Should You Return a Mistaken Tip? Probably.


I’m not sure how to react to this story.  A waitress at an IHOP in Virginia was fired when a customer mistakenly (he said) gave her a $200 tip and she refused to return it when asked by her management several days later.  You can read the whole story here.  Note that it appears that after the story broke the restaurant agreed to give her the job back.

In the story the credit card receipt clearly shows a $200 tip.  If it had just said 200, or $200, I could have believed that the customer forgot the decimal point.  The receipt, however, says $200.00.  The receipt is not totaled, but still I think the intent to leave a $200 tip is pretty clear.  I suspect the gentleman got home and his wife west ballistic after finding out about the tip.  At that point I suspect the customer called the store and said he meant to leave a $2.00 tip.

On the customer’s side, whether it was a mistake or not, I think he should have just left the tip as it was.  If he had realized the mistake immediately, or perhaps soon after he left the restaurant, that would be one thing.  If the waitress had already taken the tip home and perhaps paid for a bill or bought something with the money, that’s another story.  Keep in mind that it was only $200.  A lot of money, but probably not a life’s savings.  Perhaps the customer could have eaten at home for the next week or couple of months to make up for the big tip.

Perhaps it would also make up for some poor tips he’d left in the past.  A $2.00 tip on a $25 bill is pretty skimpy.  If the service was adequate he should have left at least $3.50 or $4.00.

The question then becomes, should the waitress have agreed to return the tip when asked?  I would say yes, probably.  If the tip was genuinely a mistake, or giving the tip actually produced some sort of hardship for the customer, the right thing to do would probably to have given the tip back.  Note that doing so would probably have caused the waitress’ tips to increase when word got out about her being so obliging.

Then again, I could be swayed the other way.  It wouldn’t be workable if everyone could come back and ask for a tip back days after it was given.  I also don’t think the waitress is morally obligated to give it back since I think it was given freely.

So what do you think?  Should she return the tip?  Should she do so, but should IHOP give her a spot bonus for doing so?  Do you give $2.00 tips on $25 purchases?  What do you think is a proper tip?

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Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning advice, it gives information on a specific investment strategy and picking stocks. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.


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