So You Want To Be A Waiter

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Reminder about couple of things about charge transactions

I’ve covered some of this before, but thought that it would be useful to hit some points again.

In this era of branded gift cards (American Express and Visa gift cards, for example), you have to keep in mind that most cards will hold back 20% to account for the tip, just like they do when you use them at gas stations (some cards require a $75 balance to account for someone who might be filling up a large, empty Escalade tank, so if you’re filling up your tank, you’ll probably be prompted to see the attendant if you have less than a $75 balance left on the card). You might find that the card isn’t accepted if the amount is over 80% of the balance. If it doesn’t work at first, and you don’t know how much is on  the card, don’t panic – just try lower amounts until it goes through. Keep in mind that the guest is still on the hook for the balance plus whatever tip they’re going to give you. The first time it fails, you might want to go to the guest and explain the situation (and sometimes, they don’t understand, so you might have to be patient and clear in your explanation). This gives them the chance to put it on a conventional credit card if they don’t want to split the payment, plus it gives them a heads-up that the gift card isn’t going to cover the full amount plus tip. Hopefully, it isn’t their only method of payment because, if it is, they’ll have to have a talk with the manager.

What happens if you run a conventional (i.e. a non-debit card) card on the wrong table? Normally, it won’t be much of an issue if that wrong table also pays with a credit card because most POS systems allow you to rerun a different card. When you do this, the other credit card will drop off when you close out the check. It’s only a temporary authorization. However, every bank treats this a little differently. One bank might actually hold the transaction a little bit longer than another. That’s not a problem unless the person is close to their credit limit and the “extra charge” keeps them from making a transaction right after they leave your restaurant, or they immediately go back to their home and check their balance on-line. They might be surprised to find an “extra charge” from your restaurant in the form of a “pending authorization” if it hasn’t cleared. They don’t know that it’s going to drop off shortly. They also will be pissed if they can’t put gas in their car to get home and they call the credit card company to find the extra charge being held back as a pending authorization.

So, obviously, you want to avoid this situation. But what you don’t want to do is get the manager to void out the transaction unless it’s the house policy to do so. This is because the phantom charge will actually stay on longer. A void doesn’t really even get triggered until the manager “batches out” (closes out each credit card terminal at the end of the night, or closes out the daily business on the POS system in the case of integrated credit card processing). Not only that, it has to be processed as a “credit” against a charge. The guest might not see that credit for a couple of days if the bank is slow in issuing it. Even if the guest doesn’t notice it at first or it doesn’t impact the guest at the time, when he or she gets the statement, it can be confusing and your restaurant might get a call – managers everywhere have dealt with many of those calls.

Debit cards can really screw you in the case of accidentally pulling up the wrong table and run the card on it instead of the actual table or screwing up the charge in another way such as running it for the full amount instead of the amount left over after a gift card or putting it on the wrong split check on a big table. The problem is that the debit card is basically a check. Most banks hold the authorization much longer than they do a credit card because the cash must be immediately available on demand. So, even if you run another card over the top of it, it won’t necessarily drop off immediately as it would if it were a “normal” credit card. Different banks have different policies, but debit cards can really cause some problems. They can be held for several days, especially over the weekend. So, if you see the tiny word debit above the Visa or MasterCard logo, make damn sure that you’re processing it correctly, especially in the case of separate checks.

Remember – you’re handling people’s money. In the case of an American Express Black Card (the “Titanium Card”), it’s a credit line more than you will make in the next 10 years. You can literally buy a house with that card (you have to spend at least $250,000 a year to keep the card). So, treat the simple swiping of the credit card, something you might do dozens of times a day, with the respect that it requires.

BTW, my special nickname for the Black Card is “The Plutonium Card”.


As a Final reminder, house policies always supercede any advice that I give here.


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