Eggs, Toast, and MasterCard
February 28, 2009 2:14 PM   Subscribe

Why did my waitress add my credit card number to the bill?

After finishing a meal at a local restaurant this morning, I went to the cashier station to pay my bill and presented my credit card. The cashier/waitress swiped it, ran a receipt, and handed it to me to sign.

I noticed she was writing something on the reverse side of my dinner bill. When I looked closely, I saw that she was copying my credit card numbers. I said loudly, "you're not writing my credit card number, are you?" And she stopped abruptly after having penned about five digits, mumbled something, and returned the card to me.

Is there a legitimate reason a restaurant would write diners' credit card numbers on the reverse sides of bills? For security reasons? Or is this possibly a racket?
posted by terranova to Grab Bag (27 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
They don't need it. Obviously she swiped it, a bill and receipt were printed, you should be given your card back. End of story.

However, the kind of insane policies a business makes up in regards to the "proper" handling of credit cards is up to the insane people that run the place.

The following is elaboration and more ranting about this: Just like Forever21 will not stop asking to see my ID when I pay with my credit card, even though every credit card's terms of service (to the merchant) specifically say they are not allowed to ask for an ID. Same goes for minimum purchases using the a credit card -- they are against a merchant's terms of agreement with credit cards -- but small gas stations and drug stores still tell you that you can't pay for a bottle of water with a credit card because it's less than their $5 minimum and so you will have to pay a 40 cent penalty or buy $5 worth of stuff.
posted by ttyn at 2:27 PM on February 28, 2009


P.S. It's not for security purposes. They got paid the instance your transaction was approved.

You won't dispute eating there when time comes to pay your bill, because your signature is on the receipt. And even if someone had stolen your card and used it at the restaurant and forged your signature, the number on the back of the bill would still not serve any purpose.

The only times your full credit card is needed is if there is a power outage or the machine isn't working. They will copy your card + expiry and submit the transaction manually in order to get paid later when the power's back.
posted by ttyn at 2:34 PM on February 28, 2009


There's probably no good reason for them to do it. That doesn't necessarily mean that she did it for nefarious reasons. As ttyn notes it could have been due to her ignorance, or that of the merchant.

If this happened to me, I would probably report it to my bank and ask for a new credit card number.
posted by grouse at 2:38 PM on February 28, 2009


call the management of the place and ask them if they have some sort of policy. If they don't make sure they know that their employees are stealing card numbers, if they DO in fact ask their employees to write the full card number on the bill, let them know that you will no longer be going there.
posted by legotech at 2:39 PM on February 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


Well, it may be she wanted to 're-swipe' (this time by typing in the numbers) the card to charge herself a bigger tip after giving you the receipt. I can't think of a legitimate reason, she might have ended up writing down your expiration date and security code, which would have let her make online purchases with it.
posted by delmoi at 2:41 PM on February 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes I would call the manager and ask what is up.
posted by LarryC at 2:41 PM on February 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Huh?

When I use my Penney's card they always ask to see my id...and at my job I am required to look at id for both credit and debit cards for inperson purchases....can someone suggest a source to show my boss? (She is not the type to knowingly flout a regulation.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:48 PM on February 28, 2009


Call the restaurant and ask to speak to a manager. Either they've got a good reason for doing it and can satisfy your curiosity, or one of their waitresses is stealing people's credit card numbers and they should know about it.
posted by EarBucket at 2:48 PM on February 28, 2009


(And let us know what they say!)
posted by EarBucket at 2:49 PM on February 28, 2009


@St. Alia of the Bunnies

Here you go. That website has links to the Merchants' agreement terms if you would like to check specifics.
posted by ttyn at 3:00 PM on February 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's worth noting that if there was a legitimate reason for writing the card number on the reverse of the bill, she probably wouldn't have stopped after five digits.

I was a waitress for years and depending on the type of restaurant I worked at I would sometimes have to keep my own "bank", reconciling all credit card charges and cash payments at the end of the night. This involved keeping meticulous track of all credit card and cash receipts but there was still no reason for me to write down anyone's information like your waitress was.
posted by kate blank at 3:04 PM on February 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Are you sure she was planning on writing out the whole number? I could see a scenario where for bookkeeping purposes they write down the last 4 digits of the number on their copy of the receipt - especially if they don't have a modern Point of Sale system that would do it automatically.
posted by ghostmanonsecond at 3:13 PM on February 28, 2009


I just made two calls.

First, I spoke with a MasterCard rep. He said that many restaurants are doing this -- writing down diners' full credit card numbers on the backs of bills so that they can later re-run the credit card with a tip added. I questioned whether this was a potential security risk. The MasterCard rep dodged the question, saying, "it's been going on for awhile."

Then I called the restaurant and spoke to the owner. She first denied that her employees wrote down diners' full credit card numbers, insisting that her "new policy" was to have them record the cards' last four numbers and expiration date on the backs of bills "so we can match the bills to credit card receipts in case several tables have the same totals for their bills, and the bills get mixed up."

Frankly, neither explanation sounds safe nor legitimate.

What this has made me realize is how unsafe it is to hand over credit cards to wait staff without observing them process the transaction.
posted by terranova at 3:15 PM on February 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


And ghostmanonsecond, this restaurant does have a very sophisticated Point of Sale system.
posted by terranova at 3:17 PM on February 28, 2009


Well, it may be she wanted to 're-swipe' (this time by typing in the numbers) the card to charge herself a bigger tip after giving you the receipt.

In my experience with restaurant credit card machines, the waitress manually enters the tip after you sign the receipt, without needing to re-enter the number, and it doesn't have to be right away. So if she wanted to try to sneak in a bigger tip, hoping you wouldn't notice on your credit card bill, she could do that without the number, probably.

Then again, I can't really think of a legitimate reason to do this, either.

Honestly, the only things I can think of are:
1. She's crazy.
2. Her boss is crazy.
3. She's new and confused.
posted by lampoil at 3:18 PM on February 28, 2009


This whole line about "we can match the bills to credit card receipts in case several tables have the same totals for their bills, and the bills get mixed up" is just -- I mean. Really? Because, one, the likelihood of that happening sounds absolutely miniscule. And two, there are two bills with the SAME EXACT TOTAL and then they get thrown into some kind of shell game and OMG all mixed up and.... and.... SO WHAT?
posted by kate blank at 3:21 PM on February 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Another former long-time waitress here chiming in to say there is no reason a server needs to copy your credit card number. Even if the electronic credit card machine was broken or down, most places will have a manual machine under the counter where they can run an old fashioned imprint of your card and have you sign it. The electronic system I'm most familiar with involved the credit card machine giving each transaction a number ie. 1-100. At the end of the shift, the server or manager reconciles the credit card transactions and adds the tips into the machine manually using the transaction number.

I wouldn't rule out the eating establishment having some kind of ridiculous policy that requires servers to do this.
posted by pluckysparrow at 3:35 PM on February 28, 2009


After going back and reading some of the previous posts, I have a feeling the restaurant management does not understand how to properly use their point of sale and credit card processing equipment.
posted by pluckysparrow at 3:41 PM on February 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


St Alia: I would assume that it is ok if you need to see everyone's id, but it is against the regulations to check id solely for credit purchases. ttyn's link does say 'Be aware that identification may be required for purposes other than the credit card transaction'.
posted by jacalata at 3:42 PM on February 28, 2009


There's no legitimate reason for her to write your credit card number on the back of the bill or on any other piece of paper. If her manager thought there was, she would have said so and copied the entire number. The best spin I can put on this is that something was wrong with their credit card system. The other obvious alternative is that she was trying to steal your card number.
posted by justcorbly at 4:03 PM on February 28, 2009


Then I called the restaurant and spoke to the owner. She first denied that her employees wrote down diners' full credit card numbers, insisting that her "new policy" was to have them record the cards' last four numbers and expiration date on the backs of bills "so we can match the bills to credit card receipts in case several tables have the same totals for their bills, and the bills get mixed up."

Oh, I can totally imagine a scenario of the paperwork getting shuffled. But there's no reason to use the CC number as a cross-check, when you could use the transaction #, the receipt #, or pretty much any other bit of info that is not the number that provides access to the customer's money.

Seconding that they don't know how to use their equipment. And that the owner should be told that "her new policy" is ridiculous and will cost her business.
posted by desuetude at 7:03 PM on February 28, 2009


In my experience with restaurant credit card machines, the waitress manually enters the tip after you sign the receipt, without needing to re-enter the number, and it doesn't have to be right away.

True where I've worked as well. Also, the computers recorded the table number and I believe also the time, so having the same total wouldn't be a problem. Even more importantly, the slip people sign and write the tip on includes the last four digits of the card, so that's how we manually enter the tip later.

But different restaurants' computer systems are different, and I have this vague memory of inserting the original ticket into the side of one computer to have it note down something about a card. I might be hallucinating, but it's not out of the question to me that the manager wasn't making up a story.
posted by salvia at 10:43 PM on February 28, 2009


As to my question, looks like it's okay if I ask but okay if they refuse. Frankly most people tell me they are glad I ask.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:24 AM on March 1, 2009


The last time I checked the regulations, I thought merchants were allowed to ask (but not require) ID for Visa and not allowed to ask at all for Mastercard...
posted by Juffo-Wup at 7:58 AM on March 1, 2009


Well, I looked again and I guess I was wrong. Sounds like both allow asking but not requiring...
posted by Juffo-Wup at 8:04 AM on March 1, 2009


I'm a waiter and a bartender with a sophisticated POS. The clear way to see if you're being overcharged from a place is to just save your receipt, especially showing what you tipped and your end total transaction was. When you get your bank statement compare the amounts and make sure they're in line. If the amounts don't match call the establishment and complain at that point. A place with a complicated POS should be able to look back and see who your actual server was. The credit card person blowing you off and saying "it's been going on for awhile now" is their way of saying that unscrupulous wait staff will do such things as increasing the tip they get, but it's not worth their time to do anything about it.

The waitress was also really stupid to try and do this in FRONT of you, and the owner/manager you talked to was obviously blowing you a smoke screen.
posted by ZaneJ. at 12:04 PM on March 1, 2009


My husband had a tip added to a haircut after he left the shop (he had left a cash tip). Since then, we have written out the total amount in number words under the total. No more tips have been added since we started this practice.
posted by daneflute at 6:16 PM on March 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


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