Separate Checks – When it’s OK. When it’s Not.

June 3, 2008 at 8:08 pm 4 comments

Just to touch on this topic since there seems to be a lot of confusion about it.

Most restaurants are equipped to easily calculate and print separate checks. Much of the time separate checks are a breeze and pose no problems. However, there are a few situations when it is better or proper for one or two people to pick up the whole check.

Parties constitute a situation where separate checks are improper. There are many reasons for this like etiquette – the person who invites is the host and the host should foot the bill, however the changing climate of the modern dinner scene has watched a lot of 20th Century etiquette fall by the wayside. The chief reason for one or two people picking up the bill is to make sure the people who have just provided your party with food and drink get paid. More times than not someone in a large party will not only leave without tipping but without paying at all.

Think of all the times you have been part of a large group at a restaurant. This should shock you – half the time a member of your party has skipped out without paying anything. They are not just stealing from the restaurant but also from the server who often has to pay for the meal out of their tips and they steal from the other people in their party as well. If I intend for this $10 of my hard earned money to go to the person who gave me service but you use it to cover your bill then you have stolen my $10. Skip outs are the main reason restaurants have to put gratuities on large parties – to assure that there is enough money to cover the total bill once the dust settles. One check solves this.

The other reason large parties should never ask for separate checks is because it becomes inconvenient for everyone. One person cannot check out 30 people at the same time, that is why WalMart has more than one cash register. And it never fails, someone will always be in a hurry which starts a snowball effect, suddenly everyone is in a hurry.

Which brings us to the other situation where it is not a good idea to ask for separate checks – whenever you, the customer are in a hurry. If you are truly crunched for time then you will pick up the check. Cashing out a check is a one to five minute process – when you go separate checks for three people you have tripled the cash out time, up to 15 minutes. It is not the restaurant’s fault nor is it the server’s because when push comes to shove you getting somewhere on time is not as important as them getting their money.  So decide what is more important to you, the money or the time. As much as the server wants to provide you with both it simply is not possible all the time.  The choice is totally yours, as are the consequences.

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4 Comments

  • 1. Cynthia  |  June 26, 2008 at 2:21 am

    So how do you solve this problem BEFORE you dine? I’m planning on having a dinner later this summer and I’m only 19 (not to mention, a student). I cannot pay for everybody, although I would LOVE to!

  • 2. wannabetvchef  |  June 26, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    Cynthia,
    That is a wonderful question.

    The answer is easy. When you call the restaurant to make your reservation tell them that you would like a set price menu. Most restaurants will work with you on this because it helps them better prepare for your group.

    Generally a set price menu will consist of three or four entrées (usually one will be chicken for non-beef eaters or those with seafood allergies) and a couple of sides. They may also offer a starter option like soup or salad. They will customize it to what ever you want then they will set one price say $13 a person. The price will vary based on how extravagant you want your menu to be. Someone (usually the host) would then collect the $13 from each person then hand it over to server when the bill is presented.

    I mentioned calling to make the reservations, this is a very important thing to do any time you have more than eight or ten people. You need to call at least a few hours ahead of time if it is impromptu and at least a day if it is a preplanned event. Sure you don’t have to call ahead. You can just show up at the door with a group of 20 people but if three other groups did the same thing you could be sitting in a lobby for hours. The restaurant will do their best to get you in but it is really out of their control.

    For the most part restaurants are not set-up for large parties just walking in. Don’t believe me? Count the average number of chairs at a table. You will find it is four. It is usually easy to put two tables together to handle eight people but beyond that you are really up to the random whims of the other diners. The folks at the next table needed for your party of 12 may be hanging out for a while having drinks.

    If you call ahead you may find that they are already on a long wait, have several large parties already, or they may be closed for a private party. It also gives them time to schedule people just for you. And if you want a set price menu they may need a little time to put together a few proposals. Calling ahead helps assure you of a smooth dining experience for your group.

  • 3. Weasel Don  |  August 15, 2009 at 11:51 am

    EDITOR’S WARNING: Many of the suggestions this commenter makes as to how to deal with a business that exercises it’s right to not split checks are criminal acts – not paying your bill is theft (the total of the bill determines whether it is a felony or misdemeanor) and in some jurisdictions not tipping is theft of services (a misdemeanor). Please take this into consideration before following any suggestions listed below. The poster claims to be a restaurant critic but no search of the name Don Chastain or his e-mail address (chastaintravel@surewest.net) reveals him being paid to critque restaurants. At the same time, this commenter also makes some very good suggestions that are sound and logical; they’re just a little hard to find amongst all the psychotic rambling.

    I beleive this is the bottom line…
    If’n they don’t want to split the check….then leave…
    No tip….no bill….eventually no restaurant….

    Not to many things bug me more than a resturant or waiter with an attitude….
    If they don’t like their job…find another….and yes …us customers are weird,
    demanding funny creatures….thats life…and theirs is a job of customer
    service…they are the go between the cook and your table….The waiter is not a servant but a server….treat them with respect and you usually get treated
    fairly….

    Way to many choices to get an issue with one resturant….

    I’m tired of hearing …”I can’t split the ck…its policy….its the computer…
    its…its…its lazy is all….wheather its the owner’s policy or the waiter….
    If I remember correctly this is 2009 and we are in the age of Computers…
    Its real easy….and no different than if 20 people walked in separately and set at 10 different tables…what would they do then….??

    Automatic charging a tip for a large party..I can live with this as long as service is good and they tell me they charged me when I received the bill….(I don’t really beleive in tipping but its a fact of life in the U.S. )

    Either they want our business or not….

    They seem to forget the “ITS ABOUT THE CUSTOMER SERVICE”

    There’s not a better feeling than …”Of course separate bills…no problem…”

    I don’t confuse catering events or banquets at restaurants…I feel that is something different…you may or may not agree with this….but I would work out
    something in advance….or find another restaurant…

    The trick with me is not to get emotionally attached to a restaurant…Period..
    Its just a place to eat with friends….There’s others….with good food….

    There’s nothing better than watching the owner’s face when everyone gets up
    and leaves…..$$$$$$$$$ out the door….and for what….failing to provide the
    proper customer service….like I said….Leave…

    thank you for reading…

    Weasel Don…
    (fake) Restaurant Critic….
    and all around nice guy…

  • 4. Adam  |  September 26, 2009 at 5:32 pm

    This is a good topic ive encountered this nightmare a few times at the pub i serve at, say theres a party of 15 or more all eating and getting drunk one girl at the end of the table shouts “3 shots of patron please” she only drinks one and gets the tab and says hey i only took one (but she called it out making it impossible for me to know who all took the shots) And some people get a meal a drink and leave there friends to fight over the bill (its always a high priced bill and they usually think im trying to steal and add items they did not order) If your going to a restaraunt and your bringing a huge loud party make it easier on your server and everyone bring cash and just split it up unless its a small group (8 or below) then separate chekcs are no problem and please state that you want separate checkes before you even order a water!!!!


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Stuart Reb Donald

Stuart is a celebrity chef and award winning food writer. Donald performs live cooking demonstrations and penned the cookbook Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor."

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