Ask The Salty Waitress: How Should I Respond When People Throw Measly Change In My Tip Jar?

Dear Salty: I work at a neighborhood grill (hot dogs, burgers) where customers walk up and order at the counter. A lot of times, a customer will pay in cash and I'll hand back something like six cents in spare change. Most of the time, the customer will just drop the six cents into our tip jar. I feel really weird acknowledging this. If I say "thank you," it sounds facetious ("I'll put the six cents toward a fancy steak dinner tonight!"). But not saying anything also feels rude. How should I respond when a customer drops an inconsequential amount into our tip jar?

Thanks, Libby from Toronto


Dear Libby,

So they drop in that six cents... and an extra buck, right? No? Wait, is six cents Canadian equivalent to two American dollars? Still no? I'm not sure if tipping customs are different in Canada—never worked there myself—but here in the U.S. of A., I think it's still nice to tip a buck or two on a counter order like this if you have a few singles in your wallet. (Those tablet-ordering things make this even easier.) It's not required, of course, but an extra dollar times dozens of customers adds up.

But okay, what to do when Cheapy MacSparechange passes you that sweet six cents? I don't think social norms say you have to acknowledge it at all, honestly. I've noticed some counter-service staff don't react even to a dollar or two tip in their jar. I'm not sure if this is their way of saying "your tip doesn't change my level of service" or whether they're just oblivious. Kids these days! But since customers today seem not to expect any acknowledgment of a tip in the jar, you probably wouldn't offend anyone by staying silent.


Here's what I'd do if I was you, though: You could simply look up from the register or whatever you're doing, make eye contact, and give the spare-change-dropping Scrooge a smile and a sincere "have a nice day" or "have a good one." The customer could read it as acknowledgment of their tip, or just as you saying a nice thing to close the conversation/transaction. Either way, you're being polite, and they can interpret your comment however they want.

Salty addendum: A commenter pointed out that Canada got rid of the penny in 2013 and now rounds all cash transactions to the nearest 5 cents. So either Libby from Toronto isn't really from Toronto, Ontario, Canada—or, she's really from Toronto, Ohio. Anyway, advice still stands. Now get off my lawn, The Bachelorette is on.

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