A friend of Young & Hungry’s recently e-mailed to ask about gift-certificate etiquette: Do you present the certificates to your server at the end of the meal or right at the beginning? “I always feel that with the latter,” writes my buddy, Lou, “that the staff goes ‘Ugh, one of these types,’ and you get fucked on everything.”

My advice to Lou was to keep hold of that certificate until the bitter end: “It’s like announcing, right from the start, ‘I’m cheap, and I could never afford your place without this gift certificate,'” I wrote. But I also told Lou that I’d check with a couple of restaurateurs on the matter, and Ashok Bajaj and Ellen Kassoff-Gray both agree that there’s no need to present a gift certificate when you first arrive.

A gift certificate is just another form of payment, they say, like cash or a credit card. The server does not have to perform some top-secret, three-key, nuclear-missile-code transaction at the register to accept your certificate. They just punch a different button. It’s no big deal. So if you’re worried that tipping off your waiter will affect your service, just keep the information to yourself.

The bigger question, of course, is this: Does bringing in a gift certificate automatically label you a Ruby Tuesday rube trying to dine beyond your class? The answer is a definite maybe. “Look,” says Kassoff-Gray, GM and co-owner of Equinox. “everyone gets judged by a server, like it or not.” A server, in other words, may look down on you for presenting a gift certificate if that particular waiter or waitress has had a bad experience with such diners in the past. A bad experience such as a customer, with a $50 gift certificate in hand, who tips only on the $75 he actually pays on his $125 dinner.

“There’s a possibility that you could get some attitude [from a server],” Kassoff-Gray says. “Waiters have a memory like an elephant’s.”

But at good restaurants, where the staff is well-trained, such judgments shouldn’t translate into sub-par service at the table, the GM says. “We don’t give [gift certificates] a second thought,” Kassoff-Gray says. “My first thought is, ‘Mmm, [they have] good taste.'”

Bajaj, owner of a number of District restaurants including Rasika and The Oval Room, agrees with Kassoff-Gray. “Generally, it shouldn’t matter,” if you have a gift certificate, he says. “There should be no difference at all [in the service].”

Both Bajaj and Kassoff-Gray, however, emphasize that people who dine with gift certificates need to be aware of their responsibility, too. They must tip on the entire amount of the bill, not just the amount they pay. It’s good for the server, and it’s good for the next diner bearing a gift certificate. The diners who follow you, in other words, won’t get any attitude because of your tight-fisted insensitivity.

Image by Flickr user joeltelling