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The art of (not) tipping
February 1, 2014 12:02 PM   Subscribe

At a restaurant, if I'm not tipping on my card (either because I've left cash or because someone else is leaving the tip), is it better to make a note of this or just leave the tip line blank?

A friend and I have a long-standing debate on tipping etiquette when not adding tip to a credit card charge. What do you think?

My view: It's nice to write "cash" or "other check" in the tip line so your server doesn't think you're a jerk/non-tipper. It's hard to remember everyone you serve, and an empty tip line might be needlessly distressing when it's time to count things up at the end of the night.

Her view: Servers look at their receipts immediately. They don't need a note in the tip line because they'll remember at the end of the night who stiffed them and who didn't. In fact, writing "cash" is actually a disservice to waiters, because then they're required to report those tips as part of their paychecks.
posted by harperpitt to Society & Culture (24 answers total)
I just did this today and I was wondering. I paid with my card at the table and my friend left the tip. I just left the cash tip on top of the signed receipt and figured

- they'd get it
- maybe they could just pocket the coupla bux

I think worrying about other people's potential worry is taking on too much worry. Other people aren't anxious like me, so I just left it like that, did not add anything to the receipt.
posted by jessamyn at 12:10 PM on February 1 [4 favorites]

If I'm not doing the tipping, or I'm leaving cash... I just put a -0- on the tip line and repost the original amount on the bottom line... just to avoid confusion.... (and to prevent anything else being written on that line)..
posted by HuronBob at 12:10 PM on February 1 [6 favorites]

I write CASH on the tip line.
posted by gsh at 12:12 PM on February 1 [10 favorites]

I much prefer to tip in cash, and I think servers prefer it, too. (I know I did.)

I also write "Cash" on the tip line.
posted by trip and a half at 12:16 PM on February 1

I either write "Cash" or "on table" on the tip line.
posted by SisterHavana at 12:16 PM on February 1

Strike through the tip line, don't leave it blank. Leave the cash on the table. The servers know where their money is, you don't need to worry about that.

Wait. Maybe the "Strike through the tip line, don't leave it blank" is anachronistic now?
posted by DarlingBri at 12:20 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]

I write "on table" as well.
posted by dinofuzz at 12:22 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]

What does it matter what they think about you as long as they got the right gratuity? You're really doing any "Hey look, I really tipped you" for you, not for them.

Bottom line is they pick up the tip and the check at the same time unless you're at a diner. So they'll know.
posted by inturnaround at 12:22 PM on February 1 [4 favorites]

yep - they only thing they'll notice is if someone tipped them. Don't worry about it.
posted by JPD at 12:30 PM on February 1

I just leave the tip line blank.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 12:42 PM on February 1

I always write "cash" in the tip line. If it means the servers have a harder time under-reporting their tip income to the IRS, that doesn't bother me.

I once had a drunk swipe the fiver out of the check folio (somebody else saw him) and that stuck with me, that the server might have thought I had stiffed her if I had written -0- or a strike on the line.
posted by Kakkerlak at 12:43 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]

I write "cash" on the tip line. I do this to protect myself against someone writing in their own amount. By paying the bill and leaving a tip, I've done my part as the customer; any issues about how to appropriately handle the tax/business side of it are up to the people responsible for that, not me.
posted by John Cohen at 12:56 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]

It's nice to write "cash" or "other check" in the tip line so your server doesn't think you're a jerk/non-tipper. It's hard to remember everyone you serve, and an empty tip line might be needlessly distressing when it's time to count things up at the end of the night.

I can't speak for everyone, but I pretty much don't forget a tip (or getting stiffed!). Those tips are how I eat and have a place to sleep, so don't worry, I'll know how much I'm getting and I'll remember it next time you show up. Also, thankfully, people who stiff aren't so common that it's the assumption most staff are going to jump to if they see a blank line on a receipt. They'll figure you tipped in cash, and they'll probably remember offhand how much that cash was, too.

In my experience, waiters look at the tips as they pick them up off the table (once they're out of the customers' sight, it can look greedy/rude to just check them right out on the floor). The only time there's likely to be any significant amount of time between picking up a tip and checking to see how much it is and what form it's in (cash, charge, etc) is when the waiter is insanely busy and just stuffing everything possible into his apron until things slow down and he can get himself organized. Even then, if people are seated at individual tables (rather than opening tabs), then the waiter is going to have to close your check (meaning, input the tip/total amounts into the computer and "close out" the transaction), before he can open a new check for the new people coming in to sit at that table, so he's going to have to look at and record the tip amount ASAP anyway.

The only time I'd expect more than five or ten minutes to go by between you leaving and the waiter closing out your check is if you're at a bar or lounge and opening things under tabs, because in that case, there's no reason for the waiter to open a new check under your same tab, and he might just wait until the end of the night to close out all the checks/tabs in the system in one long go. Even then, though, he's almost definitely going to pick up the credit card receipt/tip/book when you leave, and check to see how much it was.

You don't need to worry much about one waiter grabbing another waiter's check/tip and stealing the money. Customers tend to think that's a problem, but it's not even in an unscrupulous waiter's interest to do so, because then his tips are liable to get stolen, too. The issues of waitstaff shorting each other come up more in subtle things that customers don't have much to do with, like splitting the tips for parties that multiple servers worked on or in tip-out between the waitstaff and the bussers, bartenders, host, etc. I'd honestly be more worried about other customers skimming off a bill or two, but if you're in a reasonably nice place and/or there aren't seriously drunk people around, that shouldn't be an issue.

In terms of waitstaff changing the numbers on your receipt, what's in the tip area is not nearly as important as the total. If you make a mistake in your math, for example, and mean to tip ten dollars but only add five dollars to your total, management in every place I've ever worked will require you to take the five dollar tip -- if something's questionable or there's a mistake, you always have to settle the bill in the customer's favor. Not doing so is usually a fire-able offense, and likely to be obvious to the managers when they do the accounting, so not abiding by that policy is a pretty big risk to run.

Drawing a line through the tip amount is OK, the big zeroes and squiggles and things that people write in that area can come off as rude (at least to me and some people I've worked with), but even if you don't write anything there at all it's not going to matter much unless you also don't write the total. The total is what's important, always do write that (and try to get your math correct!).

writing "cash" is actually a disservice to waiters, because then they're required to report those tips as part of their paychecks.

You are supposed to report cash tips, but not usually as individual tips, just in terms of a lump sum at the end of the shift. Everyplace where I've worked, when you clock out, the computer will require you to put in a number either for cash tips (if it's already recording your credit card tips through your employee pin number) or your total tips.

You can under-report cash more easily than credit, but to be honest, most people just report the same random amount every day anyway or very generally ballpark it, and depending on the procedures where you work, you might not even know how much you made for the night when you're clocking out anyway; there's not a lot of precision involved. When I was younger I used to think cash v. credit card tips mattered, but now I only think it's an issue at the (in my opinion, sleazy) restaurants that only pay out credit card/debit card tips to their waitstaff weekly or monthly or on their paychecks.

I've never heard of any kind of audit (on the waiter, anyway) that would require somebody to be looking through the restaurant's receipts -- the receipts are the restaurant's, not the waiter's. Managers also don't see the receipts until the very end of the night when you're turning in the pile of recipes with your cash out (which is basically a reconciliation of all your checks for the night, and usually when you turn in the restaurant's money that the customers have paid you, and when the restaurant gives you the cash for the credit card tips you earned). So what I'm saying is, it really doesn't make a difference in terms of reporting the tip, I wouldn't think it's a disservice or any big deal at all either way.
posted by rue72 at 12:57 PM on February 1 [21 favorites]

I don't write "cash" because if they want to take the money without reporting it, that's completely OK with me. That's also one reason I leave cash for the tip.

I've waited tables, and I was totally savvy enough to see that there was cash on the table. I also put tips in my shoe at the end of my shift because my asshole boss would make us count it out in front of him, and I was utterly broke with the $2.13 hourly wage.
posted by Houstonian at 12:59 PM on February 1 [4 favorites]

While I can't speak for every server, I can say I have no horse in this race. You should do whatever you feel comfortable doing. Do whatever makes you happy.

I can also tell you, as an individual who has personally boxed up hundreds of thousands of credit card slips, and trucked them down to the basement where they'll moulder for the obligated seven years, no one is really looking at those things.

"I think worrying about other people's potential worry is taking on too much worry."

I totally agree with you, jessamyn.

(parenthetical aside: I have been working in the industry for fifteen years and I fancy myself a professional server and I am pleased-as-punch when someone writes 'thank you' on their credit card slip. Regardless of the tip. Seriously.)
posted by Time To Sharpen Our Knives at 1:40 PM on February 1 [7 favorites]

I write cash or put a strike through to prevent fraud. The first time I got a credit card I used it at a nice cafe near my college but left a cash tip, and the loser waiter who served me took advantage of the blank line and wrote himself a 10 dollar tip in addition to my already generous amount. I hadn't brought my copy of the receipt home. Always log your tip.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 2:20 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]

I always write CASH. The one time I left that part blank, an incredibly awkward conversation with the server ensued.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 2:40 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]

If I'm paying on a card but tipping in cash I write "CASH" in the tip section and then write the original, unchanged total in the total section. I also try to put the cash either in the check book thingie if there is one, or else halfway under a glass or plate (both to keep it from blowing away and to make it take just that one extra second for an unscrupulous passerby to swipe it). If I'm out on a sidewalk or in a restaurant where I happen to know that some of the patrons are, shall we say, "not exactly model citizens" then I'll either put the tip under something such that it's barely visible, or make sure I see it in the right hands before I leave. If necessary I'll bring it directly to the waiter or the counter.

If I were splitting a charge but my partner was paying the whole tip (unusual, but it happens) then I would just strike out the tip section and write an unmodified total underneath it. I figure the server will get the idea; if the tip on the other check is a reasonable size for the whole table, they'll understand the situation and won't think I deliberately stiffed them. I suppose it's possible that a server might get the wrong idea and be upset with me, but I think it's pretty unlikely. Nobody understands the rules of the dining-out game the way servers do, and unless it's their first day on the job they'll have seen every possible permutation of the splitting-the-check game.

I tip in cash when I can do so easily because I've heard that it's better for the server (though I believe rue72 when she says that it doesn't make a big difference) but I don't really go out of my way to do that. Unless my wallet is overflowing with small bills (which it rarely is) I'll likely just put the whole thing on my debit card.
posted by Scientist at 2:50 PM on February 1

I'll put a strike thru and just say 'tip is on the table :)'
posted by ian1977 at 3:54 PM on February 1

You're really doing any "Hey look, I really tipped you" for you, not for them.

You should still do it if it's for yourself because if you paid for good service, you want to receive good service next time.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:12 PM on February 1

I strike through, SO writes CASH.
posted by sm1tten at 7:02 PM on February 1

You should still do it if it's for yourself because if you paid for good service, you want to receive good service next time.

Yes, but you do also want to be sure you don't come off like George.
posted by torticat at 7:40 PM on February 1

posted by buzzman at 1:30 AM on February 2

As a former server, I prefer cash. For one thing, some restaurant manager are monsters who will go through all of your checks to see how well you are performing - and in this case performing means hanging
around in their office until another manager
rescues you. Not have something - like a zero or a line - that can be waved in your face as proof of being stiffed is helpful.

People do look at records here and there. The IRS came down on a couple of people I know and it was bad. Years of garnished wages bad. (California, at least 10 years ago. No idea how common this is or if the audit of servers was associated with an investigation of the restaurant.)

Maybe the restaurant managers of today are less pervy and vicious, though.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:44 AM on February 3

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