“Do you need change?” can be one of the most annoying things a waiter can say to a restaurant guest. It also can potentially result in a lower tip. I want to explain the reasons for this, but first I’d like to say a few things to readers who are waiters.
I really care about waiters. It is one of the toughest jobs a person can do. I have worked in the restaurant business and I know how exhausting it is and how hard it can be to deal with some customers. I really appreciate it when I go out to dinner and a great waiter, who is probably already exhausted, makes the evening great with their wonderful service and professional warmth.
So, something I want to do here on CulinaryLore is to offer well-meaning advice to waiters from the perspective of a customer. Not to tell them how they can do it better, but simply to let them know the kinds of things that annoy customers, either a little or a lot, and so might cause a low, or nonexistent tip. Waiters, I want you to make big tips! On that note, I think every time I write one of these I’ll call it waiter tip like this one. Not because I want to give waiters tips, but because I want them to get tips. I know, so clever you almost fell over.
I’ve already started by writing a post about ten things that might reduce a server’s tip. One of the things I mentioned is about change. In fact, you may have come to this article by clicking on the link in the other article.
Why You Shouldn’t Ask “Do You Need Change?”
Now, of course, wanting a customer to tip makes it hard not to drop “hints” to customers about tips. Call it a helpful reminder. One of the most time-honored ways of doing this is when a customer pays cash to ask them if they need change: “Do you need change?” or “Would you like change?”
This is reported by most customers to be highly annoying, and it may cause them to give a lower tip. The annoyance, perhaps, is not caused by what you think it is. They know that, in reality, they are being asked whether they would like to tip the waiter with the change. But this is not what annoys them. What annoys them is that they are being put on the spot. The customer wants to decide how much to tip, whether it be a “standard” tip, or a higher or lower tip.
Let’s say that the bill is around $35.00 and the customer hands you, the waiter, a 50 dollar bill. When you ask, “Would you like any change?” you are asking the customer, “Do you plan to tip me 15 dollars? The customer is put under pressure to decide, then and there, if that is an appropriate tip or not. That is, actually, a high tip by most people’s standards. But even if the change would have been lower and constitute a more appropriate tip, not everybody has done the math and they don’t want to feel pressured. They might feel like you are trying to ‘trick’ them into tipping more than they want. Even though you are probably not trying to trick them, it will likely backfire and cause them to not only say, yes, I want change and then to take that change home with them.
Also, think for a moment. What if the customer planned to leave more cash than the change left over would be? You just may have taken that off the table for whatever reason. Let’s say I planned to tip you 10 dollars. My change is 5 dollars and you ask me if I want the change. Let’s say all I have left is a 10 dollar bill. If I say, no, keep the change, I don’t have another fiver to leave so that your tip comes to 10 dollars, do I? I would have to go to the discomfort of asking you to change the 10 for me so that I could leave 5.
There is one other thing to consider. Some employers consider asking or approaching a customer about a tip to be grounds for dismissal. No matter how you wish to spin it, asking a customer if they wish to receive their change is “approaching them about a tip.” If the customer happened to be a real ass and was pedantic enough, he or she might approach the manager and accuse you of asking for a tip. Depending on the procedures and/or the manager’s opinion, you could be at risk of losing your job.
What to Say Instead
Don’t even ask! Just say “I’ll be right back with your change” and leave it at that. Your job is to control the customer’s experience while expediting it (or, getting them to hang out and order lots of drinks, if you work in a bar/restaurant), but it is not to control their money.
See also 7 Dumb Things that Restaurants Do.