On paying for your meal upon leaving a restaurant


Robert Scoble's embarrassment over forgetting to pay a restaurant bill reminds me of an even more embarrassing incident experienced by a component team from the Windows 95 team.

To celebrate something or other, their team went to lunch at The Salish Lodge, a fine dining establishment. At the end of the meal, everybody thought somebody else was going to handle the bill, and they all walked out as a group. The administrative assistant who made the reservation received a somewhat concerned telephone call from the restaurant when they discovered that a large party just skipped the check. Profuse apologies were extended and the bill was settled over the phone (with what I assume was a very generous tip). I just happened to be in the hallway when this whole thing happened and got to hear the story from the very exasperated administrative assistant shortly after it transpired.

So remember, folks: Pay the bill before leaving the restaurant. It saves everybody a lot of grief.

Comments (14)
  1. Anonymous says:

    Did Bill Gates pretty famously skip out on a restaurant bill?

    If I remember correctly, he later paid the bill and included a good and modest tip. Just one of the resons Bill G is the richest person in the world, and I am not — my tip, if I were the richest person in the world and I had skipped out on a check would have been well north of 20%.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Eric K.: I completely agree.

    The other thing that bothers me about restaurants is how long my payment card is out of my sight, where anyone could just write down all needed information or swipe it with a skimmer.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Eric, you should really find a better restaurant. Any place we go is working for the customer, if you want to pay for your food when they bring it just ask the waiter and they will bring you the check. If you want them to handle the payment right away just tell them to wait few seconds (they will, it’ll save them an extra trip and shorten their turnaround time). I’ve never seen a dedicated drink order person, maybe I don’t go to restaurants that are fancy enough. Good restaurants employ cooks that are organized so the food does not sit in the kitchen until it’s all made, good cooks time it so it is finished reasonably close to the rest of the order.

    As for waiters being able to skim your credit card – absolutely and I just don’t get why are people so afraid of paying over the internet, it’s usually much safer than paying in a restaurant.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Reminds me of the time I looked at my credit card receipt (left on the table on the way out of a restaurant), and saw that the number and expiration date were NOT "censored" as usual. Plus my signature was on it. Anyone could have copied the info. In hindsight I definitely should have taken it right to the cashier instead of leaving it there.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Dan Maas: The thing I’d be LEAST worried about would be my signature: http://www.zug.com/pranks/credit_card/

  6. Anonymous says:

    Eric K.,

    Hey don’t knock it. Do you want to be mucking about the galaxy at less than light speed forever?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bistromathic_drive

  7. boxmonkey says:

    Eric K, you forgot the part where they never remember to ask if you actually wanted dessert, even though they wouldn’t let you pay until the end for that very reason.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I have trouble fully understanding the customer-wait staff interaction protocol in many restaurants.

    1. Upon entering the restaurant, you’re shown to your seats by a greeter. You may or may not be able to place your drink order with the greeter. You cannot place a food order with the greeter.

    2. Some minutes later, you’re visited by someone to take your drink order if the greeter doesn’t serve this function. This person cannot take your food order and server only to handle drink orders.

    3. Some additional minutes later, an actual waiter or waitress deigns to accept your food order. You cannot pay for your meal at this time because you might possibly order something additional before leaving.

    4. All orders are kept in the kitchen until they can be brought out at the same time, with the exception of appetizers, if any. You can’t pay now, either.

    5. After you finish your meal, you sit around ‘socializing’ until the ait staff notices you’ve stopped eating.

    6. The wait staff arrives and asks if it’s all going to be on one check (if you’re lucky) or simply brings a single check (if you’re not) which causes you to request the check be split (like every other group before you has done since the beginning of time. I theorize that the Single Check is the Holy Grail of tablewaiting).

    7. You can’t actually *pay* now. The wait staff vanishes after depositing your check, leaving you time to contemplate it properly. You can’t even beg them to accept your money even if you had it already in your hand, because they’ve collected your emty drinks to carry away and those are far more important than taking your money and allowing you to leave.

    8. The wait staff reappears again to collect your payment method. Finally. If you pay by exact amount, you’re free to go. If you need change or pay by credit, you’re not done yet. The wait staff disappears with your payment.

    9. The wait staff returns with your change or your receipt. If you’ve paid by cash, *now* you’re free to go. If you’ve paid by credit, you probably have to wait for them to reappear so you can ask for a pen.

    10. Finally return to work one and a half hours late.

    I absolutely do not understand why the wait staff has to appear and disappear so frequently, particularly when you’re in a hurry. It’s like they don’t remotely want to do anything that would allow you to get in and out quickly.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Someone needs to point the waiters to:

    http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/default.asp?url=/library/en-us/dllproc/base/waitformultipleobjects.asp

    > To enter an alertable wait state, use the

    > WaitForMultipleObjectsEx function.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I recall going out to eat when was first deployed in Germany. I was used to comparatively snappy American service, where you could be in and out in a half-hour. Try any restaurant anywhere (I’ve been) in Europe. Minimium of two hours. I think it’s just cultural. In the US, we’re ALWAYS in a hurry. 2 minutes in the drive through is TOO SLOW! Not so overseas.

    Eventually, after a few weeks, I just learned to live with, and enjoy the pacing. Have another beer. As my German coworkers would say: "what’s your hurry?"

    I never did come up with a good answer for them.

    But, back in the US, I find not all restaurants are that bad. One trick I’ve learned is, if you have your cash/card ready, you can simply hand it to them at the moment they hand you the bill, thus removing the 7-8 step delay. That’s assuming you trust the bill. What am I going to do, not pay it?

    Very occasionally, I’ll get bad service and be ignored, but I find most places here are quite attentive. You just have to ask for what you want, rather than act like you are in a hurry, and hope they’ll notice.

    This was born out of necessity. I have 2 toddlers, and removing all unnecessary delays is quite important, as they don’t have the patience to sit for an entire evening. Most places are quite accomodating – we put in the kids order right away while we’re deciding, and we ask them to bring it out immediately.

    Otherwise they’ll try to "sync up" all the dishes so everyone gets everything at once. This is nice for a group of adults, so 9 people aren’t chowing down while the last person sits in silence. But it’s not so nice when you have hungry kids who are going to get antsy, and start annoying the rest of the room.

    Similarly, when they bring the dinner out, if we have no plans for more food, I tell them to bring the bill right then. Before they disappear. Not once have I have I been refused.

    My main peeve when eating out with large groups is getting ripped off. This happens two ways:

    People who go "Oh, I only have $10, but I ordered $32 worth of food". The only way around this is to put down your fair chunk of change and leave early.

    Or the people who order a bottle of wine, appetizer, filet mignon, and dessert, and expect to split the bill evenly when you ordered a $9 pasta dish and water.

    Sometimes, you get a double whammy and BOTH happens.

  11. Anonymous says:

    People who go "Oh, I only have $10, but I ordered $32 worth of food". The only way around this is to put down your fair chunk of change and leave early.

    Then they can put it on their credit card while everyone else pays them cash for their portions. Then they have an incentive to make sure others contribute adequately.

  12. Anonymous says:

    >request the check be split (like every other group before you has done since the beginning of time

    Split checks? I can’t recall the last time I ate with a group of people that wanted to do that. Maybe while I was in school? I could probably count the number of times that’s happened in my post-collegiate years on the fingers of one hand.

    If I’m with friends, everyone just pitches in — and the total is usually more than enough for a generous tip, so someone ends up getting money back. If I’m on business, usually it’s clear who’s expected to pay for the meal (senior person at the table at some companies, or maybe your customer is treating you, or whatever).

    I can see the argument for *asking* whether the table wants split checks (it’s obviously a lot more work for the waiter), but I can’t see any reason you’d *assume* the check would be split.

  13. Ytram says:

    "Split checks? I can’t recall the last time I ate with a group of people that wanted to do that. Maybe while I was in school? I could probably count the number of times that’s happened in my post-collegiate years on the fingers of one hand.

    If I’m with friends, everyone just pitches in — and the total is usually more than enough for a generous tip, so someone ends up getting money back."

    I’m not sure of where you are located, but it is very common in the US when going out to lunch with co-workers. You say that everyone pitches in, but it is very rare for people to pay with cash any more. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve payed for lunch with cash in the past year.

    I do agree that the server should at least ask about splitting checks. It is a bad idea to assume either way.

  14. Ytram says:

    "Or the people who order a bottle of wine, appetizer, filet mignon, and dessert, and expect to split the bill evenly when you ordered a $9 pasta dish and water. "

    I’ve heard about that before, and it is honestly the most asinine way of paying for a bill I have ever heard. There is no way that a bill should just be split evenly unless of course everyone got the same thing.

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