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Dining Etiquette, Do & Don't, For Diners, For Servers, Paying The Bill

Tip Accordingly: Paying the Bill With a Gift Card

Throughout the year, and especially around Christmas time, people receive Gift Cards to either their favorite Italian restaurant or to a new Sushi Shop in town and are delighted by the fact that can use the Gift Card to either pay the entire bill – or part of it.

We all know that the standard tip a diner should leave the server is 15%.  Now, there seems to be a lot of people out there who believe that if they have a Gift Card it means either

  1. They get a free meal because of the Gift Card – in which case they don’t need to leave a tip   or
  2. Half of their meal has been  paid – which means they only have to leave a tip only on the amount after the Gift Card amount was deducted

This is a big problem between Gift Cards, Servers, and Diners.

What is the protocol here?

1. Paying the whole bill with the gift card

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that your bill is $50 and you  have a gift card for $100.  You think “Wow, this is great! I don’t have to pay a cent for my meal plus I get to keep another $50 on my Gift Card for the next time I come to eat”.  I know it sounds great, and it is, but you have to keep in mind that the waiter/waitress who served you is (in a sense) not working for free.   S/he took your order, served your drinks,  made sure everything was to your liking, cleared the table, brought you coffee and dessert, etc.  Getting a “free meal” never means skimping out on the tip.

2. Paying part of the bill with a gift card

Let’s say that your bill is $50 and you have a $25 dollar gift card.  You think “Wow! I only have to pay $25 for a $50 meal.  This is great!”.  And you’re right, it is.  The thing is, when the waiter/waitress who served you takes your credit card and passes it at the remaining amount ($25) it doesn’t mean that your bill is suddenly only $25. The server doesn’t cancel half of your bill, they just declare at the end of the day that the bill was paid for by credit card and gift card.   You must tip according to the full amount of the bill before the Gift Card amount is deducted.

3. Paying with a bank card and gift card

When using a gift card and a bank card to pay your bill, a problem can arise when using the hand held machine to complete the purchase.  Let’s say that your bill is $50 and you have a $25 dollar gift card.  The server brings the machine to pass your bank card and puts the amount at $25 (the remaining amount after the deduction of the gift card).  The problem with this is that it will ask you what kind of tip you’d like to add (15%?  20%?  Other?).  If you choose the option of adding 15%, then it will add 15% of the amount put into the machine – which was $25.  Now you’re leaving a lower than 15% tip on a $50 bill.  Be careful to choose the “Other” option in order to add in the exact amount you want, or better yet you can always pay the tip in cash to avoid confusion.

A Note to  Waiters: Be Kind

It is considered to be inappropriate to approach guests about the amount of tip that was left.  Some mistakes are obvious and sometimes it’s easy to see when someone doesn’t understand how the system works, but please be kind.  Don’t lose your cool and make a fuss about it, that won’t help anyone and is extremely disrespectful.  Find a way to inform your customers of the original cost of the bill, or consult with the floor manager with the best way to deal with this kind of situation.

Have Any Questions?

Unsure of what to do when paying with a gift card?  Feel free to ask a server (or manager).  They should be happy to tell you the correct way to pay.  If anything, feel free to ask by leaving a comment below.

The Waitress Confessions

Related Posts:

Remember to Tip Your Waitress: a Guide to a Better Dining Experience

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The Waitress Confessions
is a blog about life working as a waitress. My goal is to help servers find ways to improve their work ethic and customer service, while at the same time providing them with true stories that they can relate to and helpful tips that they can implement into their every day serving skills. Along with that I would love for people to know proper dining etiquette and realize that servers are regular, normal people - not servants.
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