Leaving Money on the Table

Mike Cashion, MFF Director of Operations

By: Mike Cashion, MFF Director of Operations


I really enjoy the experience of going out for coffee, or meeting people for coffee, drinks or food. It is something that I look forward to, and even during the pandemic, I have tried to continue to frequent local establishments because I don’t want them to go away.

Recently, after getting coffee and breakfast from one of my favorite cafes, I noticed that something was missing from my bill. When I brought this up to my server, they said, “You should have just gone with it and saved the money.” Then they said, “You know what, don’t worry about it.”


The wait staff is most likely looking at this with good intentions. In their mind, they may be thinking that they are doing you a favor, especially if you are a regular who comes in often and spends a fair amount of money over time. Another thought is they feel guilty for making a mistake and do not feel that you should carry the burden of the mistake because it was nothing that you did. 

These both seem like noble acts. However, I ordered the items knowing I was going to pay for them and tip the server for the great service. As a customer, I want to pay. I came for the great food, experience and people. No customer should give a server a hard time or make them feel guilty about paying for the product or service that they enjoyed. 


Because of the work I do with numerous organizations, I thought this might be an opportunity to shine a light on an opportunity for this server. This is particularly true during COVID, as I am sure that their earnings are down compared to pre-COVID times. My response was that “I like money, and I’m sure you do as well. By leaving that item off of the bill, you are basically forfeiting compensation to yourself because the tip will be lower. It may not be too noticeable on one transaction, but that kind of mistake over time will add up.”

Let’s do some quick math, assuming simple numbers:

  • The wait staff left off a $5 item from your bill
  • Assume you typically tip 20% of the bill
  • That equates to missing out on $1 of compensation (no big deal?)
  • If that person makes a small mistake like this once a day, that means $5 of missed compensation for the week
  • If you stretch this out over a year (52 weeks), that equals $260


After crunching the numbers on that example, you might think that is not a lot of money… To me, that is fairly substantial. It could be a plane ticket, hotel room, car payment, a fun night out with a loved one, a textbook, tuition payment, something nice for your kids, groceries or etc. The lesson here is less about the amount of money in the example. It is more so about bringing perspective and a heightened sense of awareness. Why are you leaving money on the table that should go into your pocket? There is nothing wrong with earning money and getting money that you deserve.

As a server or barista at a cafe, as a young adult or in your early 20’s, this may equate to relatively small numbers. If you think of the habits you are forming at that time and extrapolate it out over time into your later years of life, when you are earning more money, those numbers and habits can lead to leaving HUGE amounts of money on the table.


The server decides to make hospitality their long term career. Later on in life, they end up working in a high end, fine dining environment with high-priced meals and drinks. A missed item that costs more money means more overall lost compensation. Accidentally leaving a $40 steak or $100 bottle of wine off of the bill is going to equate to a much bigger dollar amount in terms of tips earned.

If later in life you find yourself running your own business(es), these habits could be even more costly. A real example of this was shared with me not too long ago. An experienced investor was investing in a real estate investment opportunity with a team that was new to this type of project. The team that was leading and managing the real estate investment forgot to build in a management fee that cost them tens of thousands of dollars over the life of the investment. 

Did they make some money? Sort of… The team managing the project technically made a very small margin. When factoring in the time they invested into the project, they basically were paying the project to do the project. This is a tough lesson to learn. Because they were embarrassed, they ended up concluding the project early instead of going back to the investors and renegotiating the deal to include a management fee. This is similar to the experience I had with my server the other day… “Don’t worry about it.”


None of us are perfect, and we all make mistakes or miss out on opportunities. Believe me, I make plenty of mistakes and have missed out on many opportunities because I was not paying attention. Since I have lived these experiences, I always try to bring them to light in a nice way so others look good and don’t miss out on earning opportunities or cool experiences that will propel them forward.


Want to sharpen your financial knowledge, skills and awareness? Start today with the MFF Standards of Financial Literacy Program. This is a free, online and self-paced program that will set you on the path to financial independence. Learn more, apply and get started TODAY!

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