I recently went to the US and was a little bit confused about the tipping procedure sometimes. I found many resources on how much to tip, but now how exactly it goes down. To my understanding, tipping in cash is preferred in most places, so that is what I tried to do. The problem is, that I used the credit card more often than cash, so I did not have enough change/small bills to pay an adequate tip. Let's see how I usually payed:

  1. Receive check
  2. Give credit card
  3. Receive receipt
  4. Leave tip in cash
  5. Leave restaurant

What do I do if I do not have the right amount of cash to tip at step 4? Assuming I want to tip $10, is it okay to give a $20 and ask for $10 back? If I have no cash left, when do I say how much I want to tip? Is it acceptable to leave the tip at the table and leave?

  • @mxyzplk I don't think this is a duplicate, because I think the the primary focus of this question is about leaving a tip when you don't have the correct change, which that other question doesn't mention. I do however think this question is too broad and should perhaps be two questions: one on not having correct change, and the other about tipping procedure (which would then be a duplicate).
    – JBentley
    Sep 8, 2017 at 14:27
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    I guess part of my question is indeed duplicate. I didn't find the linked thread before, somehow. Sorry!
    – Ian
    Sep 8, 2017 at 14:30
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    Remember that tipping in cash is usually a method for employees to evade taxes, which may raise an ethical dilemma. Very few restaurants will engage in skimming or when paying via credit card, and places that expect tips to be pooled will ask the same of cash tips (some paid out to bussers, servers, bartenders, etc.)
    – Brian R
    Sep 8, 2017 at 15:03
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    Tipping on a card is fine, I never carry cash with me. I wouldn't make any extra effort to try and tip in cash, do whatever is convenient for you.
    – Andy
    Sep 8, 2017 at 17:24
  • @JBentley The question doesn't cover cash tipping specifically but the answers do.
    – mxyzplk
    Sep 8, 2017 at 20:11

3 Answers 3


If you don't have exact change for the tip, you can do one of two things:

  1. Ask for change. Rather than saying "here's twenty, please give me ten," you can say "could you change this twenty into to two tens please" and then leave one of the tens.

  2. Just add the tip to your credit card receipt. While cash may be preferred, I would estimate that over 99% of people paying with a card also leave the tip on the card. Leaving a separate cash tip is hardly necessary.

As to when you say how much you want to tip, the credit card receipt has a line on which you can add a tip amount and then enter the total before you sign it. Paying by card is usually a 2-step process. After you give your card, you get two receipts, then you sign one (usually adding a tip amount and calculating the resulting total) and return it to the server, who completes the transaction.

  • 2
    @Ian , the main reason for the two steps are that you can tip without the server seeing your tip before you leave, but at the same time making sure you paid at least the bill itself
    – Aganju
    Sep 8, 2017 at 13:21
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    @JBentley yes, it's fairly universal. There is a small but growing trend for expensive restaurants to have a no-tipping policy; in those restaurants, the line is generally absent, for obvious reasons.
    – phoog
    Sep 8, 2017 at 14:32
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    @JBentley , in the US, credit cards have no PINs for normal payments (only for Cash Advances)
    – Aganju
    Sep 8, 2017 at 17:20
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    @MichaelRichardson in the US, if you pay with a PIN, then the card is being processed as a debit card rather than as a credit card.
    – phoog
    Sep 8, 2017 at 18:48
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    +1, I would say that the second method is much much more common than the first method mentioned. It is also much easier. I have worked in the food industry myself and I frequent restaurants with family and friends at least once a week. I have never seen anyone pay with a card and then tip in cash in the US. Sep 8, 2017 at 20:34

What do I do if I do not have the right amount of cash to tip at step 4?

Tipping a credit card is perfectly acceptable. And actually, tipping on the CC is better for the merchant and back of the house staff since it makes tip sharing easier.

Assuming I want to tip $10, is it okay to give a $20 and ask for $10 back?

Yes, absolutely.

If I have no cash left, when do I say how much I want to tip?

You rarely have to say how much, you just add it on the credit card receipt. If the merchant's card processor is not configured for tips then either:

A: They legitimately don't expect a tip so don't feel you need to leave one.

B: They will ask if you want to put the tip on the credit card.

Is it acceptable to leave the tip at the table and leave?

Yes, but you should not be careless enough to let it get stolen. In most places this isn't an issue, but, if you can leave the cash in the book or hand it to the server directly, that better.

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    I would also add that just because a merchant's system accepts or asks for a tip doesn't mean that you need to! I've seen plenty of fast food style locations that allow you to tip for ordering at the counter, which is not a service you usually tip in the US.
    – David K
    Sep 8, 2017 at 13:34
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    Rather than giving $20 and asking for $10 back, you'd be better off asking for "change" for your $20; they may ask you what denominations you want back (e.g. 10 and two 5's). Once you've gotten your change, you can then discreetly leave the tip.
    – Doktor J
    Sep 8, 2017 at 14:42
  • Generally speaking in the places I've traveled (East Coast and midwest), tip theft is a pretty minor issue. The only time I've ever handed a tip directly to the server or manager was when a very large crowd of us (20-100) stayed very late at a restaurant (by prior arrangement), and left a very healthy group tip. And ditto on not asking for change for the tip itself. When the server comes back for the card-folio hand her the $20 and ask for your desired change. He'll know what it's for and won't be offended since she knows a tip is coming.
    – FreeMan
    Sep 8, 2017 at 20:43
  • While CC tips are better for the house staff, it's not as good for the waitperson. If you tip cash they can hide some of it instead of sharing it, and avoid declaring some on their taxes.
    – Barmar
    Sep 8, 2017 at 22:00

US citizen here, and I for the most part haven't carried cash for almost 20 years. I've never thought twice about credit-card tipping.

It does seem likely that a server would prefer cash for various reasons, not least of which is that they'd likely get to take home their money sooner. But its not something to obsess about.

If it really worries you, increase the tip by a few % to make up for it. 20 years ago or so cab drivers used to be the worst about not liking credit card payments (I was told repeatedly due to the card company getting a % of their money). If I more than made up for that in the tip, I found them very appreciative.

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