Crafty waitress angling for a bigger tip?
A server's actions suggest she was trying to get a $5 or $10 tip for a $9.83 meal.
Most stories in the Squirreling Gone Wild series have centered on interesting measures people take to save money. Usually, the stories have been about people I know or strangers I've seen trying to save a few dollars or even pennies on food, gas and other purchases.
This story is a little bit different because it discusses how someone apparently tried to keep a few dollars at my expense.
For this story, let's rewind a few years, when I was doing more business travel. I recall eating a meal at a hotel restaurant by myself. Actually, the restaurant was a bar and grill, and I had been there on a previous trip. Decent atmosphere, several TVs with sports on and quick service -- about all you can hope for at a midrange airport hotel.
I don't remember exactly what I ordered that day, but it was probably a small order, since it came out to just under $10. I think it was $9.83, but it might have been a few cents more or less. That's the price it came to before the tip.
Once I got the check, I reached for my wallet, pulled out a $20 bill, and set it in the little black folder that restaurants provide with the check. I didn't use a credit card that day, probably because the total was relatively low.
Soon after I set it down at the edge of the table, the waitress shuffled over to pick it up. Then she proceeded to ask me the following question:
"Would you like any change?"
I remember sitting there thinking to myself, "Ummm, uh, YEAH! That's $20 I left with the check!"
Of course, what I actually said was a polite "Yes, please."
It seemed odd to me. Did she forget that my bill was less than $10? Clearly, my $20 was visible as it edged out of the little black folder. Maybe she didn't see it? Hard to believe, but who knows.
Then she quickly came back with the change and a big cheery smile, saying "Thank you!" I opened the folder and saw the bill with a smiley face and the same words written. Then I grabbed the bills and coins she gave me as change. I did a double take when I saw what she gave me, in addition to the loose change:
Two $5 bills.
On the occasions when I actually pay cash instead of charging, I usually look to the change I receive as the source for the tip I will leave for the server. I have to think many others view it the same way.
This got me thinking: "Why did she leave two $5 bills? Wouldn't that make it tough to leave an appropriate tip?"
- Bing: Tipping etiquette
There's no way I'm leaving a $5 tip for a meal that cost me less than $10. But that's what would have happened if I had counted on the change for the tip.
I smiled as I realized that the waitress might be playing games with me, to secure a bigger tip.
At that point, I waited until I made eye contact with her, and I motioned to have her come over. She walked to the table, and I asked her if she could make change for one of the $5 bills.
She paused for a second or two before saying, "It might take awhile, since I have to get change from the bar. Do you want to wait?"
OK. Maybe I was being cynical, but that convinced me that she was probably trying to extract a big tip from me. Believe me, I have seen enough instances of extraction to know what this looks like.
I paused, then thought that maybe I had some change in my wallet. I checked and found a few singles.
I made the quick decision: Take out a $1 bill, leave it on the table along with the coins, and say, "No, thanks, there's no need to get that change."
I shared the story with someone, who chuckled while telling me that I didn't exactly teach the waitress a lesson. After all, I did leave a tip.
That's probably true. I said my tip was about 12%, which is lower than my usual 15% to 20% but not exactly a motivator for the waitress to play fair with the customers. I guess that in the split second when I made the decision, I just couldn't walk away leaving nothing.
Allow me to ask you: Do you agree with me that the waitress was playing games? What would you have done in this situation?
I recognize that a lot of waitresses are struggling. However, so are a lot of patrons too.
I worked as a waitress in college and would have never brought back two fives. Always bring back a 5 and 5 ones. Most people would feel bad about leaving $1 and leave $2 or $3 (which in this case would be well 20%+). However, most people in that situation where the waitress was hesitant to get change wouldn't have left anything at all. Not smart on her part.
I also used to ALWAYS bring change, even small change, unless the patron specifically said "no change, thank you".
I agree that this waitress was probably trying to play you, but sometimes it's just inexperience. When I first started waiting tables, I had a similar situation and brought some coins and a ten dollar bill as change. I wasn't trying for a large tip; I was just counting out the change as one would at a cash register. When I brought it back to the table, my customer smiled at me and said, "You're gambling on either a really big tip or a really small tip!" It took me just a few seconds to realize what she meant and the first thought that went through my head was that is would have been wrong to hint at a tip by breaking down the ten. She helped me see that it was really a service to my customer.
It sounds to me like the waitress you had knew what she was doing and I would have let her win the bet on a small tip by leaving just the change...or nothing at all.
I had a similar situation with a young server asking if I wanted change from a $20 for a less than $10 bill. I did say, "Uh, yeah, that's a $20"... then when she returned, I explained as gently as I could that it's just bad form to ask this. You will never offend by bringing change, and that's better than possibly alienating those who are - in effect - paying your salary. She was extremely upset by my comments, but she needed to know the question was inappropriate.
I did talk to a manager because I felt so bad that SHE felt bad, and he just groaned (in agreement, that is). I honestly don't think she was manipulating, she just didn't think. The woman above does seem to have had an agenda. In that case, I would have left NO tip and on the way out, told the manager why I didn't.
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