Check-Splitting: Who Had the Gorgonzola Crumbles, and Should We Really Care?
My friend Gray and I have often chuckled at the memory of how our mothers and grandmothers would agonize over splitting the check following the conclusion of a ladies’ lunch on the town. Finally, at some point, one of the ladies would say to one member of the group, “Since you drove, we’ll pay the tip.”
Gray and I have been friends for three decades, ever since we met on the job at a daily newspaper where she was a photographer and I wrote feature stories about mules being born and the like. It’s amazing that we were able to get jobs even though we were clearly very young children thirty years ago. Practically embryos. Anywho, it goes without saying that we have eaten many, many meals together in all kinds of restaurants and with all kinds of people over the years.
Because this is such a treasured bond between us, as soon as the check comes, one of us will chuckle and say to the other: “Since you drove…”
Maybe you have to be there.
The point is, we know that dividing the check at the restaurant can bring out all sorts of unintentionally rude behavior. At the heart of this sort of accidental etiquette breach is that it is ever so tacky to ever discuss money in public. It just is.
And while offering to pay the tip because gas was purchased by one of the members of the party is, on the face of it, a nice gesture, it only serves to muddy the waters.
How far must we carry this? As I write this, gas is about $3.44 a gallon in my hometown. If I take two friends to lunch downtown on our lovely riverfront, I’ve used no more than $1.10 in gas to pick them up.
This is less than the cost of a glass of sweet tea these days, so really, must we make it an issue? Should I point out that, because I drove, the rest of the lunch party owes me about one-fourth of the Caribbean Fudge Pie that I am, too, ordering even though my ass is spilling over either side of my chair.
But still, in some quarters, you will hear all sorts of reasons why someone should pay a smaller percentage (or a higher one!) of the check when it arrives.
This is something that makes the server crazy. Hasn’t she already been sufficiently inconvenienced by your insistence that the check be split six ways and that approximately one and a half of you are going in together to pay for the seventh woman’s bill because it’s her birthday?
Where are my smelling salts?
Question: We go out to dinner about once a month on a Saturday night with two couples who live in our cul-de-sac. We really like everything about these couples except for the fact that they drink very expensive wines with dinner and my husband and I are teetotalers. When the bill arrives, you guessed it, they always split it three ways even though we just ordered chicken cutlets and water!
Okay, you guessed it: I don’t need my smelling salts anymore; I need a very dry Grey Goose martini as big as my head. Ahh. There. Much better. Now, where were we? Oh, yes. You and your lushy fun friends sticking you with the wine bill …
First of all, let the record show that your couple-friends are assholes. Just because you share a driveway with someone doesn’t mean that they should be your dinner companions. And, not to put too fine a point on this, but you and your husband sound like you’d be happier with your own kind. I mean, who the hell goes out to eat and orders a chicken cutlet and water on a Sadday night? I mean besides Garrison Keillor. For Christ’s sake, it’s Saturday night. Live a little—get the osso bucco. Look it up.
I’m sorry. I don’t for an instant mean to imply that just because you don’t drink, you’re no fun. I just want to come right out and say it: You’re No Fun.
Assuming that you really do want to continue this pitiful dinner charade for your own weird reasons (swapping, perhaps?) I will answer your question.
You’re going to have to speak up. Yes! Crazy and radical, I know! You’re going to actually form the sentence in your empty noggin, feel the words in your mouth, and then hear them hang on the air.
Here’s what you say:
“Roscoe and I didn’t have wine, so y’all can split that and leave us out of it.”
Man, oh, man, how I’d love to be a fly on the wall when that happens. Sorry. I was assuming this was a Denny’s, but then I remembered the “fine wine” thing.
Their jaws will drop and they’ll be shocked that, after many months of sticking you with a third of the fancy wine you didn’t drink, the metaphorical scales have fallen from your eyes. Crappidy-doo-dah. Game over.
You see, they’ve been wondering what is wrong with you for all this time anyway. Are you so desperate for friends that you have to buy them? Because that’s what you’re doing every time you meekly fork over your credit card for your third of the bill. We’re done here.
Is there anything more agonizing than hearing a humiliating recitation of everything you’ve eaten by the number-crunching weirdo in your party?
“Madge, you had the arugula-beet salad, but you added on the gorgonzola crumbles for a dollar seventy-five, so … your share comes to…”
It is just such a terrible end to what could have been a lovely lunch or dinner. To hear your every lamb lollipop recounted (two at $11.95 each…) is simply horrifying.
The rule is simple: separate checks if appropriate (that means a party of six or fewer) and, for larger groups, a commitment to accepting that the bill should be split evenly.
There’s often an outlier, of course. There’s the pale friend who must have everything “gluten-free” or she will double over and collapse in a tower of her own shit mid-meal. This is always such a downer for the rest of the table. Maybe you could ask her to sit elsewhere? Like Indiana?
While we’re still in the restaurant, so to speak, let’s take a moment to remind one another that the waiter is there to do a job, not to hear about your “gastric bypass,” “lactose intolerance,” “gastroesophageal reflux,” “homoerotica fantasies,” and the like.
He or she also doesn’t need to hear that if he accidentally gives you caffeinated coffee, your heart will fly out of your chest and sit on the table, thumping away, while all you and your lunch companions can do is watch until it finally, mercifully, stops.
Here’s a tip: They don’t care about your coffee preference. They asked you only because you expected it. The truth is, you’ll get decaf if it’s convenient, and if it’s not, well, that’s a mighty fine-looking aorta you got there.
Remember that it’s important to tip generously, especially if you ever plan to return. Servers remember the cheap creep that ran ’em ragged and left a cool ten-spot for a hundred-dollar meal. You know who you are. For the love of Bobby Flay, tip for good service, tip for lousy service, just tip. Some of y’all can be pretty demanding.
Example: “We need more bread. And when you get back, I’m going to think up a few other things we need, but I’m only going to list them one at a time so you have to make a bunch of trips.”
Just remember: These servers can do awful things to your food right before it comes out. Awful things.
That’s Not a Salad Fork, You Stupid Bitch
A lot of people get confused when they’re in a nice restaurant and there are, like, a million forks surrounding their plates.
There’s no reason to fret. Generally speaking, silver is placed in the order of its use, so you pick up the piece on the outside first. See? That wasn’t so hard, was it?
When you’ve finished eating (or, as we say in the South, “had a sufficiency”), avoid announcing this by saying, loudly, “Damn, I’m stuffed!” or worse, “I’m chewin’ high.” There’s no need to announce the state of your stomach. No one is interested, and the notion that you need to give alerts—as though, if you lifted your shirt, a fuel gauge just like your car has would be revealed with a wand wavering between E and F—is truly off-putting. Along these lines, never, ever burp and then say “Yay! Room for more!”
That said, when you’re finished, really finished, not just talking about how full you are and continuing to shovel it in, place your fork on your plate, prongs down, beside your knife with the blade facing the fork. I am, too, serious. Good table etiquette is all that separates us from Kardashians—er, savages.
Some other tips … Always break bread with your fingers; never cut it with a knife. The bread knife is just for buttering and is also dreadfully unhandy for stabbing intruders; trust me.
A word about artichokes: Don’t ever order them. Nobody looks good sucking on leaves. Not even a koala bear, and damn sure not you.
Know your limits: Don’t order lobster, tails-on shrimp, Cornish game hen, and so forth, in a nice restaurant. You’re going to look like a doofus no matter how hard you try not to, and it honestly doesn’t help when you insist “I eat this shit all the time. Really.” Ditto ordering something you don’t know how to pronounce.
Good: “French onion soup.”
Bad: “Duck cawn-fit.”
A word about finger bowls: Okay, don’t freak out when you see one for the first time, Gomer. And don’t take a bath in it, either. Just dab the tips of your fingers in the bowl, and for the love of God, don’t try to make a joke by also dabbing at your underarms and crotch.
Okay, maybe the underarms. That’s actually pretty funny sometimes.
Don’t talk with your mouth full. Don’t talk with your mouth full. Don’t talk with your mouth full.
Now. Since you drove …
Copyright © 2013 by Celia Rivenbark