Tidbits for Political Junkies with Short Attention Spans & Hearty Appetites


Thursday, June 10, 2004


Separate Checks

Slate’s "Dear Prudence" column today pretends to address the matter of separate restaurant checks – but ends up excusing smaller idiocies because they occurred in the presence of greater rudeness. I’ll skip the recap: go read.

My take: Prudence lets these people off much too easy. True, the late arrivals were capital-A a—holes. But while they were wrong to make a scene, wrong to insult their hosts, and wrong to order expensive wines and expect their companions to swallow the cost, they had at least one point: separate checks are petty, and all the more so when large groups are involved.

A request for completely separate checks works against you in several ways: first, it advertises a penny-consciousness that rarely betokens a decent tip – so your service may suffer accordingly; second, it confuses the kitchen, for whom the check is a tool to coordinate the timing & delivery of what each of you ordered; third, it simply adds unnecessarily to the amount of time required to handle your table. None of these attributes are likely to improve your experience.

For large parties – which typically stay longer, are more difficult to handle, and tip less than smaller groups – the notion of separate checks is an absurdity. For Prudence to suggest, even tacitly, that the request for separate checks was “the proper thing to do,” is decidedly unhelpful. Sorry, there is no excuse, anywhere, for requesting eleven checks.

There were at least two simpler strategies available – both of which would have likely been greeted more favorably by the servers.

The first would have been to gently request, “for simplicity’s sake,” that the servers start a new check for the late arrivals. This would make sense – since in essence the latecomers represent a new order, and a “new table” – even though they are seated with you. It can also be justified on purely practical grounds – since it is perfectly plausible that some of the earlier arrivals would like the option to leave (regardless of whether they actually choose to do so) before your tardy acquaintances are done. There is no need to invoke petty matters of economics, and the result is a perfectly reasonable pair of checks, rather than an unwieldy eleven.

The second approach would have required a level of consideration from the late arrivals that, given their behavior, seems unlikely. But I’ve done it, and it works. Whoever orders the wine – especially if he or she is aware that only some of those present plan to drink it – can simply request that the wine be placed on a separate check. Restaurants will not only honor, but respect such a request. Further, it will immediately transform what might have been perceived as an act of selfishness into an act of generosity (but you must at least offer to share). The wine lovers can then enjoy without guilt the vintage of their choice – and no one will feel cheated.

That, at least, is how some of us do it in New York.


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