Young and Hungry

Unless You Want to Look Like a Yahoo, Don’t Show Your Gift Certificate Until the Check Arrives

A friend of Young & Hungry's recently e-mailed to ask about gift-certificate etiquette: Do you present the certificates to your server at the end of the meal or right at the beginning? "I always feel that with the latter," writes my buddy, Lou, "that the staff goes 'Ugh, one of these types,' and you get fucked on everything."

My advice to Lou was to keep hold of that certificate until the bitter end: "It's like announcing, right from the start, 'I'm cheap, and I could never afford your place without this gift certificate,'" I wrote. But I also told Lou that I'd check with a couple of restaurateurs on the matter, and Ashok Bajaj and Ellen Kassoff-Gray both agree that there's no need to present a gift certificate when you first arrive.

A gift certificate is just another form of payment, they say, like cash or a credit card. The server does not have to perform some top-secret, three-key, nuclear-missile-code transaction at the register to accept your certificate. They just punch a different button. It's no big deal. So if you're worried that tipping off your waiter will affect your service, just keep the information to yourself.

The bigger question, of course, is this: Does bringing in a gift certificate automatically label you a Ruby Tuesday rube trying to dine beyond your class? The answer is a definite maybe. "Look," says Kassoff-Gray, GM and co-owner of Equinox. "everyone gets judged by a server, like it or not." A server, in other words, may look down on you for presenting a gift certificate if that particular waiter or waitress has had a bad experience with such diners in the past. A bad experience such as a customer, with a $50 gift certificate in hand, who tips only on the $75 he actually pays on his $125 dinner.

"There's a possibility that you could get some attitude [from a server]," Kassoff-Gray says. "Waiters have a memory like an elephant's."

But at good restaurants, where the staff is well-trained, such judgments shouldn't translate into sub-par service at the table, the GM says. "We don't give [gift certificates] a second thought," Kassoff-Gray says. "My first thought is, 'Mmm, [they have] good taste.'"

Bajaj, owner of a number of District restaurants including Rasika and The Oval Room, agrees with Kassoff-Gray. "Generally, it shouldn't matter," if you have a gift certificate, he says. "There should be no difference at all [in the service]."

Both Bajaj and Kassoff-Gray, however, emphasize that people who dine with gift certificates need to be aware of their responsibility, too. They must tip on the entire amount of the bill, not just the amount they pay. It's good for the server, and it's good for the next diner bearing a gift certificate. The diners who follow you, in other words, won't get any attitude because of your tight-fisted insensitivity.

Image by Flickr user joeltelling

  • Lou

    I actually just received an OpenTable dining reward, which they say on the certificate for the restaurant to cash it like a travellers check. I like that option more than the certificate idea.

  • Pingback: Restaurant Gift Certificate Etiquette : Easy Idiot - get better knowledge

  • Jessica

    A Ruby Tuesday rube? Not all of us can afford to dine at Ruby Tuesday. I gagged a bit when I read this. I am a school teacher and for Christmas, one of my students with wealthy parents gave me a $25 gift certificate to Ruby Tuesday as a gift. I was very touched because I feel lucky when I can go to such a place to eat. I barely make enough money to support my family, which is the reality this economy has placed upon many of us, but I have always had this problem because this county does not feel that teachers deserve to be paid any more than fast food workers. I will proudly eat at Ruby Tuesday, and I might even use a buy one free coupon, and a gift certificate, which I did, and still have to splurge and cut corners to pay the fifteen dollar check at the end, plus a six dollar tip. I remember waiting tables for years, before I decided to take out a student loan to finish school and become a teacher. I never judged anyone for something so simple as taking out a coupon or a gift certificate. I actually thought they might have more money left top tip me well at the end.

  • Tim Carman


    Thanks for your note. You do not sound like a Ruby Tuesday rube to me. I made up the flippant term not to describe people who like Ruby Tuesdays, but for those people who decide to enjoy a finer dining experience with a gift certificate and who either willfully stiff the waiters or don't understand the etiquette. You sound like a person who understands the nuances of the situation.

  • Tom

    Jessica, I feel sorry for you. Ruby Tuesdays is horrible, and you left a $6 tip after being a former server? No wonder American kids are below the global average in education. You spent $21 and had to cut corners? You obviously don't teach finance in your school. Better luck in your next lifetime. FYI if you have wealthy parents giving you a gift certificate to Ruby Tuesday's they do not like you very much.

  • Carrie the Red

    Tom: that's the kind of jerk comment that makes people think foodies are hopeless snots too busy schnarfing their sevruga to comprehend the real world's financial realities. Are you really attacking a school teacher for not making enough money? Why don't you go kick a dog or gut-punch a nun while you're at it?

    Besides, hating on Ruby Tuesday's is like shooting frozen fish in a grease-barrel. Did one of their line cooks do you wrong? Did you find a curly hair in your creamy shrimp pasta? Or are you just a PR plant from TGI Friday's?

  • Pingback: Taste T.O. - Food & Drink In Toronto » Food For Thought - Tuesday, March 3rd

  • Pingback: This Week’s Most Popular Posts on Young & Hungry - Young & Hungry - Washington City Paper

  • Steltenpohl

    I found your website in Google few moments ago, and luckily, this is it I was looking for the last weeks, thanks

  • Keitsock


    just wanted,would like to say hi. built,created,posted a new site. let me know what you think.


  • Derosby

    Good info. They must be something value. Thanks

  • Money

    Nice post. Totally agree with them.

  • Poehlman

    Great post. Totally agree with you.

  • Sos

    Really awesome article. I bookmarked it. Great work! Thanks :)

  • Woodly

    Good job. Keep sharing

  • Successful

    thank you verry


  • http://vwbq Police

    Perfect thought!

  • Glatter

    This is a great post! keep the good job and if is possible write more posts about this.

  • Haushalter

    Hey Dear,
    It’s like full moon in the dark night. much appreciated effort.

  • Geach

    Great Blog, where did you get the cool design? I will keep visit

  • Lozada

    Hallo Top KlasseBeitragweiter sobest regards

  • M Martinez Martinez

    Im obliged for the article.Thanks Again. Fantastic.

  • Jane Polask

    Thanks for sharing such a useful post. I'm definitely going to share this back in town to my buddies. I've been looking for something like this for days!

  • Kamala

    It really is a lovely blog, I will start to follow. Greetings!

  • Pingback: Google

  • Pingback: zakład szklarski piotrków trybunalski