“I generally have a lot of faith in the service industry and I hope this guy is a lone wolf”

street math

“Dear PoPville,

I am writing about a personal experience that occurred two weeks ago when I was dining with friends at a restaurant.

I was at dinner with three other people, but because only two people drank alcohol we wanted to review the bill closer to figure out the best way to split the meal. When we reviewed the bill, we noticed three items had been added increasing the total by about $25. We called the waiter over, but before we were able to explain which items were accidentally added our waiter said, “so sorry”, grabbed the bill, and walked away. At that point, it became clear he added the items hoping we would not notice (because he didn’t even wait for us to explain what our question was about the bill before he walked away). We split the bill and decided that since our waiter had tried to inflate his tip we were only tipping 10% each.

A few days later, I got an email from my credit card company with the subject line: “generous tip alert” (thank you Capital One!). The email showed that I had tipped almost 40%.

I was shocked. I forwarded the email to the other people who then reviewed their card statements; the charges were also higher than it should have been on their statements as well. One person from our group went to the restaurant on our behalf. The manager found the receipts from our meal and upon seeing them saw that it was obvious the waiter had added the number 2 in front our original tip, taking the tip from $8 dollars to $28, and re-wrote over the total. The restaurant was VERY apologetic and refunded the entire meal, no questions asked!

I never would have thought someone would try to do this, and I am hoping this waiter was fired since he committed fraud, but it does not prevent his from getting a job elsewhere. I generally have a lot of faith in the service industry and I hope this guy is a lone wolf, but I have no idea if this is a “thing” or not. While we caught both of his attempts to screw us over, I could easily see things like this going undetected. First, had we not consumed an uneven amount of booze we would not have reviewed the bill as closely; second, none of my other friends credit cards alerted them to the large tip; and lastly, if the waiter had added the number 1 instead of the number 2 ($10 dollars instead of $20), my credit card would never have caught it and honestly at the end of the month I might not have either.”

90 Comment

  • Which restaurant was this?

  • Well, first of all, the first bill error could have well been a mistake, so you shouldn’t have stiffed him on the tip. However, forging the amount is totally unacceptable. It happened to me years ago at a restaurant in DC that’s still around, and I had to go back. They definitely didn’t refund my whole meal though, just the tip, so kudos to the restaurant you went to.

    • Considering the waiter’s actions after, my guess is it wasn’t a mistake.

    • What they are getting at is the wait staff would usually have a conversation with you about which items do not belong on the bill. as they are unaware as to what has been added or is incorrect. They want your side of it. This waiter never asked because he knew already.

      • Yeah, I get that line of thinking, but maybe the waiter remembered oh, yeah, I DID put that stuff from table 2 on table 4’s check earlier by accident….they had corrected me so i know. I would give him the benefit of the doubt on that, everything else being equal, and wouldn’t have stifffed him on the tip.

        • given that the waiter tried to scam them on the tips it’s hard to believe he added the extra items by mistake.

        • Yes, but they didn’t know about the tip scam at the time they undertipped. At that time, I also would have given him the benefit of the doubt. I often get wrong checks (the check for a different table) by mistake, and it is also usually quickly whisked away with no explanation. And sometimes there has been an order from a different table on my check, also very quickly whisked away and fixed. I don’t condone the tip scamming by any means, but at the point of the wrong/mistaken check, I would tipped my normal 20%.

          • Given what already had transpired, not sure the waiter deserved the benefit of the doubt.

          • To add, regardless of whether the added items was a mistake or intentional, I get really irked when people try to screw me. I’d probably have called the cops. OP, was that a consideration?

        • Communication and transparency are essential for good faith to exist. As the story is told, the waiter did neither. I would have done the same on the tip for the same reason.

      • Tom

        A+ handle! “Max Power; I got it from a hair dryer…”

    • Waitress here! I definitely agree that the first thing could have been a mistake (sometimes it happens), but with that combined with the changing of the tip amounts – and to an outrageously high amount – it implies to me that this fellow is dishonest and it makes me question whether or not the extra items were a mistake to begin with. We’ve all been stiffed on the tip here or there, but I have NEVER changed the amount on a receipt no matter how frustrating it was – that’s theft and fraud. I certainly hope he was fired, because people like this make all of look bad.

      • +1 to “I definitely agree that the first thing could have been a mistake [. . .], but with that combined with the changing of the tip amounts – and to an outrageously high amount – it implies to me that this fellow is dishonest and it makes me question whether or not the extra items were a mistake to begin with.”

  • My husband and I have worked in the DC restaurant industry for 15+ years. I can say this kind of fraud is definitely not a ‘thing’ but it does happen unfortunately. Luckily, most managers notice this kind of thing sooner rather then later. Either from customers noticing and complaining or from seeing something funny in the numbers (like, wow Johnny is kind of jerk but he seems to get a lot of 40% tips) or from coworkers turning them in (servers work for tips, they don’t want someone else ruining it for them). Also, if it makes you feel better the DC restaurant scene is pretty small and close knit and this guy is on his way to getting a reputation. Most bar and restaurant managers know the guys who are bad drunks, lazy, or regular no-call-no-shows. No manager will want to hire a known thief.

  • I’d really like to hear which restaurant as there’s likely been other recent customers who might have been fleeced and they should have the opportunity to be aware of this risk and to check their recent bills. (I don’t know how many banks send out high tip alerts like that.) By protecting the restaurant with this post, you may be allowing even more victims to be hurt.

    • The last time someone mentioned a restaurant in a question post though, everyone yelled at them for mentioning the restaurant’s name. It has nothing to do with the restaurant and everything to do with the server (I wouldn’t want to see harm come upon the establishment especially if they already fired the guy).

      • It does so have something to do with the restaurant – they hired him, he worked there. It wouldn’t harm the restaurant, it would just remind people who read this post to check their bill there carefully. No one is saying the restaurant itself is at fault – indeed, the restaurant comped the meal in the end.

        • If, as you say, the restaurant isn’t at fault, why does it have anything to do with the restaurant? Put me down as an emphatic “NO” on naming where this happened. It adds absolutely nothing to the conversation, and there’s too large a chance of them getting needlessly bad publicity as a result even though they did nothing wrong.

        • You don’t need to know the name of the restaurant or even have read this story to check your bank statements closely. In these modern times you can check bank statements online or on a mobile device whenever you like, making it easy to back check what is happening to your money.

          • Yep. I dine out a lot, and always keep my receipts and compare to the credit card statement later. It’s a good practice.

  • Yep, it’s a thing. Always take your copy of the credit card slip with you. Sometimes they’ll use the blank one you left behind to write out a new one to submit.
    And then check your copy against your statement, in case they alter the one you signed.

    • Take the blank one. I always just toss mine, but always take it- it makes them think you might, maybe, check it…even though truthfully I do not.

      If you leave it you don’t have a “copy”

  • Former service industry worker here. I go out to dinner probably 3-4 times a week and I always take my copy of the receipt and always verify the total later in the week. Seeing all the shit people pulled first hand has made me very paranoid.

  • I always wondered why the rest of the world brings the credit card machine to you at the table to enter your total and tip, while we in America stick to the old “let a stranger walk away with your card and enter the tip themselves later” schtick. Its a lot safer when you enter the particulars yourself!

  • You still needed to give him 15% if service was adequate. If you suspected he added items for a $5 bump in tip, you should have taken it up with management. I’m not condoning any of his actions, but extra items do find their way onto the wrong bill from time to time. Doesn’t mean you get to short him cause your table decided he did it on purpose. If you really thought he was trying to scam you on the original bill, management needs to be made aware. Same goes for bad service. If you only reflect it in the tip, the restaurant will never find out where the problem lies.

    • Extremely good points.

    • Extra items on the tab and no apology or explanation, regardless of intent = not good service

    • Most of the times there is an error on a bill, the waiter /ress stays with you to check it out doesn’t he/she ? At least to check if you aren’t lying yourself.
      This dude apparently grabbed the receipt without looking at it with OP. Sorry but that smells like scam all over. And in this case, the 10% tip was way too generous for a crook.

      This is going to be unpopular but tips are also positive/negative reinforcement. If the waiter did not willingly do anything wrong at the time, his poor tip should have told him that maybe he should pay more attention

    • “You still needed to give him 15% if service was adequate.”

      No, they didn’t. That’s sort of the beauty of the tipping system. You don’t have to give anyone a dime, if you don’t want to.

  • Of course it’s a “thing,” that’s why Capital One has a fraud alert set to detect it. This post would be much more helpful if you identified the restaurant.

  • The additional things on your bill could have been a mistake. Please don’t tip less because of it! 99% of the time, it’s human error, not looking to inflate the bill (and thus, tip).
    This is the 1% of the time you have a dishonest server. I have no doubt that he was fired-I’ve never worked ANYWHERE that would keep a server on staff that committed credit card fraud. Still though, the vast majority of servers are trustworthy, honest people just trying to make a living.
    And always, always, always take your second credit card slip.

    • You tip for service. Mistakes increasing the bill are included in that. Completely validated.

      • if it’s part of an overall bad experience. if service is otherwise good there’s no reason for a stiff penalty over a minor correctable error which included an apology. you had no way to reach a conclusion at the time of determining the tip that the server’s actions were intentional. mistakes happen, everyone should review the check before paying, and any place will drop errant charges.

        unfortunately with this type of credit card fraud there’s no way to discover it until after the fact, even when it pretty unequivocally constitutes fraud.

      • Oh come on! You don’t make mistakes at your job? I’m not condoning this servers behavior, but it’s ridiculous to decrease someone’s tip over a simple mistake, like the wrong item on a check, especially when it’s fixed immediately with an apology.
        People like you shouldn’t go out to eat.

        • that’s harsh. Tips are discretionary and once again, the waiter’s attitude did not really scream transparency either

        • When you make mistakes in your job, they’re noted in your evaluation. A tip is an evaluation. The error was noted in the evaluation. Patrons are entitled to their own rubrics, regardless of whether or not you agree with them.

    • Right, and it seems that the OP may have left a normal sized tip if the waiter had said “Oh, I’m sorry. Which item on there wasn’t correct?” And then proceeded to actually review it with the patrons. Seems that he was overbilling in the hopes of just increasing his 20% tip (not sure how else he would have siphoned off the $25 item, but perhaps there is some way.)

  • This has happened to me once before, but it was for a much smaller amount of money (like turning a $5 tip into $8), which is probably the right way to do things, especially if you’re going to skim from a lot of people who may not notice the extra couple bucks. Who looks at receipts? I guess I should start doing so more. This is why a lot of restaurants outside the U.S. bring you the credit card machine right to the table and let you leave the tip directly.

  • I double check the bills nowadays, and keep a copy, after additional items getting added 3 times (while dining at pretty well known DC restaurants) in the past 6 months. I do go back to them though.

    • I’ve noticed enough wrong checks that I routinely check each item on it the bill now before I pay.
      .
      I still haven’t checked my credit card statements, other than eyeballing that the charges seem likely for me to have spent at that establishment. Though I have occasionally wondered if someone added a 1 to a small bill’s tip, I haven’t gone out of my way to find the receipt to check for a $10 overcharge – I was probably mistaken anyway.

  • this exactly the same but we a tip upcharge experience at Eatonville. we tipped in cash and then paid the bill on credit card. the waiter wrote in a $40 tip for himself after we had already tipped him 20% in cash. Eatonville fixed it but from then on I was very careful to always write “CASH” in the tip lineif I tip in cash.

    • that should say this is *not* exactly the same …

    • Interesting this happened at Eatonville, because I had something similar happen on a much smaller scale in its new incarnation as Mulebone. I still patronize the place because I like it, but I just make sure to check my receipts with this, and any DC, restaurant. Strangely, this has only happens to me in DC.

  • Reminds me of the time the bartender decided to tip himself $100+ on my two $5 drinks at Rock and Roll Hotel several years back. Most annoying part was the bar had to send a check (instead of just refunding my credit card).

    Also gives ligt to the whole idea of tipping being a joke. Get rid of it and just charge more for your meal and pay people a decent wage.

  • A few years ago my cousin told me to start adding the $ symbol in front of my tip and total amounts because it’s easy for someone to add an extra digit in front of the amount you wanted to leave. Doesn’t mean they can’t turn a 5 into an 8 but it does make it harder to turn a 5 into a 15 or 25.

  • Adding $45 worth of extra charges to your bill for an extra $8 buck tip would be extremely counterproductive on his part. My thoughts, he made a mistake, you stiffed him, he (wrongfully) escalated the situation.

    • I gotta say it: You can’t stiff a thief, con artist or fraud. This idea the tip is owed even if someone tries to con you is outrageous.

  • In the 3.5 years I’ve been serving in DC, I think I’ve had an item on a check that wasn’t delivered maybe 3 or 4 times. All of those times were when I was extremely busy and rang it in on the wrong table and ran it without noticing. For me, that was incredibly embarrassing and I was overly apologetic, not just grab the receipt and walk away for a redo sort of thing. Which is one red flag. Additionally, at the place I work, any tip over 30% has to be processed by a manager, we literally can’t close that ticket on our own with a tip that large. I’d be curious if this establishment was the same.

    • maybe it explains the “$28” rather than “$38”?

    • +1 on this – if I’m slammed, i’ve accidentally hit a button twice or hit something, pressed send and panicked, running back to the kitchen to tell the chef not to fire it. The manager has to take items off our POSI system, and if they’re busy, they tell me “no worries, i’ll get it in a bit” – you can see where there’s an obvious “oops.” I’ve delivered a check, had the “um, this isn’t right?” look from a patron and realized IMMEDIATELY that my manager didn’t take it off and I forgot to check. It happens. But I always explain and double/triple apologize.
      Stiffing a waiter a tip is just a dick move. At my restaurant, I make 2.30 an hour. If you tip 10%, you are a giant douchebag.
      Also – for those of you saying you’ve had people add tip, I’m sure it’s possible though I’ve never seen someone do it myself – but also, y’all’s handwriting is absolutely a nightmare sometimes (especially when you’ve been drinking.) If I can’t tell, I usually ask a manager. Also, y’all’s math is pretty crap, too. The number of times someone’s written a tip and the total doesn’t match up is more frequent than you’d like to think.
      Our system also requires a manager to authorize more than 30% tip.

  • Despite what he did in the end, I’m putt off by your passive aggressive low tip. Why not call the manager over if you really thought he was trying to bamboozle you?

    • Maybe the OP just wanted to get out of there and not have to deal with the hassle any further?
      .
      I’m a little surprised that the OP would tip substantially less than 15% for bad service. I can see going below 15% if the service was out-and-out terrible… but probably to around 13%, not 10%.
      .
      We really need to eliminate the practice of tipping and have the cost built into the cost of menu items.

      • You’ll see a huge dip in servers if you do that – I work at a moderately priced local joint and make well above min wage (close to what my day job pays me if you break my salary down hourly). Same thing for most of the people I work with – it simply would not be worth my time to have the job for that dramatic a reduction in pay.
        I generally trust in server karma – that 10 top that gave me 10% sucked, but the two top that left me a 50% tip for spending 10 minutes helping them plan a route through the city as tourists makes up for it.
        That said, I feel like there’s an astounding number of people who don’t know that servers don’t make min wage and feel like a tip is “extra” on top of it.

  • I wish, instead of a “big tip alert”, my credit card would just text me when I used the card at a restaurant (since the text would likely come before the waiter even got back with the check) and asked “what amount did you tip?” – then, just send me an alert if the amount that gets charged is different.
    .
    The other thing a LOT of restaurants have started to do lately to watch out for is that “suggested tip” table at the bottom of the receipt. Very handy if you’re bad at math and picking up the whole check, but if you’re splitting a check, often that table is based off the full amount, not the amount of your portion – i.e., total bill is $20, you split it two ways, and the tip table says 20% is $4 on your $10 half. No, 20% of the *full* bill is $4. 20% of half of that bill is $2! If you’re not watching, you can all end up absent-mindedly following the table and tipping on the full bill and not just on your portion!

    • A DC taxi screen recently recommended a 20% tip of $4.80 on a $15 fare. Of course the driver was all ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
      .
      I wouldn’t rely on any suggested tip amount. Everyone has a calculator on their phone, if they really can’t figure out 20%.

    • I never pay attention those suggested tips, as usually they are based on not just the food amount, but also the 10% DC tax – which I do NOT tip on, i calculate the tip based on the pre-tax amount.
      .
      I’ve also noticed DC restaurants charging different amounts of tax, which I find utterly confusing.

      • Yep. Suggesting a tip based on the post-tax amount in a place with a restaurant tax as high as D.C.’s is a bit sneaky.

        • I do agree that it’s sneaky, but I really don’t understand the aversion to tipping on the total. If you tip 20%, and you are in a jurisdiction where the restaurant tax is 10%, the difference on a $100 tab is . . . $2. If you are splurging, as in the previous thread, and have had a $500 dinner, the difference is $10. As Friday Girl said, move the decimal point, double, and round up – that’s the base tip. If you want to adjust for exceptional or below-par service, that’s your decision.

          Also, when you have table service, the minimum tip is $5. I hate eating breakfast with people who order a bowl of oatmeal and coffee, which after tax costs $12.13, leave $15, and are all proud that they left a 24% tip. COme on.

          • Can’t agree more with your first point. So many strong opinions on exactly how you should tip when the marginal difference amounts to pocket change either way. Some things for me just needn’t be made complicated.

          • Agreed that insisting on pre-tax tipping is petty.
            I’ve also heard that some people refuse to tip on the alcohol portion of the bill, because “the waiter didn’t have anything to do with it” which seems downright mean to me. Everywhere I ever worked, we tipped out the bar.
            I just tip on the total, tax and booze and all. Life’s too short.

          • I agree with wdc on this. If I’m sitting for a meal, I always tip on the full amount, and if I’m only getting drinks I’ll tip at least 20% for cocktails and at least $1 per beer/wine even if all they did was open a bottle/can or pour. I thought that was pretty standard. If you’re already out spending money why make things difficult?

          • It’s more the principle of the thing. You’re suppose to tip on the price of the food (or, if there are happy-hour specials, coupons, etc., then on what the full price of the items _would_ have been). The percentage of tax that the municipality chooses to charge has nothing to do with the quality of the service.
            .
            DCD, it may be your practice/belief that when you have table service the minimum tip is $5… but I’ve never heard this before in discussions of tipping etiquette, so I don’t think it’s a widely held belief or a common practice.
            .
            Personally, I think restaurants ought to roll a standard tip of 18% (or whatever they decide is appropriate) into the price and abolish the custom of tipping. Tipping is supposed to reward good service, but in reality it doesn’t necessarily accomplish this.

  • You can avoid this problem entirely by tipping in cash, which I think most servers prefer anyway. Tip in cash, write “CASH” on the tip line, then the total in the total line. And unless service has been extraordinarily terrible (in which case you should speak with management BEFORE you leave the establishment), always tip at least 15-20%. It’s just the right thing to do.

  • I use the pen to circle the total. It’s tough to erase or change.

  • As soon as my card is swiped I get an alert on my phone and thankfully amex shows tip amounts really quick. I also bring my own pen and make sure the total with tip is always even $ amount in case they try that scam.

  • A better option is to just request a charge-back on your credit card. I mean good for that guy going back and talking to the manager but not everyone has the time to do that. Also, sometimes these promised refunds don’t actually materialize. Just request the charge-back and let the business and the credit card company duke it out.

    Also, when was a %10 tip stiffing someone?

    • Most servers are required to share their tips with other front of the house staff – hosts/hostesses, bussers, and food runners. I haven’t waited tables in a few years, but at the last two places I worked, I was giving about 6% of my sales to these other staff members. While 10% certainly isn’t a complete “stiff”, the server in this case was getting less than half the tip they left. (Obviously, this server is sleazy but the general point still stands.)

      I think a lot of people don’t realize that the tip is not just for the server. If your server is terrible, but the hostess was great and your food came out perfectly, you should still leave a few bucks to cover these other staff. If you’re so inclined, you could ask the manager what the “tip out” is at the restaurant.

  • I don’t know how prevalent it is. But people have been trying to screw others out of money since money was invented. I once knew a girl who waited tables at a (long gone) college bar. She told me she would often just not return people’s change. Most people would get sick of waiting and just leave. But if they stayed (and she wasn’t able to avoid them), she would just say something like, “Oh I’m so sorry, I thought I gave you your change!” and then go get it. The funny thing is, she tried it with me the very next night!

    You’ll probably be shocked to learn she is a lawyer now.

  • Ally

    I had a bartender do this — to the tune of a $100+ error — to me a year or so back. I notified my credit card company who were very responsive. The restaurant less so. Several months later, huge bust at the same restaurant for credit card numbers getting stolen. So, yeah, there are some bad folks out there. Sorry this happened to the OP and hope it’s getting sorted out quickly. Don’t let it ruin your weekend.

  • I’m not condoning his wrongful tip adjustment, but to tip 10% just because the waiter made a mistake with the items on the bill is absolutely ridiculous and petty. Something like that is an easy fix, and this type of thing happens all the time in restaurants, so it’s unfair to assume that the server was trying to pull a fast one on you based on that alone.

  • I was taught (when I was a server) that when dining in a nice restaurant, you don’t tip on the alcohol. Why does everyone think 20% on the entire bill is appropriate? Now, it depends on the type of place. If you’re getting craft cocktails, then yep, tip on the booze. But if somoene is just pouring a glass of wine, then hell no, not 20% worth of effort.
    I still tip the whole amount though, out of shame and due to the ignorance of the rest of my fellow americans. 😉

    • The other thing is that the wage for restaurant workers is incredibly low – currently minimum wage is $2.77, with the new laws bringing it to $5 by next year, I think? I made more per hour babysitting. While the kids were sleeping and I watched TV. In the EIGHTIES. Perhaps a living wage would resolve a lot of these problems, though someone willing to commit fraud might do so anyway.

      • Servers are not allowed to make less than minimum wage after tips. That minimum amount is really the minimum amount a restaurant may pay if the server has enough tips to make at least minimum wage. This shouldn’t motivate you to pay more in tips; it should motivate the restaurant to run a better business and get as many people in as possible.

    • So, heads up on that – a percentage of server tips (at every place I have worked as a server) are taken out automatically and distributed to bar and bus, a larger percentage is taken out of my alcohol says to tip out the bartender. Not tipping on booze is really not ok and I have no idea why on earth someone within industry would teach you that unless they have a very specific set up for their bar program. The set up for pouring a glass of wine is this: keeping bar stocked, keeping carafes clean, pouring wine when put it, brought out and poured, repeat.
      If I’m opening a bottle of wine, that’s finding the bottle, bringing glasses, chilled wine case, opening, presenting, pouring, and continually pouring.
      Additionally, if my bringing you a drink and food is worth 20% tip – what is the difference between me bringing you a coke on which you’d tip 20% and my bringing you a glass of wine and not tipping me 20%?

  • I recently had a waiter do something similar. I was having dinner with 3 friends at a well-known restaurant on 14th street. We asked to split the check evenly. The total balance was something like $175 — ie under $180. Yet divided by four each of our checks was more than $45. I spotted the error bc it was an over/under thing ($45 *4 = $180). Taken together it was about $3 each and more than $10 total.

    When we pointed it out he acted surprised, apologized and fixed it. We tipped him normally bc he seemed sincere and bc we didnt know how the machine works. (Ie does he do the math himself which could lead to an honest mistake or did he pad it for some reason?) Anyway, as a result, i always double-check when I split the bill.

    • Tom

      LOL if this is the restaurant I’m thinking of, they’ve been in hot water for skimming card numbers before

  • Thank you for this post. I eat out a lot, with groups, some imbibers, some not, so this is good to know. I also plan to try to convince my bank to add a large tip alert to its offered services. Finally, I would report this to the police because this person is likely to have done this before and is likely to do it again in some other venue.

    The police may have been tracking scams like this.

  • Isn’t this a criminal act? Fraud and stealing.

  • TIPs: To Insure Proper/Prompt Service

    Start with 20% as baseline. The ultimate amount is a judgement call, subject to very own personal experience. But remember, in places like Washington DC, the servers make less than minimum wage per hour from the restaurant (generally).

    I always circle the total amount, and then I write it a second time at the top or bottom of the credit card sip, and circle again.

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