I recently dined in a full-service restaurant where you walk up to the counter to pay your tab. On the day in question, the credit card machine was allegedly out of whack, so instead of giving me a receipt with a line for adding in a tip, the cashier asked me point blank how much tip I would like to add and then rang it up as part of the bill.
This kind of face-to-face ask always makes me a little queasy. It's the reason I request that charitable solicitors just "put something in the mail to me, please." It's the reason I wad the dollar bills into an innumerable sweaty ball and hand them to the valet parker rather than count them out. It's the reason I don't give gift certificates. Like the Queen, I'd prefer not to handle money. I feel it muddies a relationship--or at least puts a dollar figure on it. So I appreciate the separation of the gratuity-giving process that the credit card receipt affords.
It's not that I'm going to stiff someone on the tip. I'm generally a 20-percenter. And since that math is easy, I was able to quickly answer the cashier's question without looking like I was trying to sum up the server's value. But if I didn't have a 20-percent guideline to fall back on, that could have been an awkward transaction, with the cashier as the very visible middle man between me and my server. For example, if I'd been waffling between 10 and 20 percent I'm pretty sure I would have given at the higher end of the range.
Which makes me wonder if that credit card machine was actually on the blink or if that cashier was just one step ahead.