The 1 Thing You Should Always Do After Signing A Restaurant Receipt

Too many people make this mistake, which can really hurt servers — and your bank account.
Taking home the only signed receipt is a big problem for restaurants and bars, but signing a customer copy over a merchant copy is likely not going to matter.
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Taking home the only signed receipt is a big problem for restaurants and bars, but signing a customer copy over a merchant copy is likely not going to matter.

If you have ever dined out, you know the drill. After your delicious drink or meal, you’re likely going to get two receipts of your bill from your server: a merchant and a customer copy.

Sometimes, a merchant copy will be the only receipt with a line for a signature, but often there is no distinct difference in the agreements between the two versions.

So what happens if you accidentally sign the customer copy instead of the restaurant copy? Restaurant workers and fraud experts weighed in.

Signing the customer copy over the merchant copy likely is not going to matter.

Alicia Perry, a San Diego-based beverage director, said it can depend on the exact policies of the restaurant or establishment, from what she’s experienced in the industry.

“It’s not something that we traditionally worry about or are concerned about, just as long as there’s a signed copy,” she said. “So that way, we can ensure that whoever chooses or hopes to dispute it, that they’ve essentially signed whatever they have marked on that side of the receipt.”

Gabriella Zottola, a Waltham, Massachusetts-based restaurant manager, agreed and said that leaving behind a signed customer copy is not a big deal. “As long as the tip is clearly written on it, we’re good!” she said. Zottola noted that if a customer copy is left behind, her practice is to “toss them.”

Perry echoed this sentiment, saying, “If the guest isn’t there, then we just throw [the customer copy] away to make sure that it’s not tampered with.”

As technology makes paper receipts increasingly obsolete, consider that this is less of an issue nowadays.

Perry said that whether or not you sign the merchant copy is “largely a moot point because of digital payments like Toast; however, it’s totally fine to sign the customer copy. Nothing will happen.”

The one thing you should check? Whether you’re accidentally taking home the only signed receipt.

Bill Whitlow, a Covington, Kentucky-based restaurant operator, said that a bigger issue is when a customer signs the merchant copy and then accidentally takes it home, so that all that is left behind is a blank customer copy. The restaurants are then left to figure out what the tip was meant to be.

In these scenarios, what happens next depends on the restaurant’s policy. Whitlow said in the restaurants he was raised in, staffers would work off of the indentation of the tip left behind if it was clearly visible.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time the copies are on top of each other. So you could clearly see the [indentation] of what they wrote on the other stack. And you’d go with that,” he said.

But in some cases, restaurant staffers can be left with no tip at all if it’s not written down on a receipt. Whitlow recalled that when he worked at a restaurant in Miami’s South Beach, if the customer “had taken the wrong copy, I wasn’t going to get tipped on [a] South Beach $200-$300 check ... I definitely ran a few people down.”

For Perry, the signature is key. She said that if a patron fills out a tip for a guest copy of the receipt, but then doesn’t sign it, it can leave some staffers in restaurants out of a tip.

In some places she’s worked at, “I wouldn’t be able to enter that information,” she said. “I can’t really process a tip. Of course, I can process payment.”

If you want to be a smart consumer, keep your customer copy.

Even though it may not matter for getting charged, you should still take home customer copies of receipts.

Amy Nofziger, director of victim support at AARP Fraud Watch Network, said that in general, for any clothing, grocery store or restaurant purchase, it’s a good practice to keep your receipts until the charge processes on your credit card. That way, you can validate “that what you think you were charged is what was actually charged to your credit card. And then once you see that it is matching up, then you can dispose of that receipt,” she said.

Nofziger recalled how having the customer copy of a bill has helped her dispute an incorrect tip amount. Without the customer copy, you can dispute the incorrect charge, “but again, having that copy, I think is just more proof,” she said.

Nofziger also recommends knowing your last few credit card numbers, so that you can quickly notice if information is not lining up.

“We need to get into the habit of looking to see where our personal information is,” she said. “If you do look at a receipt, there usually will be the last four digits of your credit card number and then everything else is etched out.”

Whitlow said that if you do see a discrepancy, you should try calling the restaurant first to get it fixed, because it can be costly for restaurants.

“If you see something wrong on your credit card statement ... it’s probably just a legitimate mistake,” he advised. “We’ve had a problem where like someone would say had a $100 check, and they put a $25 tip, and somebody accidentally put that as a $35 tip.”

“And instead of calling the restaurant to have it fixed ... they dispute it,” he continued.

Whitlow said that this can result in having the bank charge back the entire amount, along with a fee, instead of just the tip amount. “The restaurant loses the tip that they already gave the server, the whole check, and also has to pay us like a $35 fee for a chargeback,” he said.

And if you want to be a good customer, check your math, restaurant workers advised.

Whitlow said that it’s a common mistake for the tip amount to not match up with the total amount. In these cases, he’s been taught to go with what’s on the tip line, because, “People will write what they want, you can’t always expect them to do proper math.”

Zottola agreed and said in these scenarios, “We end up doing the math for them and still putting in the correct total from the tip they write.”

But Perry said that it can sometimes be a “null and void situation” when the tip amount does not line up with the final amount, “because we can’t assume that the individual is wanting to pay one or the other, especially if they don’t add up.”

In other words, what you do and don’t write and sign at the bottom of receipts really does matter. That extra diligence of writing legibly and double-checking your math may take you a few more minutes, but it can save you ― and restaurant staffers ― great peace of mind.

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