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Tipping via chip card makes a change toward the awkward

Sienna Kossman

Just as we’re getting used to dipping chip-equipped cards instead of swiping them, we may also need to get used to new tipping procedures.

Last Wednesday I went to a local coffee shop I’ve never been to before and had a rather different tipping experience. I ordered an iced coffee and scone and the young cashier told me my total was $5.09, so, as per usual these days, I got ready to dip my card into the terminal in front of me.

But then the cashier stopped me. “Hold up, you have to select what you want to tip first,” he said.

“Before I even put my card in?”
“Yep!”

Well that’s different. So before dipping my card, I followed the screen prompts:

“Do you want to tip?” the screen prompt asked. I clicked “Yes.”

“Enter tip amount with key pad.” I entered $1.

“You entered a $1 tip. Is that OK?” Again, I clicked “Yes.”

And then the screen showed my new total — $6.09 — and finally prompted me to insert my card for payment.

Overall, the process didn’t take very long, but it was different. I’m so used to seeing my total, swiping or dipping my card (depending on the retailer), and then scrawling a tip and signature on a paper receipt. Not only was this tipping process digital, but it seemed out of the normal order.

I asked the cashier about it and he just said their chip-ready payment terminal came that way. Apparently the payment process is the same even if you aren’t using a chip card.

This recent experience reminded me of some other EMV-related tipping news reported by Andy Goranson, president of Omaha-based processing and technology company U.S. Merchant Payment Services, in August.

Based on reports from some of his restaurant clients, Goranson said that in some cases, customers who pay with a chip card at a restaurant that has EMV-compliant payment terminals will have to note their server’s tip amount before a transaction is authorized.

“Once you insert that card into a terminal and complete the transaction, you cannot go back and adjust the tip, or add one once the card has been removed,” he first told Omaha.com.

After reading the Omaha.com report, I contacted Goranson and he reiterated his story, explaining how much of a disruption this change was creating at restaurants. If a server wanted to ensure a tip made its way onto the bill, he or she would have to ask for it before a chip card is dipped. As a former server, that process sounds horrifically awkward to me.

Imagine you’re enjoying a lunch out with friends, but the service has been so-so. Your server forgot drink refills, didn’t give you enough silverware and keeps calling you “sweetie” even though you’re old enough to be her mother or father.

You’re now mildly annoyed and ready to pay and leave, but things suddenly get worse. The server hands you the bill, you quickly give her a card but instead of taking your payment and leaving, she flat out asks how much you’d like to tip her.

Yeah, I’m cringing too. I was a server at a bar and grill while in college and in my experience, tip conversations tend to be uncomfortable even if the service went smoothly because it’s like discussing your salary with total strangers.

Now, I’ve used a chip card at sit-down restaurants since August and haven’t experienced a change in tipping processes similar to what Goranson described. However, details about how tipping may change as more restaurants adopt EMV payment technology are emerging.

Payment processing resource site CardFellow.com has this general guide, which explains that card type may affect how the chip card tipping process plays out. EMV Migration Forum also published this chip-card tipping information in late September as a guide for restaurants entering the EMV age. This document notes that tipping procedures do not need to change but may, depending how a restaurant chooses to adapt to the new payment card environment.

Besides the tipping process we’ve been following for years (also called “tip allowance”), merchants can choose to follow one of two other tipping procedures: “counter” and “table pay.” Table pay requires a server to bring a payment device directly to the cardholding customer, allowing them to pay and add a tip at the same time. The counter tip method, which seems to be what the café I visited last week has adopted, prompts customers to add a tip to their total bill before paying so the merchant can authorize the exact total, tip included.

It seems tipping processes in the new-to-us EMV payment environment may vary, but even small changes to the once standard tipping procedure are worth noting. I’m now looking into this particular segment of EMV-induced changes and will report my findings in an upcoming CreditCards.com story.

In the meantime, I’d encourage you to share any stories you may have of your EMV-related tipping experiences in the comments section. Have you too been walked through a new tipping process? Or, are you a restaurant owner who has adopted EMV payment technology and had to change tipping procedures? I’d love to hear about it!

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