Who's More Wrong Here?

Okay, Dopers. I’ve got a scenario for you that happened at work tonight.

We have a not-so-bright waiter whom I’ll call Jeff. He had a male customer tonight whose tab came to about $18 bucks.

The customer put his money into the little black server-book, handed it to Jeff, told him to keep the change, and then left.

Jeff opened the book and saw two twenty-dollar bills. Jeff obviously got very excited, and told a coworker how pleased he was that the guy had given him a $22 tip.

It was a slow night; within an hour, Jeff was let off and went home.

Two hours later, the guy comes back and wants to talk to the manager. He tells our manager, whom I’ll call Chris, that he has a bunch of new twenties, and that he accidentally gave Jeff two twenties, when he meant to give him just one, because they were new bills and got stuck together.

He wants his money back.

Chris tells him that Jeff has already gone home for the night, and that he won’t be working again til Thursday evening. So the customer gives Chris his business card, and stresses how very important it is that he get his money back. He says he’ll be back on Thursday “to talk to Jeff.”

He leaves, and then comes back again to give Chris his hotel information as well. (He’s here on business from out of town.)

Now, I’m of two minds here; Jeff is not a particularly good waiter, so it’s highly doubtful he’d get that kind of tip, although tips like that do happen. (I’ve gotten a $50 tip on a $12 tab; I think everybody in the service industry’s gotten at least a dozen “incredible” tips before.) So I think Jeff should’ve suspected it was a mistake, even if he hoped otherwise.

But then again, the guy didn’t even wait for Jeff to count the money; he just said “Keep it!” and walked out the door. It isn’t outside the realm of possibility, from a waiter’s standpoint, that he was getting what we call “a gravy tip.”

Should the guy get his money back from Jeff on Thursday? Is Jeff wrong to want to keep it, or is the guy wrong for making a mistake and then chasing $20 bucks around all week, when he’s the one who made the mistake? I personally would probably be too embarrassed to do this for $20 bucks; I’d feel really stupid, and resolve to count my money a little more carefully next time, especially since they were all brand-new sticky twenties. But I don’t think I’d have the nerve to chase a waiter around two days later trying to get my money back…because there isn’t even any proof that he did give Jeff that money. It’s just his word against Jeff’s; even Chris says he has no way of making Jeff give it back.

If Jeff had been the one making the mistake…if he had accidentally given the customer too much change, which happens to everybody at some point, Jeff would have no way of getting that money back from the customer, because he’d have no way of proving he did give too much change. He’d be out that money, regardless. (And this happened to me just the other night; I gave a guy change on a $20 instead of a $10, and had to pay it. Sometimes you’re just not paying attention, and you have to pay for it.)

But I do see the error here; Jeff was stupid to think that some guy would just tip him over 100% for no apparent reason. Like I said, Jeff’s not a bright guy.

So who’s more wrong? The customer who accidentally over-tipped his waiter and wants it back? Or the waiter who probably won’t want to give it back two days later, if he even has it?

Just curious, because I’m really of two minds on this.

[sub]I put this in the Pit b/c any thread having to do with tipping always seems to get violent, even if it doesn’t start out that way. :smiley: [/sub]

It’s the customer’s problem. Write it down to experience and be more careful in future.

The customer was wrong, and Jeff should keep the money. Apparently Jeff is dumb enough to honestly believe the money was meant for him. If he had realized it was a mistake, and wanted to keep the money, couldn’t he have pocketed the extra $20 and said nothing? The customer screwed himself and ought to deal with the consequences.

Customer completely in error. Jeff got the tip, customer didn’t check it. I somehow doubt you’d hand it back if the customer had already left, saying “keep it”. I know I wouldn’t, considering how much wait staff are exploited in the US.

Agreed. Customer was wrong, Jeff should keep the money. As Jabba said, write it down to experience and be more careful in the future.

I was thinking that myself, Dung Beetle. The very fact that Jeff told people about the “way cool tip” means that he really believed it was his…otherwise he’d have quietly pocketed it and denied the whole thing. In which case the customer would’ve had absolutely no case at all.

I dunno. I just feel kind of sorry for Jeff; I can see the big boss man getting really uptight over this, and trying to make poor Jeff give back his gravy tip. :frowning:

I’m of two minds as well. I think that Jeff should have brought this to the customer’s attention…but apparently the customer didn’t wait around long enough for that to happen. I’d say that the customer learned a relatively cheap lesson.

When I give a “gravy tip” I always let the server know that I mean to give that much. Now, I might be a bit rude, but I’ve asked if the tips go in a common pot before I give a seasonal or special tip. Once, on learning that the tips did go in a common pot to be split, I told the waitress that the extra tip was meant to buy a present for her little girl for Christmas (it was in December, I gave her $20 in addition to her regular tip, she knew what I liked and always was a good server to me). I figure if a server is going to give me exceptional service (bringing me my preferred beverage JUST the way I like it, right when I sit down, for instance) I can afford to show my appreciation once in a while.

How is that the customer could not see that his twentys had stuck together when dumb 'ole Jeff pegged on it right away?

Jeff is under no obligation to return it. If it’s a steady customer, he should. Build a little good will and all. Otherwise, yeah, tell him to chalk it up to experience.

That’s my vote. And, unlike many, I have an experience that puts me in the customer’s shoes. Back when I was first married, my husband and I were on a pretty tight budget. He was an E-6 in the Navy, we had two children under age 2 and I was a housewife (still am, as a matter of fact). I always shopped at the Navy Commisary. Now, most commissary’s have baggers who tote your groceries out to your car. It’s mandatory to use the baggers – if you only have a few bags you can carry them out yourself, but no carts are allowed into the parking lot except the special carts used by the baggers. The baggers work for tips only. At the time of this story, the standard tip was $1.00 a load. Now, as I said, we were pretty poor at the time. One of the things I did to squeeze out a little extra cash was clip coupons. Then, I would write my grocery check for the amount I saved with coupons + a dollar bill to tip the bagger. That ‘coupon money’ was my pocket money for the pay period – all the walking-around money I ever had, in those days. My commisary was doing double coupons then, so I usually managed to squeeze out $20 or so using this method. On this particualr day, I wrote the check for $21.00 over the cost of the groceries and dropped what I thought was the single into the tip box. It wasn’t until I got home that I discovered I had, as you’ve surely guessed by now, dropped in the 20 by accident. I actually called the commisary and asked how the tips were distributed… I was thinking that, if all tips were shared out at the end of the day, then I could just not tip until I earned my money back… but that would have taken me 40 weeks (I shopped on paydays – every 2 weeks) and meant explaining myself every trip to a bagger who probably didn’t speak very good english (they were/ are mostly Filipinas). As it turned out, each bagger had a box that they carried from register to register, so that wouldn’t have worked, even if I’d had the stomach to enact it. So, what happened was, I wrote it off as a mistake and spent the next two weeks flat broke, cash-wise. My husband had to give me two bucks for parking at my weekly library trips out of his spending money.

Anyway, I can’t imagine that that customer’s 20 dollar bill meant as much to him as mine did that day… And, I really can’t imagine hounding some poor waiter for, what was, the customer’s mistake in the first place. Keep us posted on the outcome, please – I’m pretty curious about whether or not this dude is actually going to come in and demand his 20 back!

I am amazed that it seems to be unanimously in Jeff’s favor. It seems to me a clear cut case that the money should be returned to the customer.

I’ve actually had almost the same thing, except instead of two twenties, it was a fifty instead of a twenty, and instead of a dopey waiter, it was an extremely nice female co-waitress. After the customer returned a couple hours later, she promptly returned the additional 30 dollars to the man, who, in turn, gave her the 10 back as “reward.”

The customer never meant to give the additional $20 to Jeff. Sure it was a mistake, but those happen. Why would Jeff be entitled to it? It wasn’t meant to be his money, ever. I think it his obligation to return money that isn’t his. Whether it be a twenty, a stolen bike, or a wallet. It seems pretty clear the guy should get his twenty back from Jeff. He should also kick a little something back, but saying it was his mistake means he loses out to a guy who didn’t earn it, is wrong.

If I was the customer, I’d probably forget about it, mostly because I’d feel dumb asking for the money back, and I’d accept that it was my own stupid mistake.

From the little I know about the customer (the fact that he came back twice for this $20) it might be in Jeff’s best interest to give the money back, as I doubt it will be the end of it if he doesn’t.

There’s no way I’d come back( and wait a couple days, no less) for a measly twenty dollars. I agree with Lynn and the customer should consider it a (very) cheap lesson learned.

Take the long view. Restaurants (well, many of them, don’t know about yours) depend on repeat customers. That requires keeping them happy even if it’s their first visit. If the guy thinks he got screwed, or treated rudely, he won’t be back and won’t be tipping any of the waitstaff, either.

Yes, the customer made a mistake, and knows it, and wants to have his dealings with the restaurant be on the up and up, and wants their cooperation fixing it. That’s reasonable, right? But Jeff didn’t do anything wrong, either. The only one who did was the manager, who should have offered some kind of credit, perhaps a gift certificate, against the money as a good-faith gesture instead of gruffly telling the customer to come back later and take it up with the waiter (the true cost of the credit is essentially just the wholesale cost of the food, much less than the full retail price). Jeff should not have been asked to return the money, but, if he met the customer again, should have apologized for the misunderstanding and stated his hopes that the management had resolved the matter to his satisfaction and that he hopes he’ll come back in the future.

The customer is in the wrong here, so I’d say Jeff doesn’t have to give the money back, but…

  • he (the customer) admits that it was a mistake, and isn’t accusing Jeff of stealing anything. It would be nice of Jeff if he did give it back as a show of good faith.

  • if Jeff does give it back, he’s got the respect of a customer who gives decent tips (even $12 for an $18 meal is pretty damn good), and who knows his name. That could be very much to Jeff’s favor in the long run.

Ex-bartender checking in.

My personal response to this, had I been the one who mistakenly left too much, would be to forget it and move on. Maybe next time I go to that place they’ll treat me like royalty.

Then again, maybe they’ll start treating me like shit because I don’t tip that much on future visits. You never know.

At any rate, if I were the person who was actually tipped too much, I’d return it. I wouldn’t make a big deal about it and I wouldn’t be too upset about it. Shit happens.

It not only seems like common courtesy to me, but it also seems like good business.

The courtesy part has to do with the ‘do onto others as they would do to you’ line that I like to follow. If it were me, as the customer, and I really wanted it back, I’d hope the other person would see my need and be generous. I mean, what if it were fifties instead of twenties in that scenario? In that case I’d probably change my earlier answer above and actually make a move at getting the mistaken extra fifty back. And again, in that case, I’d hope the person would understand and not be like a negotiator at a foreign bizarre. ‘But sir, you handed me the money’. ‘Well, yeah, but it was a mistake’. ‘Sorry, I wish I could help, but I can’t just hand back money to people who say it was a mistake.’.

I dunno. That might not be the best example, but I think you get the picture. If it were me and I wanted my money back, all over a seemingly legitimate mistake (I can understand the money getting stuck) I’d hope the other party would be understanding and cooperative. Again, the ‘do onto others’ thing.

And finally, I think it makes sense business wise.

If you go back to the guy and say, ‘Oh hey, no problem. I know you got great service and tips like that aren’t out of the norm, so it didn’t occur to me there was a mistake. Here ya go’ you’re more likely to have this guy come back. And when he comes back you’re likely to get more in tip money than had you been a prick, because he’d either avoid you or likely never return to the restaurant. And I don’t know about anyone else in the biz, but when I was doing it, return customers were the one’s who kept me afloat and in the gravy. That Jeff guy should consider his doing the right thing as an investment. An investment in a future regular customer who will probably tip him more in the long run than the mistake landed him.

I have a feeling many here will try looking at the analytical, cut and dried, almost legal aspect of this question instead of the human part of it. It’s kind of a shame, really, but it seems to be the way this thread is heading and the way people think around here. There’s nothing wrong with that, I guess, it’s just that as fellow ‘Joe’ working himself through this life thing, I would hope others would see the predicament I was in if I were the guy who accidentally left the extra dough.

bet the customer is on an expense tab, and the $20 was covered but the other $20 came out of his own pocket. Hence, getting his panties in a twist about it.

Elvisl1ves makes an excellent point. I too thought that the restaurant manager could have played his card and refunded the customer himself with a gift certificate. Then the customer would have told his friends and associates about the place, how they treated him so well, and as a result, the restaurant gets more business. At the very least, the customer comes back, uses his gift certificate, and the waiter gets a better tip than usual because this was essentially a free meal to the customer.

Instead the manager did the “not my problem” approach and gave the customer an inconvenient solution. The customer will then tell his associates that the manager and his waitstaff at this restaurant were jerks, so the place gets less business.

Shoot. At the time I wrote the above, I think everyone was still saying Jeff should keep the money.

A couple people got in before me and basically said what I said… I think.

I agree and am glad others see it as I do too.

Sublight, the original tip was to be $2 not $12. That’s a pretty cheesy tip on an $18 meal bill.

Anyway, Jeff should give the money back, it was obviously a mistake, just as if the $20 fell out of the guy’s pocket onto the floor. If it was dropped money, would you deny the guy the ability to get it back? If the guy was a stand up person (and I kind of doubt he is) he’d split it with Jeff, or just chalk it up to experience.

From reading the OP, it sounds like the meant to stiff Jeff by tipping $2 on an $18 tab. I wouldn’t say this guy’s repeat business is worth correcting his mistake for him.