The rattling of change in my brain.
December 30, 2008 12:18 AM   Subscribe

EatingOutFilter: With the denominations that we have in the US, is it rude to leave coinage in addition to dollar bills when you're leaving tip?

A couple of years ago, I asked one of my friends who was a waitress at several points in her life if she minded receiving loose coins or credit card tips. She gave me a strange look and basically said that whatever form the customer left was fine. All was good, until a month ago one of my friends (a grad student who had never waitressed) told me that leaving coins was a way of indicating that you didn't like the service without going to the extreme measure of not leaving a tip. I didn't think much of it until I was out again tonight, and the same thing happened with a different person. He was never a waiter either, if that's any indication. I have never heard of this custom before this, am I alone? What do the members of the hive mind who have been in the restaurant business think of the generosity/rudeness of leaving coins? I STFW but can't find anything close. (I'm not talking about leaving tens of pennies, just what you'd have in your pocket)
posted by ayerarcturus to Food & Drink (37 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've left coins as part of a tip, but never to indicate dissatisfaction with the service. I would imagine that the amount is the only aspect of the tip that indicates anything about whether you liked your service or not; if I left a check in the amount of 8% of the bill the waiter would probably still be unhappy.
posted by sinfony at 12:40 AM on December 30, 2008

I'd go with amount of tip being the deciding factor, rather than what form it was in. I'd rather have $2 in nickels, than not have the $2.
posted by Solomon at 12:46 AM on December 30, 2008

i figure out how much i'm going to tip and if there's change on top of that, then i drop it too. i've never heard that leaving change is an indication that you didn't like the food or service - now, leaving JUST change, especially just pennies, is exactly that.

i've heard from many people that tip where you have to, but tipping in cash instead of credit is preferred for tax reasons.
posted by nadawi at 12:49 AM on December 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Haha^ screw going out of your way to tip people in cash so they can do tax fraud.

I already tip 20%, at least, for them taking an order, bringing me my food, and doing a refill on a water. I have to pay taxes on every cent I work for so should everyone else.

As far as the question:
I think you'll find that whether this is insulting or not greatly depends on the person it happened to and the situation.
posted by zephyr_words at 1:00 AM on December 30, 2008

I have heard of leaving an amount of change less than a dollar as a big ol' fuck-you to the waitress. The minimum acceptable tip (for actual table service, or a drink) is one dollar. Even if your whole meal cost you $6.50.

That said, that dollar (and anything greater) can be in any form that's convenient.
posted by Netzapper at 1:09 AM on December 30, 2008

Are you leaving Sacagawea dollars or buffalo nickles? It matters.
posted by wfrgms at 1:29 AM on December 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Leaving coins as the total extent of a tip might be taken as rude by some. Really, though, it has more to do with the amount of the bill and the size of the tip in proportion to it. If the tip is and should be less than a dollar (e.g. a coffee shop where the bill is less than a few bucks) there's no shame or problem at all in leaving it as coinage.

If, however, you are culturally expected to leave a more sizeable tip (>$1) and just plunk down a couple of pennies or a nickel, it's far worse than leaving nothing at all since the latter says "I'm just a cheap bastard or am unfamiliar with your customs" while the former says "I know I'm supposed to leave you something, but YOU SUCK SO BAD I'VE CHOSEN TO LEAVE YOU AN INSULTING PITTANCE.

Coins on top of an otherwise decent tip is just a larger tip, not an insult. Don't withhold change in the name of politeness.
posted by contraption at 1:34 AM on December 30, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all your responses. I couldn't think of any logical reason why leaving coinage and dollars would be rude, and it's nice to get confirmation of that.
posted by ayerarcturus at 1:46 AM on December 30, 2008

Your server is inconvenienced by coins only insofar as she is also comparably inconvenienced by small bills, which is to say, at the end of the shift, she can either take her apronful of tips, as is, and pocket them to spend, or carefully change them up to bigger bills at a register, to which she, unlike a common patron, likely has somewhat ready access. She will naturally have to change up to larger denominations at some point, regardless, either at the register, or when she takes her enormous change jar from atop her microwave to the bank, or at every retail register she frequents, but it really isn't your responsibility to save her from the burden of using a slightly low-scaling assortment of moneys, as is represented by her low and varying tip wage.

There may be some servers who deem their time at a register making change to be work worth more more than the change left, and these are clearly in the wrong field, as I personally believe expedient making of change is part of the skillset of service. I, as a server in the past, and I assume most other servers, take and appreciate, though possibly do not count up and directly attibute in our appreciative or performatively evaluative sense to your table and its unique reception of our service, this change.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:02 AM on December 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

We have coins for $1 and $2 here in Canada, meh, I'll leave a tip in pretty much any form.
posted by so_ at 2:20 AM on December 30, 2008

Years ago, I waited tables at a crappy roadside diner in a mid-sized college town. My thoughts were:

- Leaving coins is fine. Leaving a few pennies or the like was an indication that service was bad.

- Cash is better for a tip than putting it on a credit card. At least where I was, the credit card company charged the restaurant 2% for each transaction. My tip was reduced to accommodate this. In other words, if you left me $1 tip, I received 98 cents at the end of the night.

This wasn't about tax fraud, it was about receiving the full tip. I know 2% doesn't sound like much, but at least in Texas, minimum wage for waitstaff was 1/2 of minimum wage. So, at the time I was a waitress, I made $2.13/hour plus tips. That's about $80 on the paycheck for a two-week period. There wasn't a lot of taxes to pay, because the income's pretty small.

By law, the restaurant is supposed to ensure that you make full minimum wage for every hour worked. In practice, I didn't find that to be the case. The manager would work waitstaff before opening/after closing to vacuum, dust, and clean (no tips possible) without adjusting the hourly rate to accommodate the lack of tips, and waitstaff would studiously put tips in their shoes before checking out for the night. Tax fraud was the least of concerns for waitstaff.
posted by Houstonian at 3:51 AM on December 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

To make it easier at the cash register for example If the bill is 20.08 I'll sometimes leave the .08 plus the tip.
posted by Gungho at 4:23 AM on December 30, 2008

Waitstaff would studiously put tips in their shoes before checking out for the night. Tax fraud was the least of concerns for waitstaff.

Not sure what you mean, there. Tips in shoes does result in tax fraud, unless you keep a record of it and declare it.
posted by alexei at 4:27 AM on December 30, 2008

Not sure what you mean, there. Tips in shoes does result in tax fraud, unless you keep a record of it and declare it.

Tips in shoes are also not going to be seen by a manager. Not saying it's not tax fraud.
posted by theichibun at 5:09 AM on December 30, 2008

Leaving a crappy tip in *just* change is an insult. Change - esp. the change to make an even dollar of your tab, or the change from having paid your tab - is fine.
posted by notsnot at 5:09 AM on December 30, 2008

I'd actually heard that the code for an insult is to leave just one penny as a tip, rather than coins in general being the insult.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:14 AM on December 30, 2008

I do leave change as part of a tip, but I have also encountered from fellow diners the argument that there's something inherently derisive about throwing the remainder of your coins on top of the pile of dollars, like you're flicking a couple of quarters at a panhandler or something. It's clearly an opinion that is out there, even if it seems irrational.

People who work or who have worked as waitstaff in the US seem to engage in a ridiculous amount of whining and moaning about diners' failure to follow complex tipping etiquette, unlike anywhere else I've ever lived. Obviously this is because US waitstaff rely on tips like nowhere else in the developed world, so fair enough, but my general rule is: tip generously as the default, and steadfastly ignore all other alleged "rules" of tipping.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 5:19 AM on December 30, 2008 [4 favorites]

I think there's some truth to the etiquette, (i.e. I've heard of it) but in real life, unless there's some other problem, most waiters are too busy to even think about it.

Now and then I would get a single coin along with a normal tip and for split second think, "are they trying to tell me something?" Then realize there's no way of knowing and move on.

I also once had a customer hand me (his hands to my hands) a full two-hands handful of coins. I took them up to the bar, confused, and told my boss. She told me that it's a big compliment, like they're giving you all the money they have left, down to their last penny. The opposite of game warden's first paragraph. But I've never heard this since, so I'm not sure if she was pulling my leg.
posted by lampoil at 5:39 AM on December 30, 2008

Huh. The etiquette, as I always understood it was that you could only leave change if you never touched it -- like if lunch was X.35, and you paid in cash, and they brought back bills and change, you could leave the change on the tray. But it would be rude to go digging into your pockets to leave change specifically.

Though that might only be at bars.
posted by Comrade_robot at 5:56 AM on December 30, 2008

Many servers I've worked with have stated that they feel pennies are insulting but all other change is fair game and appreciated. I agree as both a diner and a former server.
posted by Rudy Gerner at 6:24 AM on December 30, 2008

Former waitress here. I always understood that leaving a single penny or anything less than one dollar was indication that the service was bad. On the other hand, leaving a generous tip with a penny on top was indication that the service was great.

I did not at all mind getting change as a tip since I could cash it out into bills at the end of my shift. Whatever you do, don't toss the coins in the half-empty glasses when you leave, that's just rude (and happened to me more than once).
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:37 AM on December 30, 2008

Another former waitress here. It all spends the same, so it never occurred to me to consider change an insult. No tip? That's an insult. A penny tip? That's an insult. All change, or bills + change? No problem.
posted by chez shoes at 6:43 AM on December 30, 2008

When I worked as a waitress, I gave up trying to analyze patron's tips (or lack of). Some people sincerely thought they were paying you a huge compliment to let you have the change up to the next dollar as your tip. Other coin-only tips meant my service was bad or they didn't like the food/drinks/band/ladies room wait/parking situation/whatever. People who didn't leave a tip were just as often nice people who forgot or ran out of money as they were cheap jerks. And people who gave huge tips might have been generous or really liked my service or were showing off for their friends/date or were too drunk to count.

Assigning meaning to the amount or type of tip is just asking to be misinterpreted. Speak to the server or manager directly if you have a complaint. Leave a standard tip AND speak to the server or manager if you have a complement.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:44 AM on December 30, 2008 [3 favorites]

Previously on AskMe: Do Waitstaff Hate Change?
posted by Miko at 6:47 AM on December 30, 2008

I tip just because I feel waitstaff are robbed by not getting regular pay. However I don't understand the whole OMG tip 15-25% of the total bill period or else stuff. If a person only takes my order, refills me once, then gives me the bill... I got bare minimum service why should I feel like I need to give more than the change from a broken 10 or 15 dollar increment? If I had a 10$ meal and got 1.57 left over from my bill then I leave the one and change as a tip. That should be good enough and not considered rude. I mean if the server was above and beyond the call of duty, he/she is getting a great tip. But for average (normal) service I don't think it is rude to leave change as part of a tip.

Now if you leave nothing at all... that is completely rude. I HAD a friend (term loosely used) that always did this. God I hated him. After about the 3rd time doing this I quit going anywhere with him.

As for leaving pennies, this is meant as a statement that your service sucked. I have done this a few times (every time the server truly deserved it). Once a waiter who took our drink orders and didn't come back for about 15 minutes. The place wasn't that packed either. We saw him talking to another worker at the bar with our drinks getting warm. Nothing like a "sort of cold" draft on an empty stomach. We were hungry and thought that maybe he just took a break and/or forgot about us. We were wrong. The rest of the service was just as bad.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:05 AM on December 30, 2008

When I was a server people would occasionally leave handfuls of coins as the tip. Even if it added up to an appropriate amount, having those coins jingling around in my waitress apron for the rest of the night was a pain. At our restaurant we didn't have access to a register until the end of our shift, so it wasn't like I could just swap them out. If I had time I could get a bartender to give me bills for them, but during the dinner rush it could be hours before I could spare those couple minutes of counting coins at the bar. The occasional 35 cents here and there doesn't cause a problem, but your generous six-dollar tip in nickels and dimes would weigh down my apron-thingy and bang against my legs as I walked around for the rest of the night. Change gets heavy.

Would I prefer 6 bucks in coins to no tip at all, or the one paper dollar left in your wallet? Of course. But if you were just too lazy to visit the coin-changing machine or actually think you're being cute with your neatly-stacked pyramid of nickels, that's annoying.

Still though, a few coins on top of paper money was never a problem.
posted by vytae at 7:57 AM on December 30, 2008

I assume this is a U.S.-centric question, because using coins for tip is pretty much acceptable everywhere else in the world that I've visited.

But, from my wait-staffing, bar-tending friends, coinage is not an insult as long as it adds up to the correct amount (15% or more).
posted by jabberjaw at 8:24 AM on December 30, 2008

what vytae said. it depends on the restaurant. I worked in an upscale restaurant where I didn't have an opportunity to cash out during the night, either. coins jingling when I walked was . . . well, bad. if people left me coins i had to run in back and empty them into my purse to avoid jingling.

and to those who are determined to tip 10 percent because they don't think waitresses work that hard . . . how would you like it if your boss decided to half your pay for the day because he didn't think what you were doing was that hard? it's rude no matter how you slice it. the way waitresses are compensated is based on the assumption that you receive a certain percentage of your sales. and they are often required to tip out others. so really, a waitress who gets 20% tips all night still only leaves with 15% after tipping 2% to the busser and 3% to the busboy. If her customers have only left her 10%, she's walking out with 5%. because the amount you have to tip out others (as well as the amount you are required to report for taxes) is often based on your SALES, not your actual tips. There have been nights where I've been forced by a computer to report earning MORE tips than I actually made, because of what it calculated that it should be. but due to crappy tippers and having to pay out busboys and bartenders, i made less than that calculation. the way i've always felt is, tipping is part of the dining out experience. if you don't like it, don't go to restaurants.

i believe in tipping karma. YMMV. coins are annoying but certainly better than nothing at all.
posted by lblair at 8:27 AM on December 30, 2008

When I was a server, I never minded quarters or dimes. Pennies and nickels were irritating because they pile up fast and are heavy in your aprons or pockets, but I'd take those too, as money is money. I generally tried to take any tip under a dollar to be indicative of poor service on my part, as meals in all of the places where I worked, including an IHOP, were generally over $10.

Sometimes it was hard, though. I was a pretty good waitress and I'm sure people were sometimes just being cheap.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:59 AM on December 30, 2008

Just my two cents... uh, ha.

Leaving nothing = screw you.
Leaving 1-10 cents = F*** YOU.
Leaving $1 + change = thanks but I'm cheap (or just minding finances).

With the 1 and change I typically make it at least 1 + quarters (as opposed to a bunch of pennies and nickels).

Any of the above at fine dining (or "better" dining, $40+ pp) is almost unacceptable without a word to management.
posted by ezekieldas at 9:01 AM on December 30, 2008

I only tip with coins if it would be rude to just leave the paper bills I have left. So, if my lunch was $8.25 and all I have is $10, I'm going to leave all of it, because leaving $1 is only a 12% tip, but leaving $1.75 is a 21% tip. (I suppose I could leave $1.25, which is very nearly 15%, but unless I know I'm going to need the quarters later, I'd rather be generous.)
posted by desjardins at 9:04 AM on December 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think the only thing that really matters is the amount. The only way I could see coins being an insult is if the total tip amounted to less than a dollar and it was left in all pennies or something. Picking up 98 pennies from a table would definitely be an insult, but I don't think anyone here would ever do that.
posted by katemcd at 9:34 AM on December 30, 2008

Most waitstaff find a copious amount of pennies or small change annoying. As in people who pay their entire tips in pennies or nickels. It's rude, because not only does the person have to count all that out, but it's akin to treating them as a human coinstar machine, it's insulting. But if you leave a few quarters or coins to make up your regular tip, that's not insulting at all. I mean if 20% your bill comes to $6.28, and you leave five dollar bills, five quarters and three pennies, I don't think any server would take offense to that. Personally, I always feel it's easier to round up when leaving a tip, but I don't think most servers get upset when someone chooses to leave a tip with exact change.
posted by katyggls at 12:13 PM on December 30, 2008

Leaving only THE change is a bad tip. Leaving the change in addition to a real tip is keeping your pockets light.
posted by rhizome at 12:37 PM on December 30, 2008

A caveat: if I'm at a coffee shop, and my latte cost $3.50, they're only getting 50 cents dropped into the tip jar, regardless of whether I gave them a $5 or 4 singles.
posted by desjardins at 1:38 PM on December 30, 2008

I always pick up the pennies, but leave all other change in addition to the paper cash appropriate to the tip. As a child, I remember a waitress friend of my mother telling me never to leave the pennies, but I can't remember the reasoning.
posted by Gucky at 1:49 PM on December 30, 2008

I've worked for tips and honestly, if you leave a tip, that's good enough for me. Cash is preferable to credit card tips (as someone upthread noted - it's to ensure that you actually get the whole tip), but coins or dollars doesn't matter.

You may not be aware that servers cash-out at the end of the night. Your tip doesn't go directly into the waitron's pocket - rather, it goes into a sort of piggy bank. At the end of the night, you count what you have in the bank versus what you did in sales. The difference is your tips, which you can take home in whatever denominations you choose. Your waiter can leave your nickels for the boss and take home some bills. So, honestly, it doesn't matter a single bit. (Except yeah, for the apron thing. That does get irritating. Though everywhere I worked, tips were kept in jars behind the counter/bar. Still, it's even *more* irritating when you need coins and don't have any and can't get into a register.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:44 PM on December 30, 2008

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