What's the proper procedure for paying a restaurant bill with cash?

I happen to find and carry around a lot of loose change (the lowest denomination especially abundant) and frequently dispose of it in favor of coins more usable in vending machines, using cash purchases rather than coin counting machines as the medium of conversion. Unfortunately this habit does not seem to be commonplace at sit-down restaurants, if yesterday’s lunch at TGI Friday’s was any indication. As a general question, I would like to know which of the following procedures best approximates the expectations of restaurant waitstaff for cash payments of the bill. If the answer varies from restaurant to restaurant, please indicate the class of establishments for which your reply is valid.

[ul][li]Customer receives bill, counts out bills and coins to pay it. Server comes to collect payment, returns with change, if necessary. Customer thanks server and leaves the appropriate gratuity on the table upon exit. (Note the similarity between this method and the more common procedure for credit card payment, or even the procedure for tipping a hair stylist after a haircut.)[/li]Customer receives bill, decides how much gratuity to add, and pays both the tip and the cost of the meal in one lump sum when the server comes to collect the money.[/ul]

If I can leave cash that equals the bill + tip I do that and tell the server that I don’t need any change.

If the only bills I have big and would result in a tip that is too large, then I wait for change and use a portion of the change for the tip.

I don’t think I’ve paid a substantial protion of a restaraunt bill in coins, though.

Alternately, if I’m eating lunch or dinner with a large group of people, I’ll leave cash to pay for my portion of the meal and chip in towards a 20% gratuity.

It all sounds very tricky. EFTPOS and no tipping (unless they are are very good) works for me.

Either way is correct, depending on what size bills you have. I always go with the second option, if I can (if I have the right denominations of cash to exactly equal bill + tip), to save the server a trip back with the change. Sometimes I have to wait for change, though – last night I had only twenty-dollar bills and wanted to leave a tip of $24, for instance. So we had to go with option number 1 in this case. I’ve never paid a restaraunt tab with coins, though – other than the exact change on the bill, sometimes.

Either way. The only difference is in whether you leave the table or not. If you leave the table, it indicates that the waiter is supposed to keep the change. If you’re at the table, the waiter is supposed to bring the change back to you.

How long should you wait for the server to come back with your change?

A couple of weeks ago a friend and I were at a restaurant, and we paid the bill with cash, but the only bills we had would’ve meant a 50% tip if we had said ‘Keep the change.’ So when our server said ‘I’ll be back with your change.’ my friend said ‘OK, thank you.’

We waited for the server to come back, but she never did. After 5 minutes, we figured she was just busy. After 10, we started to think she had forgotten us. When she had not returned to our table 15 minutes later, my friend tried to find a manager and was told one was not there. We ended up leaving 20 minutes after the ‘I’ll be right back with your change.’

Either she’s a shitty waitress who forgot about us, or she assumed her tip was supposed to be about 50% of the bill. Neither of those is a good thing.

What should we have done? We didn’t see her anywhere in the restaurant.

Based on this quote from Biqu:

I wonder if the OP paid for a restaraunt bill with a large amount of pennies, nickels and dimes.

You should have demanded to see a manager or owner, and threatened to call the police if your change was not given to you immediately. Someone must have been in charge of the restaurant at the time. You were a victim of theft, pure and simple. Why didn’t you try to track down your server?

Well, wonder no longer; I’ll tell you the whole story. A friend and I went out to lunch at TGI Friday’s, armed with a coupon for $5.00 off a purchase of $20.00 or more. When the waitress delivered the bill at the end of the meal, I handed her the coupon. She brought a new bill acknowledging the $5.00 discount, leaving us a total of $16.77 to pay. Pooling together our cash, my friend and I came up with three fives, two ones, and seven pennies, hoping to receive thirty cents change. When ten minutes passed and the waitress had still not returned to our table, we decided not to wait any longer and left a few more dollar bills on the table as we departed the restaurant.

Although hardly as unnerving as catsix’s experience, this scenario made me begin to reconsider my previous assumptions about restaurant bill payment, with which I have had precious little exposure except in the company of more experienced restaurant patrons, so I decided to open a thread to clear up my misconceptions. Thanks for all the informative replies.

LOL I pictured you paying for the entire tab with pennies and nickles. I’m guessing she forgot about the thirty cents change or she assumed you would just factor in the thirty cents into your tip.

Hmmm. There was no obvious reason for you to give her $17.07 in payment of a $16.77 bill - $17.00 would have been a much more usual amount. Did you explain that you were trying to convert your loose pennies into coins of slightly larger denomination?

Just a guess on my part but, if you didn’t explain, she may have thought that the only possible explanation was that you were giving her a (lousy) tip of 30c, and she may have felt so upset or embarrassed by that that she felt unable to discuss it with you. Hence she trousered the 30c, muttered a few imprecations about you under her breadth and tried to put the whole thing behind her. If you’d handed her $17.00 without saying anything she probably would have brought 23c right back.

If you’re tendering the exact amount of the bill, no need to explain. If you’re tendering a larger amount than the bill, but a conveniently rounded amount (in this case, $17.00), the waitress will assume that you expect change unless you say otherwise. If you tender a larger amount than the bill which doesn’t look like a conviently rounded amount (e.g. $17.07, $18.50, $19.00), the waitress will assume that the surplus represents a tip. Thirty cents is an astonishingly small tip on a bill of $16.77, but I think it’s really up to the customer to explain why he’s giving a poor tip rather than the waitress to demand to know.

The reason stated in the OP (conversion of loose change into coins more suitable for use in vending machines – laundry machines in particular, for which an extra quarter would be useful but dimes and nickels would not) turned out to be, as you imply, not so obvious. Next time I’ll try to make my intentions explicit, now that I know how uncommon such a practice is.

You have to consider it from the server’s point of view to figure out what’s “obvious.” For example, if my bill is $17 and I want to leave a $3 tip without making the person bring change, I’ll put in a $10, a $5 and five ones (if I have it; otherwise it’s a $20 bill and wait for change). If I were the server, the question I’d be asking myself is, “can any of this money be removed and still allow the bill to be covered by the remaining amount?” If so, you’ve obviously put extra in and that’s a tip.

If the bill is less than $30 and I leave $31, I must be intending something by that extra dollar. At a store where tipping is not customary, it might make sense to just hand over $31 where the bill is $26 if you want a five back, but in a tipping scenario, you have to be explicit if you’re trying to make/unmake change, since anything “extra” you leave is a tip.

Personally, I wouldn’t ask a server to change pennies into a nickel – it just seems rude to make them perform such a menial task that’s not part of their job. And I certainly wouldn’t fret if they blew off the change when it was only two cents. I’d probably go, “huh” if they blew off thirty cents worth of change, but not in the situation you describe. I’d be more concerned that they thought that 30 cents was their tip.

Does anyone have any idea what the heck Kiwi is talking about? EFTPOS? Eat Free Then Piss On Staff? Every Funny Troll Puts Out Silver? Exercise Freedom To Put Out Sex?


Electronic Funds Transfer at Point Of Sale
i.e., a plastic card linked to a bank account.

I discussed this at a restaurant today (not with the staff, though). For me, I think the major determining factor in whether I wait for change or not is simply the denominations I have available. Most of the time, I pay the bill and the tip at the same time and leave. This allows me to get out of the restaurant faster (which is important at lunchtime) and probably results in a slightly larger tip for the staff (say, $5.73 instead of $5 on a $35 meal). One reason why this might not be desirable for some restaurant is that the waitstaff can’t see how much you’ve put down until after you’ve left. For a restaurant where people often leave without paying, this might be a problem. (But then, most restaurants of the type where people might leave without paying have a ‘pay at cashier’ system.) If the money I have would force an excessively large tip (say, if I only have 20s and the bill is $29), then I wait for change. But, most of the time, I pay everything at once.