So You Want To Be A Waiter

The best book on waiting tables that you have never read – yet

Daily Archives: June 10, 2009

My hero – Jon Stewart!

Is Jon Stewart a good tipper?

Hell yes he is (as I would suspect – he’s one of my favorite peeps in the world). At least according to one NYC cabbie, he is:

That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Oh, snap!


I see a lot of celebrities in my restaurant. Some really BIG celebrities. It’s almost a daily occurrence where I work. And no, I’m not going to dish on them, only to say that most celebrities that I’ve run into are good to great tippers and are friendly and grateful of their continued celebrity. After all, many of them probably started as servers somewhere, and about the worst thing that can happen to a celebrity is not being a celebrity anymore. Sure, it’s a pain for people to interrupt their dinners with sudden appearances at their tables (fortunately, this doesn’t happen very much at our place). But the best celebrities handle it with aplomb and take it as part of the territory. After all, the alternative is that they’re so washed up that nobody pays attention, right?

Oh yeah, hats off to New York city cabbies. That has to be a bitch of a job a lot of the time. Treat your cabbie well, no matter where he or she drives.

Credit card transaction issues redux

To get back to the original issue raised at The Insane Waiter, what do you do when the guest screws up the math?

The restaurant has four policies that it might enforce.

A. The server never changes the tip.

B. The server never changes the final total.

C. The server only changes whatever is necessary to the benefit of the guest (this could mean changing the total or changing the final amount but only if it goes to the benefit of the guest).

D. Only a manager can approve the changing of anything on the slip.

In the case of the first two instances, the manager usually has the authority to change the slip either way if it’s obvious what the guest intended. For instance, if the check was $110 and the guest wrote in $22 but totalled it to $142, the manager will usually change the total back to $132 even if it’s house policy never to change the final total. If you are a waiter, and you are empowered to change the final total, you should also back off the final total yourself in this instance. Don’t look at it as a windfall. You should look out for the guest whenever possible.

If a guest has a $100 check and writes in $30 but totals it to $120 and they’ve left, you should see a manager and get them to up the total because it should be pretty clear what their intentions were, even if you think that the manager is going to err on the side of the benefit to the guest. It’s just the right thing to do. What you shouldn’t do is take it on yourself to do it on your own, unless it’s specific house policy for a server to change totals in the case of a miss-add by the guest. It could come back to bite you in the ass. 

If the guest has made a math error, or if it’s unclear what their intention was, and the guest is still in the house, it’s is absolutely permissible to take the slip back and get clarification (unless your management has specifically forbidden this sort of action, of course).  Better to be on the safe side. Your job isn’t worth $10 more tips. 

I had this situation come up twice last week alone. Once, I had an evenly split check of $250. Each person had a transaction of $125. They each wrote in $25 for the tip, but one of them totalled his to $160. Being pretty sure that he meant $150, I actually adjusted the check to $150 when I adjusted the charge. I wrote in $150 on the slip itself and initialled it. I didn’t even bother to tell the manager on duty. Be careful about writing anything on the slip though. some restaurants forbid this practice and it might even be dicey legally for you to strike through a total or change any amount on the slip manually.

Am I stupid for not being greedy? I don’t think so. Waiters already have a rep, deserved or undeserved, for being greedy little creatures who will steal you blind if given half the chance. It’s up to you and me to change that perception.

If you ever have even the slightest question about what to do in this instance, always get a manager involved. Cover your ass whenever possible.

When I managed a restaurant, I said to my servers, “Never change the final total”. Some people reconcile their credit card statements as they would a checkbook, or the bookkeeping department in the company audits their charges in the case of a corporate card. They are less concerned with the addition of the tip as they are comparing the final total on the slip with the amount on the statement (although corporate bookkeepers sometimes check that as well).  A difference in the total amount, even if it’s lower than their slip indicates, is the most common cause for a callback by the guest.

Oh yeah, before I forget, just so you know, if you have to adjust a credit card because of an error, and you do it before the charge is finalized, the guest might still see the original amount when they get home and check their balance on line (some people do this immediately). It can sometimes take a day for the old original transaction to clear. This is another reason for getting it right the first time. No need to cause concern for the guest and have them calling the restaurant the next day wondering about the higher amount that’s shown on their on-line transaction page. No, they aren’t going to be charged for it and it will drop off, usually within 24 hours even on a weekend, but you don’t want your manager to have to explain this to them. and you don’t want to have that conversation with your manager either.

Credit card transaction issues


Over there at The Insane Server,, he brought up the question of how to handle a credit card transaction when the guest screws up the math. We’ll get into that in just a minute but there’s something even more important to consider when a waiter runs the credit card.

If the credit card is actually a debit card/credit card, you have to pay particular attention and make dead sure that you are running it for the correct amount. If you screw up and, say, run the card on the wrong separate check, or type in $1000 instead of $100 either as the amount of the check or the amount of the tip, you could cause some serious issues.

“Why is that”, I hear you ask.

Here’s the deal – when you run a credit card, it’s a temporary hold on the amount that you entered. It’s waiting on you to close the transaction out when you close the check. This enables you to add an additional tip. With a credit card, it’s normally no big deal to change the amount after the fact, but before you actually close out the check, if you accidentally ring the amount for $1000 and go back and change it to $100 (I say normally because it could possibly trigger a fraud alert to protect the guest from someone using his or her stolen card and it could conceivably hang up that amount for a short period of time, although it’s usually cleared when the final transaction is completed, i.e. total plus tip plus closed check).

However, with a debit/credit card, sometimes the bank will freeze that $1000 until the next business day, regardless whether you void or change the transaction. Basically you are metaphorically tearing up the “check” (i.e. the transaction) for the guest and letting them write you a new “check”, but the bank doesn’t know that the “torn up check” won’t still be presented instead of or in addition to the original “check” – a debit card transaction is always treated as if it were a debit card transaction in a restaurant for some reason. If this happens on a Friday night and the guest only has that one card available to them, and they only have $1125 in the bank, it’s conceivable that they’ll only have $5 available to them until the following Monday evening, provided that they paid the $100 bill and left you $20. This means that $1000 of their money is unavailable to them for the weekend. Normally this would be the case if you accidentally typed in $200 instead of $20 for the tip on a $100 bill when you closed out the check. Instead of authorizing $120, it would authorize $300.  And you might even trigger an overdraft fee and notice to go to the guest because once the card is authorized, it’s authorized, whether or not the guest has the money for the increased tip in the account. 

Don’t laugh – it can happen. It happened in my restaurant…to a couple who was on their honeymoon. A couple who was 500 miles away from home planning to finance their activities with their debit card. A couple that had no other means of cash. It was a huge inconvenience to them on perhaps the most important weekend of their lives. This sort of thing happens far more than you would expect.

So, here’s yet another thing that a server has to pay attention to. Start getting in the habit of looking at the little word “debit” on the credit card and be even more careful than you usually are about typing in any amounts. Double-clutching  an extra zero can have big consequences.

Also, you should know that many of the “declines” that you might get aren’t because the guest has no money or credit available, it’s because they don’t have enough to cover the potential tip. Normally, a credit card company will only authorize 20 – 25% more than what’s in the account or on the credit line. So I could have a bill for $100 and have $119 left on my credit line and the card might be declined. Sometimes you might get a message to call the credit card provider. This usually happens if the guest happened to buy a refrigerator or some other large purchase the same day, especially if he or she did it in a different location like a suburb with its own city name. This is part of the fraud protection offered by many providers. It could also be a deposit that was hung up in processing for some reason. Usually, this sort of message had a positive outcome, but it takes time to take care of.

Credit card based gift cards are also becoming more prevalent. They cause problems in that they have a specific amount like $75 but will only allow a restaurant transaction of $75 minus 20% or so (for the same reason as stated before). Be careful of these because you’ll get a declined until you find the “sweet spot” that the provider has set. It’s particularly tricky when it doesn’t cover the whole bill. You’ll have to get payment for the rest of the bill. The guest has to decide where they’re going to put the tip, which can complicate things. And, if the guest leaves a tip that’s more than the amount on the card by accident, guess what? You’re out of luck. You’ll only get the amount up to the limit of the card.

One final thing – some guests will pay for part of the bill with a credit card and part of the bill with cash. If this happens, write the full amount of the bill somewhere close to the charge slip amount (if your restaurant allows it, of course).  Otherwise, the guest might compute the tip on the smaller amount. Usually this is just human error and it’s a function of just doing the routine thing of seeing an amount and calculating the tip on that amount. I like to give them the chance to remember that this isn’t actually the amount of the bill, that the original amount is higher. Occasionally I’ll even point this out by saying “Here is the amount of the original bill”, but you have to do it in an off-hand “I’m doing you a favor” sort of tone, not “You’d better tip on this amount, not that amount . Anytime the amount of the credit card is lower because of cash, coupons or gift certificates, I always write the original amount right above the printed figure. I’ve never asked if it’s OK to do this, and if you do this without asking, you take the risk on yourself. But if you do, this is the response to your manager if they ask you why you did that – “I’ve had several people ask me what the original amount was, so now I do it on all of my credit card slips as a courtesy to them”. It’s hard to argue with that, because a good guest will ask about the original amount so that they can tip you on that amount.

Cookbook of the day – Paul Kirk’s Championship Barbecue


Paul Kirk’s Championship Barbecue

Publisher: Harvard Common Press; illustrated edition edition (April 2004)  

ISBN-10: 1558322426

ISBN-13: 978-1558322424

 Paul Kirk is one of the superstars of the BBQ circuit – just ask him.

This book not only explains the various Barbecue techniques and throws 575 “Lip-Smackin’ ” recipes at you, covers the differences between various regions’ methods thoroughly and tells you in great detail how he got the title of “The Baron of Barbecue” (more recently corrected to include his native Kansas City in the name), he also goes behind the scenes and reveals many of the nuts ‘n bolts of competition, giving away a ton to “trade secrets” that will allow those who crave competition to come armed before they even hook a single trailer up to a Ford 250. Just don’t think that you’re going to beat Paul Kirk though. He could tell you every single thing he knows and then shut down the rest of his brain and only cook with his lizard brain and he’d still whomp your ass. Don’t believe me? Just ask him.

The chest puffing gets old pretty quickly. Not only can Kirk cook better than you, he can make up a new recipe for a sauce on the spot after drinking a keg of beer followed by 12 shots of tequila while he’s saving a GM plant in Tennessee and running a major cattle rustling ring and 24 hours later, he’ll be standing in front of you with the trophy that God had intended you to win.


This is one hell of a book. There are more sauces and rubs than you can shake a stick at, although, he still hasn’t cracked the code to the secret ingredient to my dry rub. He goes into great detail about smoking (although I think he’s a little rigid with some of his thoughts) and he ain’t afraid to grill him up some tuna or vegetables. He’s even got a North African Spice Paste hanging around, although it’s no harissa. His chapter, Barbecue Sauces, Salsas, Relishes, and Dipping Sauces is a valuable resource. when you combine that with Marinades, Mops, Sops, and Bastes, you’ve got the world of barbecue laid bare at your feet.

But there are also cooking charts and history lessons, peoples’ personal recipes freely given up for publication, on-point observations scattered at key parts of the book, and, most importantly, many stories about Paul Kirk, the myth and the legend. Hell, even Pecos Bill had to bow down to him and Paul Bunyan laid down his axe and gave him Babe, his prized ox, so that Kirk could smoke him whole on his smoker, which is the size of Rhode Island and requires a 10th of all of the wood in the Amazonian rain forest.

paul kirk

His website, which is the best website ever created since Kirk created the internet and gave it to Al Gore, is here: