The $12 Cup of Coffee
April 19, 2012 4:41 PM   Subscribe

When I got my coffee, I'm completely sure I handed the guy a twenty (pulled it out of the ATM last night). The change he gave me was $10 short. I told him, he counted the money in the register, it was short, and I didn't get my money. Is there something I should have done that I didn't do?

It's not like I really needed the $10, but it's rather irking to lose money on somebody else's mistake. I know the "incorrect change" bit is an old scam (they do it in a Jim Thompson novel), but I feel like given my absolute certainty and the fact that the register was off anyway they ought to have given me the $10. Of course, there was no way to prove that I had paid with a twenty. The manager asked for my number so they could reimburse me if they're off at closing tonight, but the cafe is so out of the way that it's almost not worth the money to go back there to get it.

What should I have done differently, if anything?
posted by vathek to Grab Bag (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: ...and I'm in Maryland, if it matters.
posted by vathek at 4:43 PM on April 19, 2012

Best answer: Call the manager and ask him to mail it to you. Be polite but firm.

It's not the ten bucks; it's the principle - and it's going to bother you if you let it slide.
posted by roger ackroyd at 4:44 PM on April 19, 2012

I'm not sure there's anything you could have done (apart from paying with a credit card next time). I am sympathetic to your situation, but don't you think a scammer would also have claimed "absolute certainty" as well? I think the manager's offer was the right one, though I perhaps might have asked for his or her cell phone # so that you can call in case they forget. And agreeing with Roger's suggestion about mailing.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 4:47 PM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

The same thing happened to me a few years back. I handed the cashier a $20, he gave me change for a $10, and he even said, after I looked astonished but before I had the chance to say anything, "...uh, did you give me a twenty?" When I said yes, he told me to come back the next morning, after the registers had been counted. I came back the next morning and they said the registers still hadn't been counted. At that point a manager came over and said "Just give him his ten bucks", and they did.

I assume that going back (as I did) is contrary to the hypothesis that you're some scammer; if you were, you'd probably just give up and go on to the next store rather than coming back a day later. So that should make it more likely for them to refund your money.

I sympathize; I was pretty annoyed for a couple of days when it happened to me.
posted by dfan at 5:01 PM on April 19, 2012

Best answer: It won't solve your problem, but it might help someone out in the future if you make the suggestion to the manager that they have employees place the money they're paid by customers onto the counter, right next to the register (or somewhere equally visible) while they're making change. After they hand the change to the customer, the employee can then place the money paid into the register. If the customer disputes the amount of change given, the original payment is still on the counter for a few moments and things can be easily resolved. This is how I was taught to do things when I worked in a retail job - prevents scamming on both sides of the equation.
posted by VioletU at 5:02 PM on April 19, 2012 [32 favorites]

I was taught the same thing as VioletU. As a customer I try to slide my note across the counter with my fingers on it, just to take an extra second to pay attention to the denomination.
posted by griselda at 5:06 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I hand over a bill I often say things like "out of twenty" as I pass it over. Not helpful to you now, unfortunately.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:11 PM on April 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

Yeah when I use a bill larger than a $1 I always say "that's a [whatever]" as I hand it over. Won't help you now, and I totally sympathize (the reason I started doing this is because of an experience like yours.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:17 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Suggest that the manager get his employees proper money-handling training? If the barista had had proper money-handling training, your former of payment would have been visible until your change was counted out to you.
posted by jferg at 5:22 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been a cashier for over a decade at half-dozen different establishments and I always say everything out loud as I go, both for my own accuracy/protection and for the customer's peace of mind. "Okay, your total is 13.42, out of $20? There's five, six and firty-eight cents; have a great day!" It never really occurred to me to think about it, but I do this when paying in cash too, and it helps (honest mistakes happen less, and they are less likely to try to pull one over on you if everyone behind you in line heard you say "here's twenty."

After the fact though, I really don't know what you can do. I'm surprised they didn't just give you the $10; most places would (I've been the cashier with the person saying they gave a $20 and they actually DIDN'T, I gave him the ten anyway with my manager's approval, and my register was short $10. As someone whose register had never been off either before or after, nobody cared and it was tossed in the category of "appeasing the customer."
posted by celtalitha at 5:40 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would have talked to the manager and explained what happened. The manager might refuse to give back the money, but they might not.

From the other side of the counter: I've been in this situation more than once as a barista, and it sucks. If you count the drawer and the total doesn't corroborate the customer's story, there's no way to know if the customer is lying, or if you made a mistake earlier that is throwing the total off. And you can be penalized if you just hand over the money and your drawer is (even more) short later in that day.

By talking to the manager you take the decision out of the employee's hands, and they don't have to worry that the manager will think they took the $10 and made up a story about a customer insisting they were owed it. They might get in trouble for the short drawer (still $10 short even if the manager believes the employee and just gives the other $10 to you to appease you), but unless they were up to shenanigans, it would still be short at the end of the day anyway.

As for proper money handling - it's a nice idea in theory but it's not always practical. I have worked in shops with limited counter space, lines of impatient customers practically out the door, and having more tasks to perform simultaneously than hands. It's something you could suggest (not all managers are aware of it) but I wouldn't expect changes, honestly. If they haven't implemented it they probably don't think it's practical or don't care to invest that much in training.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:04 PM on April 19, 2012

Could you clarify how this went down? Something sounds off about the chain of events, which I think should redound to your benefit:
1. You hand cashier a twenty.
2. Cashier gives you change for a ten.
3. You say, "No, I gave you a twenty."
4. Cashier says, "okay, let me count the drawer and see if I'm short."
5. Cashier counts the drawer.
6. Cashier says, "I'm short."
7. Cashier says "sorry, I can't give you change for a twenty."

Why did the cashier count the drawer -- which, to me was an implicit acceptance that you
MAY have given cashier a twenty -- and then, finding the drawer was short, not give you the correct change?
posted by jayder at 6:14 PM on April 19, 2012

If the drawer had been over it would have supported the OP's claim, and I suspect the cashier would have paid at once.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 6:27 PM on April 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

$10 is certainly well within the amount of money you can get by complaining, especially if you have the kind of confidence to imply that your "absolute certainty" is worth a cent to anyone but you. But do consider that it was probably a mistake, and it could cost this guy his job.
posted by dagnyscott at 7:01 PM on April 19, 2012

Right – the fact that it was short is actually kind of a non sequitur. The cashier should have been checking to see if the register was over. If it's over, then they (probably) gave the wrong change. If it's right on, then they (probably) gave the right change. If it's under... well. All that proves is that this isn't the first time today they've been sloppy with the money.

Honestly vathek, I think boils down to a bad customer service experience and you should treat it the way you would treat any bad customer service experience. Maybe that means you just don't go back; maybe means you write a negative Yelp review; maybe it means you don't go back and also call the manager tomorrow to let him know exactly why you won't be going back.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:05 PM on April 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

I always say the amount of the bill I'm handing to the cashier, especially if it's a higher denomination.

"That'll be $5.20."

"Here's a twenty."

Sometimes I get funny looks from them, but when met with a smile they quickly realize that I'm trying to help us both out.
posted by raisingsand at 7:07 PM on April 19, 2012

Oh, wait, sorry. I was totally not thinking there. Duh. I was thinking the register being short made it likely that the OP was shorted.

Never mind.
posted by jayder at 7:33 PM on April 19, 2012

Yeah, this is a case of poor training. Every place I've worked, standard policy has been to slide the customer's tendered cash toward my side of the counter, but leave it openly visible, while making change. The money doesn't go in the drawer until the customer has taken their change and put it in their wallet or pocket or whatever. Also, every place I have worked required us to learn to make change in our head and count it back to the customer ("thirty-six makes two, three, four, and five; five is ten, and ten is twenty.") instead of just letting the computer make change and saying "Here's your change," or "18.36 is your change." and handing it back in a lump. The action of counting it back is a double-check not only on the math, but to make sure you aren't over/short a bill. Whenever someone just hands me a wad of "my change", I automatically count it back out of habit. It's depressing just how many times it's been wrong.

Also, as a manager of a small business, I would've taken a second to get a good look at you, and then just given you your ten bucks. It's not worth the time and hassle of counting out the drawer just to find out, and it's not worth the potential bad word-of-mouth of an upset customer that feels they got ripped off. However, if you came in again with the same complaint, it'd be met with a lot more scrutiny the second time around.
posted by xedrik at 8:56 PM on April 19, 2012

OK, so I've been both the cashier and the manager in this situation. I've managed to avoid being you. My sympathies.

The cashier should've called your bill before putting it in the drawer ("out of twenty"). Then this would not have happened because if he'd said "out of ten" you would have corrected him before it went in the drawer. Counting back the change would also have been good, but wouldn't really have helped here because they'd just count back to ten. Leaving the bill on the counter while making change seems weird to me (get that money safely in the drawer!) but I suppose that works too.

The manager should've given you your ten bucks then and there just to make you happy and get you out of his/her face. This is something of a judgement call based on how certain you seem, how certain the cashier seems, and how sketchy you look. But it's almost always worth it to just give the customer their sawbuck and get on with the day.

If you care enough about this, you can probably get your ten bucks by showing up at the store tomorrow. I doubt you could get them to mail it to you, if they're nickel-and-diming you like this over a misunderstanding (and that's what this is, it's about the "principle of the thing" for them just as much as you, the ten bucks is not going to make or break them) then their response to a request to have it mailed will probably be "I'm sorry, but we can't do that/we have a policy against that/we don't mail out refunds" or some other stonewall technique. An unhappy customer on the phone will go away soon no matter what you do, whereas an unhappy customer on one's doorstep will leave much more quickly if you just cough up the ten bones.

You could've called out the bill or memorized the serial number or whatever but honestly I've always gotten by with "I gave you a twenty" in a firm voice followed by my remaining ten dollars being handed over promptly. Typically a smart cashier will just hand over the money (because you have just become a problem customer, and nobody who works a register wants that) and then turn around and tell their supervisor "hey, I might be ten dollars low at the end of the day and here's why" and usually that'll be that unless it happens a lot on that cashier's shift. They might get a manager just to cover their ass, but a manager isn't going to magically know what bill you paid with so a decent manager will just quickly read the situation and then probably instruct the cashier to give you your ten-spot. They won't blame the cashier for the mistake unless it happens a lot – there's essentially a 50-50 chance that you the customer were in the wrong, as far as they are concerned.

Anyway, this is just poor customer service and a manager being a bit stubborn/principled and prioritizing the ten dollars over having a smooth day and a happy customer, for whatever reason. Maybe they're under pressure from a higher-up to get their daily counts more accurate, or maybe they thought you were scamming for some reason, or maybe you just caught them in a grumpy mood because you were the third problem customer that they'd had to deal with in the last half hour and they needed to take a principled stand for the sake of their ego. Who knows?

Anyway, if you want the ten bucks then go get it. I wouldn't bother, personally – the principle of the thing isn't really worth much to me, I'd just swallow my (justified) indignity at being accidentally cheated out of ten bucks by a slightly incompetent cashier/slightly bullheaded manager and move on with my life. Breathe in the good, breathe out the bad.
posted by Scientist at 9:51 PM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

jamaro: "This is why I always glance at my $20 and memorize the last four digits before I hand it over to the cashier."

I have specifically read stories of scammers memorizing serial numbers on bills, so this really doesn't prove anything.
posted by IndigoRain at 5:00 AM on April 20, 2012

Move to Canada?

Seriously though, I'm surprised that the cafe didn't eat the $10 to potentially keep a customer. I'm also surprised that the guy counted the till instead of just calling a manager over to deal with it.

It can't have been a chain cafe? If it was, I'd say call head office. I have no doubt they'd mail you a cheque or a GC just to get you to give up.
posted by AmandaA at 6:28 AM on April 20, 2012

For future use... Whenever I pay cash I announce to the cashier how much I am handing them. This reinforces the reality of how much money you are handing over and all but prevents ever getting short changed.
posted by No Shmoobles at 7:11 AM on April 20, 2012

For everyone above who said the poster should talk to a manager, they did:

The manager asked for my number so they could reimburse me if they're off at closing tonight, but the cafe is so out of the way that it's almost not worth the money to go back there to get it.


jamaro: "This is why I always glance at my $20 and memorize the last four digits before I hand it over to the cashier."

I have specifically read stories of scammers memorizing serial numbers on bills, so this really doesn't prove anything.

Ok, I can't figure out how this would work if you were trying to scam a cafe out of 10 bucks by insisting you gave them a 20 when you had in fact only given them a 10. Can someone explain?
posted by oneirodynia at 8:13 AM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I paid for ice cream once with a $10. After I got back home I was totally and utterly convinced that I had paid with a $20. I even remember "seeing" the $20 as I handed over the bill.

I had a long conversation with my wife how I was going to drive back. I was boiling. Turns out I was mistaken. I found the $20 later on.

Even you can make mistakes. Move on.
posted by rdurbin at 12:04 PM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

People keep talking about leaving the bill out on the counter while change is made but I've never seen that. When I was a cashier, there was a tiny little shelf on the cash register just above the drawer where the bill would fit, or we would put the bill sideways across the top of the bill section of the drawer while we made change. Then put it in the drawer properly after the change was made.
posted by CathyG at 2:58 PM on April 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ten bucks is worth it. Make the drive or ask them to mail you the money or some kind of gift card if they won't mail a bill. Either way don't let it go. Ten bucks is a lot to be shorted, unless you're so rich that you can eat it without caring.
posted by metaphorik at 4:07 PM on April 21, 2012

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