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I was having dinner last night at a great French Restaurant in Sydney, and I happened to have the most interesting conversation with our waitress, Jenny.

It was when I asked Jenny for the Bill. (That’s Australian speak for “Check”, for my American friends).

She had a little chuckle and said to me, “You can’t say that word here.”

I was a little confused by Jenny’s response to what I thought was a straightforward question to ask in a restaurant, at the end of your meal.

Jenny then explained.

She had noticed over the years working in restaurants, that when it came to that time to give the Bill to the customer, it was actually a little difficult to know when to present the Bill. (You never wanted the customer to feel that you were rushing them, as the Bill was usually the indicator that they would soon be leaving.) The protocol seemed to be, to wait for the customer to ask for the Bill when they were ready to leave.

Our waitress Jenny was always amused at how customers would ask for the Bill.

The most popular way was to mime the words “Can I have the Bill Please.” This was more popular than just simply saying the words out loud to the waitress as she walked past.

Often there was a writing action on the hand used as well as the mime…..not that we very often receive a Bill where we sign anything any more.

It was as if the word Bill was a rude word and you couldn’t say it out loud.

Have we as a society become awkward about mentioning money?


It started me thinking about the Dental Surgery where no patient ever asks for the Bill as they are about to leave.

Instead the Front Office People ask for the payment.

Just like at a restaurant, the patient is fully aware of the fees before their appointment. And just like some customers in a restaurant find it difficult to ask for the bill, the Dental Office Team often have difficulty asking the patient for payment.

There can often be an awkwardness during the payment transaction.

I have a number of ways to approach the whole *taking money from the patient* that is both helpful and polite, and also much less awkward.

For starters, always make sure that your patient is prepared about the fees for their next appointment. Leave this to the end of your conversation on the phone, or in person after you have built concern, urgency and value for the treatment they need, then the fee is simply a formality.

Try saying, “Would you like me to go over the fees?”

I ask this question so the patient can say “yes” but what they actually said is, “Yes can you go over the fees with me.” The other reason this is a great question to ask is to avoid offending anyone. There are some patients who don’t want to know the fees and believe it is what it is and treatment is needed no matter what.

If the patient explains that they cannot go ahead with treatment, it is important to find out why so that you can help offer them a solution.

I always say, “Is there something stopping you from going ahead with your treatment?” 

I’m always making sure that I’m showing concern and empathy as I say these words. You never want to appear rude and confrontational when asking this question.

If you discover the reason is due to the cost then you can say, “If I can make the payment more manageable for you, would this help?”

You can then design a payment plan specific to the needs of the patient. It is much better to ask this one question rather than thrusting a generic payment plan at the patient. You want to organise an initial payment that the patient can manage then reasonable regular automatic payments after that. You want to make the first payment the bulk of the fee.

You also want to make sure any payment plan is discussed with the patient prior to their appointment so everyone is clear on the type of payment that will be made on the day of treatment. No one likes a surprise at payment time.

When the patient has come to the Front Desk and is ready to pay you should say, “The fee for today is…..” 

This fee should match the fee already given over the phone or at the last appointment. Any variation in treatment and fee is discussed in the Dental Chair if treatment varies for any reason. The patient must be in agreement before going ahead to avoid any confusion when payment time happens.

Then you ask, “How would you like to pay for your treatment today?” 

This breaks the ice to start talking about their money and payment and gives them a choice of payment. It does not mean this is the time to now discuss a payment plan. Sort out the need to break up payments when they are initially informed of the fee for their treatment not after the treatment is completed.

We all love the following question, “How much will I get back from the Health Fund?” It is always best to avoid being a Health Fund Calculator.

I find the best approach is to say, “It is difficult to know the exact amount due to so many Health Funds and types of insurance coverage. I do know they will give you a little bit back. It is usually not a lot but it does help with the payment.”

I have had such a great response from this one answer to that question and it really is the truth most of the time. If a patient then hits the Health Fund Jackpot it is all smiles and everyone is happy!

I believe the key to successfully talking about the fees and payment with your patients, is to always know and believe that the treatment and care your patient receives at your Dental Office, matches the fee you are charging. Ensure your patients are always aware of the fees and be confident and comfortable talking about money with them.


This blog will feature simple practical ideas that are easy to implement tomorrow in your Dental Office, impacting immediately on your Patients’ Dental  Phone Experiences, and ultimately, improving your practice profitability.

At present I have availability for three new private clients. For more information on how I can improve your Dental Office’s Phone Numbers contact me, Jayne Bandy at  jayne@theDPE.com

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