suddenly stopped giving out tabs with both pre-tax and post-tax amounts listed - the only amount shown includes tax. This is very annoying, because our practice is to tip 20% of the pre-tax figure or 18% with tax … and 20% is easy to do in one's head, even after a couple of margaritas. 18%, not so much. The other night was the first time this occurred, and yes, we had tasted deeply of the agave … so we wound up leaving the poor guy 15%, because that was the extent of our available math skills.

                                      1. Servers may have their reasons for doing so - no small bills, no time to start counting out small bills, hope of getting a larger tip because most of them are dirt poor.

                                        I would just leave the $5 and feel like I contributed to making their day better and feel better about myself as a result.

                                        Who has time in life anyway to spend getting pissed off at every single small, pesky, annoying behavior of others?! You'd have to be pissed all the time!

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: acssss

                                          Picking your battles in life carefully is good advice, acssss, but reinforcing bad behavior/ annoying behavior doesn't seem like the solution, either. I don't feel better about myself if I have the feeling I allowed myself to be taken advantage of for no good purpose.
                                          I like to tip 20%, but if the service was borderline, I have no problem going lower. On balance, I think that only happens a handful of times in a year.

                                        2. I've never, ever been offended by a server asking if I want change. If I don't, then why not save them a return trip to the table? And if I do need a server to break some larger bills....uh, so what?

                                          1. When I was a server I don't remember spending a lot of time trying to guess how much money and what denominations of such people had in their wallets or how much money they needed for a tip. Just because you paid with a 20 doesn't mean I'd assume that was all you had.

                                            1. Part of the problem is that so many people use plastic to pay and add the tip when they get the charge card slip. I think there are a lot of green servers who are unaccustomed to making change. In the old days a lot of restaurants expected the waiter to make change as it moves the customer out of the door quicker.

                                              I think it is all a matter of common cents.
                                              (I could not resist)

                                              1. <Servers and other restaurant employees, what is the norm? Did I need to specify that I needed singles, or should he have foreseen that possibility and made change accordingly?>

                                                I usually have to ask them to break it.

                                                1. In most ethnic restaurants I've been to, the waiter isn't the one who handles the bills. I wouldn't be surprised if the owner or manager just provided change in whatever denominations that were most convenient.

                                                  1. <which was 15%, os that's what I left>

                                                    You did exactly what I would have done.
                                                    If the waiter would have broken the 5 I would have left more.
                                                    He, as a waiter, knew exactly what he was doing and he chose poorly.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: latindancer

                                                      Or, he didn't have change?

                                                      I don't always have enough small bills on me, even at the end of a shift.

                                                      I would be sad to find out that that's how my customers saw me. And insulted, to tell the truth. If someone wanted singles from a $5, they should just ask and not automatically assume the worst.

                                                      1. re: eastofnevada

                                                        If I have to go out of my way to wait or look for the waiter, then it's the unprepared waiter's problem.

                                                        I respect the waiter who breaks down the bills for me. It shows they understand and respect the customer.
                                                        If the wait staff doesn't 'have change' then I guess it's a lesson learned, isn't it?
                                                        Many, many years ago I worked shifts and, trust me, I had lots of 1's, 5's and 10's. I was ready to work and it showed. Far too many wait staff aren't ready with their shift and it shows.
                                                        A pocket full of bills, broken down, is just a very smart way to do business. It's efficient and lucrative.

                                                    2. It is not just restaurants. When I last had my nails done, the tech brought me back a single, and 5's. I had to ask for change, and had I done it on a credit card, there are not tips allowed there now. Used to be, but no more. Big sign. I sure wasn't tipping her $5 on an 18$ job.
                                                      And the fact that your server disappeared, makes me thing he was trying to make it hard for you to tip anything less than the $5.s he had returned to you.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: Nanzi

                                                        I have a standing appointment once a week for a mani/pedi.
                                                        Same women every visit.
                                                        They each get a $8 tip for no matter what they do.
                                                        When I give the owner my credit card she automatically adds in the tip.
                                                        I would not hesitate, when only having my nails done mid-week between my appointments to leave $5 on an $18 job.

                                                        1. re: latindancer

                                                          i'm with you latindancer: on an $18 manicure job, i would NORMALLY leave a $5 tip.

                                                      2. How about where you inadvertently and obliviously leave an extra ten or twenty dollar bill, i.e., when you thought you included enough cash to cover the check and the tip, and the server assumes it's their tip?

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: Kate is always hungry

                                                          If it was inadvertant and you were oblivious, how do you know you left it?

                                                          (I believe this is a corollary of "a tree falls in the forest")

                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                            I shouldn't have said oblivious. It was at a time when I was much younger and didn't take much money with me. I was distracted by my friend's chatter. When I noticed it was missing, I asked the server, but she said there was no twenty. I was pretty sure, at the time, but, after all these years, I'll say I could've been wrong.

                                                          2. re: Kate is always hungry

                                                            In that scenario, I'd say it's an understandable assumption on the server's part, especially if s/he doesn't ask you if you want change back, and you don't ask for it.

                                                          3. They're not mind-readers... it's quite possible he thought he was being nice to you in giving you a five instead of five singles to clutter your wallet. If you want any specific denominations, just ask.

                                                            1. i'm guessing you mean in -house? Not that it matters, but last night my mom came over for dinner and we ordered in sushi that came to $82.50. I left $100 in 20's ( that was all I had) and went to put the kids to bed upstairs. Delivery came while I was upstairs and my mom gave the gentleman the $ I had left. He started to walk away and she had to remind him that she needed change for sure.

                                                              9 Replies
                                                              1. re: MRS

                                                                Really? It's a little over 20% -- certainly not outrageous for (speedy) delivery.

                                                                1. re: linguafood

                                                                  Tipping a delivery person the same as a restaurant server? I don't think so...

                                                                      1. re: JMF

                                                                        If the guy (or gal!) got it to my front door while still hot, hasn't dumped it in the car, and is reasonably decent in manner and appearance, I figure he's done at least as much work as a server. Not the same *kind* of work, but at least as much.

                                                                        The guy who brought me delicious Indian food on a miserably rainy, blustery night when I was stressed out from DH being in the hospital and utterly exhausted got pretty significantly overtipped.

                                                                        1. re: JMF

                                                                          Why wouldn't you?

                                                                          I do and feel fine doing so as long as it gets to my house in a reasonable amount of time, with everything I asked for.
                                                                          Always @ least 20%.

                                                                          1. re: JMF

                                                                            JMF: the reason i would is that is what i consider to be a proper delivery tip.
                                                                            i always tip delivery people 20% or more.

                                                                          2. re: sunshine842

                                                                            10% is more customary USA practice for delivery, with upside variations for low balance, navigating bad weather, or stairs, et cet.

                                                                          3. re: JMF

                                                                            As someone who has worked as a delivery person, no water off my back. *Especially* given how cheap most delivery bills tend to be.

                                                                      2. It would definitely be to their benefit to do so without being asked. Aside from being asked "do you want change?" when I've paid for a donut and coffee with a $20, is to make it hard for me to leave them an adequate tip. I consider it a pissing contest, and they're going to lose unless they've been over-the-top good up to that point. I'd leave a lot more than 20% for a coffee and a donut, normally.
                                                                        I can see where it would be a problem if a cashier didn't want to give them a variety of change, so I have to be sensitive to that.

                                                                        1. Since I work in Australia, where tipping is not the norm, I can't really comment on your specific situation.

                                                                          What I will say is that we always give back the exact change in the billfold.
                                                                          A smart waiter will do this in small denominations. So if the change is $23.90, you give a ten, two fives and the small coin. It's more likely that the guest will leave one of those bills, rather than give a twenty which you know will not get left as a tip.

                                                                          1. No, you definitely didn't need to specify singles but there are times when the register is either empty of singles or low on them. I have my doubts about any server realistically hoping for a $5 tip on a $15 bill. More than likely, he assumed you had a few singles in your wallet.

                                                                            If it makes it any easier for you in the future, you're more than welcome to request singles. Servers don't particularly care unless your request is some oddball breakdown.