Eustace Woonie – Cafe Change Plates

This month’s letter comes from Eustace Woonie of Melbourne, Australia. Eustace writes:

Dear Derwood,

As a shy introverted type, I do not venture outdoors much unless very hungry or if my house is on fire but on a rare journey into town something odd happened. I went to a cafe, which I have done in the past and have seen others do many times in movies, and was puzzled by a strange occurrence. You see, upon paying for my trout dinner, the cashier proceeded to calculate my change but instead of placing the coins directly into my outstretched hand, he placed them on a little white plate and slid it in my direction. Being unfamiliar with this custom, I did the only thing that made any sense; I took the plate and ate the money. I was then scolded for my actions and made to look a fool! A fool! Trout!? More like tr-outlandish! Oh man, if only I had said that at the time. Anyway, while happy to have retained the coins, I can tell you retrieving them was a painful and stinky experience I do not wish to repeat. Can you explain what in heck happened?



Dear Eustace,

Ah yes, the old Platey McChange scam. In any other field it is called “extortion” but in the world of cafes, it is called “good”. For those unaware, a change plate is designed such that when given change customers feel obliged to leave any coins behind as gratuity regardless of service quality or personal choice.

I too was confused the first time I witnessed this and could not believe my eyes or indeed any part of my face. When pressed, the restaurateur proffered the explanation “It is what they are doing in Europe.” Now do not get me wrong – Europe is a wonderful place. Think of all the amazing marvels they have given us over the years such as waffles, handlebar moustaches and Andre The Giant! But look at other accomplishments such as World War II or plague and you quickly realize that just because something happens in Europe does not necessarily mean it should be imitated elsewhere.

Keep in mind that in some places tipping is normal as it helps subsidize low wages and encourages good service. In America, for example, tipping is customary, much like shooting someone or being obese. But I notice you write from an Australian address; a country in which tipping is appreciated but by no means expected. As such, the decision to tip should be yours alone and you should not be made to feel shame should you choose not to.

So, how to act in this situation? In my opinion if an establishment attempts to extort tips, never resort to eating the money but do make a point of taking all of your coins regardless of how cumbersome. Also take the plate if possible. If the plate is being closely watched, try putting some cutlery in your pockets or perhaps a salt shaker. If you feel bad doing this, remember theft is another European tradition, as is being a jerk, so your actions are equally as justifiable as the cafe’s.

Keep smiling,