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

Originally posted June 3, 2008.

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

Separate Checks – When it’s OK. When it’s Not.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 so today this is more of a guideline than a hard fast rule. But even today 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. Otherwise, more times than not someone in a large party will not only leave without tipping but without paying at all.  That’s right, I said more often than not.

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. If you are running late 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 should be the consequences.

HERE is another great article on this subject by Leon Scott.

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Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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