I’ve been fantastically blessed to witness how generous strangers and regulars alike can be to waiters when they tip. I knew a devoted guest who, every Thanksgiving AND every New Year, would make a point of going to every single employee in the front and back of the house and hand them at least $100 in cash—and sometimes, even $200. I’ve seen guests generously tip extra to waiters and waitresses even when the experience wasn’t perfect, because they appreciated the effort and the sincerity of the staff. I’ve seen guests help my fellow staff members get into good colleges, find new jobs, and undertake other heartening acts of generosity. This blog post is not about that. This post is about something much, much more mundane. I’m almost embarrassed to write about something so petty. However, for the sake of my colleagues and compatriots, I must. This post is about The Dreaded Split Cash and Charge Payment of the bill. (This post will not be funny.)
The Dread Split Cash and Charge Payment is when two guests (of what usually is a large party with a very large bill) decide to split their bill with a partial cash payment and a credit card. This often leads to undesirably and unjustifiably bad tips. Bear with me now, English Lit. Majors: let’s say that your guests have a $400 dinner bill. They hand you $240 in cash and tell you to put the rest “on the card.” You proceed to charge $160 on the card and hand the charge slip back to the guest. He sees the amount of “$160.00” as his charge and generously tips $32.00, or 25%, of what his card was charged. So how much tip did you make in total for that $400 dinner bill? You made $32….or 8%. (I’m about to forward these equations to the American Academy of Mathematicians, mind you). So you, your bussers, your service bartender, and all the rest of the FOH have to split $32 from a $400 check. The cash guest paid his fair share—half of the $400 bill plus $40 on his $200 share, or 20% as a tip. The credit card-paying guest should have, in fact, tipped $80 so that he, too, would have paid $240 total and tipped, essentially and conclusively, 20% on his half of the $400 bill. The guest does not always do this and when he doesn’t, the servers always notice and ALWAYS scream at the old gods and the new ones at this gross injustice.
This isn’t limited to just 2-way splits; on a four-top bill for $300, one guest could pay $90 in cash and the others will each be charged $70; in this case, they should all tip $20 so that you end up with a tip of $60, or 20% of $300. When they “generously tip $14 on $70, they think they’re tipping 20% but, in fact, you end up with $84+$84+$84+$90 = $342, which is 14%. Not as bad as the above illustration but, again, extremely frustrating for the simple fact that your guests probably all thought they were tipping the standard 20% but ended up tipping much less. The disconnect between their good intentions and the end result is what causes servers to pull out their hair.
In a busy and noisy restaurant where all the patrons are engrossed in conversation towards the end of their three-hour-dinner, communicating in a polite and professional manner the importance of correct math is not a simple task. For many guests, the act of adding 20% to whatever they see on the credit card slip has become reflexive. And any discussion of tips with a guest is, frankly, unclassy and something I never do.
All I can propose, really, is that instead of teaching kids something useless in High School like The Quadratic Theorem or Trigonometric Ratios and Functions, they should all be required to take one semester in How To Tip Properly In Restaurants for All Situations. That’s really the only solution. There can even be an AP How To Tip Properly In Restaurants for All Situations (or, for midwesterners, IB How To Tip Properly In Restaurants for All Solutions). And if that ever happens, you better bet I’ll be setting up a class for that very AP test. Only $500 for 5 1 hour sessions. And early registration is required.