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Waffle House almost denies waitress big tip

RALEIGH, N.C. (Kim Peterson/MoneyWatch) -- A waitress working at a Waffle House restaurant in North Carolina was forced to return a $1,000 tip from the customer last month because the company frowns on large tips paid by credit card. She did get the money later, however, when the customer wrote her a check.

The issue has stirred up vigorous debate online over whether Waffle House treats its employees badly by not allowing big credit card tips. The company defends its policy, saying on its Facebook page that it wants to avoid problems if the customer decided to later dispute the card charge and ask for a refund.

It all started when Shaina Brown was working the late shift at Waffle House at 3 a.m. on Mother's Day. A diner called Brown over and said, "I'm going to bless you tonight," according to The News & Observer.

Then the benefactor paid his bill and added $1,500 to the tip line -- $1,000 for Brown and $500 that he asked her to give to a woman at a nearby table. Before he left in a taxi, he reportedly told Brown that she had "a good spirit."

Brown, a single mother of three, was thrilled -- until the company said they were sending back the money. News & Observer columnist Josh Shaffer confirmed the events with all three parties -- the waitress, the diner and the company.

A Waffle House spokeswoman told Shaffer that the company makes a practice of refunding large tips to diners, and asks them instead to pay with cash or a check. The policy is in place in case the customer decides to dispute the tip later or ask for a refund.

It's not inconceivable that a customer throwing thousands of dollars at Waffle House at 3 a.m. might wake up later that day and regret what he had done. Seems like Waffle House has been put in this situation one too many times.

And though Brown eventually got the money -- the customer dropped off a check for her later -- the event ricocheted across the Internet this week as people debated the merits of the Waffle House policy.

Shaffer said the rule unfairly denies workers a benefit. "You don't put up roadblocks to charity," he wrote. "You don't make it hard for people to be nice, or they'll give up trying. And more than anything, you don't dump on your own people as a matter of policy."

People also lashed out against the restaurant chain on its Facebook page. "Your employees work too hard to be treated like this," wrote one Facebook user. Another one said that "It's absolutely none of your business if someone wants to help make a person's life better." Others said they would not eat at a Waffle House again.

But others online defended the restaurant. "Waffle House's policy is very responsible and avoids potential lawsuits from the gift-givers or their families," wrote one commenter on NewsObserver.com. "Imagine if your grandfather with Alzheimer's tipped a waitress a thousand dollars or ten thousand dollars and the waitress and Waffle House refused to return it."

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