So You Want To Be A Waiter

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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.


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