Dear Ms. Salty: Ever since I had the experience as a small child of watching diners take wait staff’s tip money off abandoned tables on their way out the door, I have always made it a point to give my server the tip money directly. However, more and more frequently, I find myself hanging by the table after the rest of my party leaves, or hunting for the server around the restaurant, which is awkward for everyone.
I understand I could just add it to my card, but I prefer paying for meals in cash, and can’t quite shake the suspicion the staff might not get my tip unless I put cash in their hands directly. So, am I paranoid? Overthinking things? Coming across as pretentious? Advice appreciated.
Sincerely, Austin Diner
Well, bless your heart. As your server, I greatly appreciate your attention to detail in getting me my hard-earned gratuity. I am not sure what was going on there in Austin, though, as I’ve never had anyone take off with my tip. In fact, in all my years, I’ve only heard of a few such instances. It’s like an urban legend at this point: a stealth, heartless thief lifting cash right off a table, then flicking on their sunglasses. Although, lately I have seen a few dining-related burglaries in the news: One woman took a couple’s food right off their table in Australia, and a heartless creep in North Carolina made off with a restaurant tip jar. I may be salty, but I’m a little naive—maybe you’re right to not just leave cash on the table without a second thought.
So, there are a few methods I’d try. If you prefer paying for meals in cash anyway, can you just make sure you put down enough to cover the whole bill and gratuity, then hand it to your server? (Please note, a change belt would be overdoing it.) That way, you can give the cash the server and just say the words that all of us love to hear: “Keep it.”
You could also, in a booth situation, slide the tip tray all the way over to the wall. Theft is often a crime of opportunity: A fiver hanging out near the aisle there? Maybe an impulse grab. A carefully placed tip under the pepper shaker all the way over by the window that would entail a certain amount of gymnastics to reach? Not as attractive an option.
Take it from me, though, your server wants to get that money as badly as you want to give it to them, so they—and the restaurant—are likely all over that cash. Even if your server is busy, there are bus people, hosts, and managers also keeping an eye on things. I remember another story where a family caught pocketing the tip from the previous table was outed on Facebook video. Everyone is watching, these days.
But if you feel most secure placing the gratuity in your server’s hot little hand? Then just do it. That person will likely not find you a pain in the ass or pretentious, just grateful for the tip. Have you ever offered cash to someone and have them not greet it with absolute delight? Guessing not. Case closed.
Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or just a general question about life we can help you with? Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org