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Yes, I Do Need Change with That

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By Dan Clarke

It happened again last week.

The waiter asked, “Do you need change with that” as he walked away with my $20 bill inside the leather-like folder in which the check had been delivered.

I told him that I did need for him to return with my change. Actually, I did not need the four singles that came back in that same envelope. I had some more cash and a Mastercard in my wallet. I would have survived the rest of the evening. But that change was my money, until I deigned to give some up as a tip.

 guinness draught pint PicmonkeyAn old friend and I had agreed to meet for a couple of beers at the end of the day on Wednesday. Having arrived a bit early, I took a seat at the bar and bought a beer. Soon after, my friend arrived and we moved to a table, where I continued with my lager and he began a Guinness. As we were finishing our first drinks of the day, a waiter asked if we were ready for another. Yes, we were and two more almost-pints (14 oz. glasses) were delivered.

All was well. The surroundings were comfortable and the Guinness tasted right. The waiter had properly perceived our wish for two more beers and delivered them promptly. The conversation was enjoyable, but soon enough it was time to go. The bill brought to the table was slightly over $16, including tax. Not bad for three beers. No problem there.

The room was beginning to fill up with happy hour customers and all the servers probably were conscious of working quickly and efficiently--better for the house and better conditions for making tips. And there’s no problem with that, either.

But the waiter’s convenience is not—and should not be—the paying customer’s first concern.

Having worked in restaurants and hotels from age 16 to 23, I’m not unmindful of the issues faced by those employed in the hospitality industry. Usually I leave a server 20 to 25 percent—not lavish, drunken sailor tipping, but hardly stingy.

There are times when a “keep the change” message can be delivered to the server. Sometimes you can say those words, at other times a hand gesture, a nod, or some other discrete signal can be made. But this is the customer’s prerogative. It is his choice to determine what tip—indeed if any tip—is to be given. Asking if customers “need change with that” is like begging for tips. Actually, it’s worse than that. Though maybe unintended in most cases, the question can be off-putting and slightly intimidating to those patrons paying the bills. After all, what kind of a poor schlep would really need that change the waiter is asking about? Can’t he afford to be out and enjoying this good life that the establishment is providing for him?

We’re in an era when casual-to-boorish behavior by both servers and customers is becoming the norm. The waiter probably wasn’t aware he did anything wrong. It’s likely he was inadequately trained.

Apparently having rounded off the change that took the tab slightly over 16 bucks, our waiter brought back four singles. I left them as his tip—approximately 25% on the total bill, including the tax. More than adequate for less than polished service, I thought, but leaving some arbitrarily lesser amount wouldn’t have gotten a point across and it was time to get home and prepare dinner.

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