Ah, the check – my favorite part of your meal.

I know this is the part of the dining experience most people could do without. But it’s when I get paid! A lot of people are idiots when it comes to the simple act of paying for services rendered so I’ve compiled a little tutorial to make the whole currency exchange a little smoother.

1. Know when it’s time to leave. Are you finished? Plates cleared? Dessert and coffee gone? Are there twenty customers waiting by front door for a table? Is the waiter hovering nervously around your table? Did the hostess offer to get your coats? That’s probably because the restaurant needs the table. It’s our fault we overbooked the restaurant you say? Not so fast. 15% of reservations never show up! What are we supposed to do? Lose that money? No – so we overbook Take the hint and get out. I know that attitude ticks people off but a restaurant is a BUSINESS – not an extension of your living room. It’s time to pay the bill.

2. Ask for the check. Sounds simple right? It’s considered rude for a waiter to drop a check without the customer asking first. Some people are unaware of that convention so they sit around pissed off wondering why the waiter hasn’t produced the checkbook. We’re not psychic! A sure fire way to discreetly ask for the bill is to put your credit card or wallet on the table. We can figure out you want to leave. (However, if you do get the bill before asking for it that’s waiter speak for “get out.” A tactic usually employed when a waiter’s under pressure from management to turn tables and increase revenue. Or the waiter just wants to go home- usually the later.)

3. Don’t fight over who’s paying the bill. Sometimes your friend wants to pay for dinner. I say let them. However, if you anticipate a “fight” over whose the more generous party please keep the waiter out of it. We always lose out. Go to the waiter at the start of the meal and hand him your credit card. If there’s still a disagreement the waiter will follow the following rules to avoid dropping the check on the table like a hockey puck and letting you scramble over it:

a. Will give check to the regular customer of he or she demands it.
b. Will give check to person who made the reservation.
c. Will give check to person he or she knows is the better tipper.
d. Hand the check to the five year old and crack everyone up.

I’ve had people chase me and try and take their friend’s credit card out of my hand so they could pay the bill. Don’t make a scene. Grab something out of my hand and you’ll have more than the bill to worry about.

4. Don’t fight over who’s not paying the bill. Sadly this is the reverse of Rule # 3 – no one wants to pay the bill. Every waiter recognizes this situation. You’ve dropped the check and no one make a move to pay it. Passive aggressiveness all around. This usually happens with adults eating with grown children or excessively parsimonious middle aged yuppies. Occasionally they get into shouting matches. Someone had better pay – and fast.

5. Sticker Shock. Can’t believe how high the bill is? Well the prices are posted on the menu. Did you ask the server how much that Osso Buco on special was? No? Caveat emptor pal. Don’t complain to me about the prices because I don’t set them. It’s your responsibility to keep track of what you’re spending not mine. My job? I’m like a stripper. It’s my job to separate you from as much of your money as possible.

6. Let your server know the check is ready. Don’t leave the checkbook lying forgotten in the middle of the table while you’re having your “my son/daughter is more successful than yours/I make more than money than you/I live in a nicer building/I’m thinner/I have a better job than you” conversation. The waiter has things to do. He can’t hover over your table waiting to see if you placed cash or a credit card in the checkbook. You have to let the server know it’s ready to be picked up. We hate going to the table and asking “can I take that for you?” when you haven’t even looked at it. Ways to avoid any unpleasantness are:

a. If you’re paying in cash make sure the bills are peeking out of the checkbook.
b. If you’re paying by credit card use the old stand by – set the checkbook upright on the table with the credit card sticking out.
c. For the love of God don’t put the bill in your lap, under a napkin, or, my favorite, lean on it with your elbows. That’s some passive aggressive shit. It screams that you don’t want to part with your cash. Don’t look like a cheap bastard. Just give me the friggin check.

7. Splitting the bill. That’s easy. Most restaurants’ computer systems can split a bill four or five ways. If it’s a mix of credit cards and cash explain how you would like me to process the bill. Separate checks? Unless you asked at the beginning of the meal for separate checks you ain’t getting ’em. There is no way I can remember who got what two hours later. Fuck you and your expense account.

8. PAY IN CASH! – If at all possible pay in cash. The owner will love you. The waiter will love you. Why? Credit card companies charge a fee for every transaction. (Some unscrupulous owners take the transaction fee out of a waiter’s tips. It’s illegal but it happens.) Now I don’t always pay in cash when I go out. I’m not unreasonable. But leaving the TIP in cash will always make you the waiter’s friend.

9. Dine and Dash – Thinking about skipping out on the bill? Don’t even think about it. I will chase you down like a dog and hold you till the cops arrive. You ain’t doing dishes – you’re going to jail. If a customer skips out on the bill it’s the WAITER who has to pay for it. I’m sorry but I don’t like you that much

10. Credit card declined? Nothing warms the cockles of my heart than to tell some Sex in the City wannabe, “I’m sorry but this card is experiencing some difficulty.” (Translation? – YOUR CARD’S NO GOOD YOU LIVING BEYOND YOUR MEANS DICKWAD!) Don’t argue with me either because I’ve run the card several times. That’s why there’s a bunch of declined slips in your checkbook! And don’t get on your cell phone and fight with your credit card company. It makes you look like an asshole. Just give me a card you haven’t maxed out at the Sharper Image.

11. No money? Hey it happens. People occasionally leave their wallet or purse at home. If you’re a regular, no sweat, we’ll get you the next time. But if I don’t know you? I’m taking hostages. Leave your wife or girlfriend behind as a bargaining chip while you go and secure funding. If you don’t come back? You’ll have given your companion a date she’ll never forget.

(It also helps to leave your cell phone, PDA, Rolex, or youngest child with the waiter until you come back with the money. Don’t worry. We’ll take good care of them.)

12. Don’t subsidize your friend’s meal. This has happened to all of us. You get a salad and a bowl of pasta. Your friend gets the rack of lamb and several martinis. When the bill comes he or she says. “Let’s split it.” That’s bullshit. Grow some balls and stand up for yourself. Make them pay for what they ate.

13. THE TIP What do I need to say that I haven’t said already? You know what to do. 15% and up.

14. Automatic gratuity. Most places add a mandatory 18% gratuity or service charge on parties of six or more. Language is important here. If it’s listed as a gratuity you’re under no legal obligation to pay that amount. (You will, however, discover you’ll have a tough time getting reservations in the future) If it says “service charge” you’re legally obligated to pay it. Don’t like it? Cry me a river. I can dial 911 really fast. The French Laundry adds an 18% service charge to EVERY bill so give me a break.

15. The Double Tip. Now here’s where reading Waiter Rant pays off for you the consumer. Beware of the Double Tip! Sometimes customers, often drunk, are unaware the gratuity is added to the bill so they TIP ON TOP OF IT! Example:

Bill – $100
Mandatory Gratuity – $18 (figured pre tax)
Total $118

Customer stupidly leaves $141.

That’s $23 extra bucks! Now some waiters will be pissed that I’m telling you about this little secret but tough shit. It’s dishonest and I’d rather you come back to my bistro and give me money over the long haul. It doesn’t pay to alienate customers with petty thievery. That being said – if the customer’s a complete asshole my ethics might get compromised real fast.

16. Don’t bitch to me about the taxes on the bill. Do I look like the governor? Write your assemblymen.

17. Making sure you did the right thing. Most waiter manuals say its bad form to take a paid check of the table before the customer leaves. That’s crazy. I always check the bill before a customer walks out the door. Why? To make sure there are no problems. I can’t tell you how many times the customer has taken BOTH credit card slips. It also helps to embarrass the shit out of some tightwad who’s stiffed me on the tip. I position myself at the front door when they leave and say “Oh thank you for the nice tip sir!.” Asshole. Don’t come back.

18. Don’t think the check is the credit card slip! Customers, usually smashed out of their minds, think they’ve handed me their plastic and sign the bill thinking it’s the credit card receipt. Hold on! I need the credit card FIRST Einstein. Don’t make me chase you!

19. Repeat after me. The yellow copy’s yours. The white one’s mine. The yellow copy’s yours. The white one’s mine.

20. I say “Thank You.” You say “You’re welcome.”

21. Problems with the bill? Ask for a manager. Since I’m the manager at my place pray I’m in a good mood. Your rights as a customer?

a. Bill should be clearly itemized and legible. (Does not apply at Dim Sum restaurants)
b. Never pay for what you didn’t order.
c. If you see something on the bill you don’t understand you have every right to have the matter explained courteously to you.
d. If an establishment says it takes a certain credit card on the door than they have to take it. I ate at a French place once and paid with Amex. The waiter said, “We prefer Visa.” I said I saw an Amex logo on the door. “We still prefer Visa,” he said. “Well I prefer American Express,” I replied handing him the card. He ran it grudgingly. Tough shit pal. Some waiters can be assholes.

22. Paid up? Go home.

If you have any additional guidelines I didn’t think of feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments section.


Ask for change. If you hand me a checkbook filled with cash tell me if you want money back. Sometimes this isn’t a problem. If you hand me two hundred dollar bills and the check’s $130 that’s a no-brainer. However, if you hand me a hundred dollar bill and the bill’s $80 am I assume you’re a great tipper? Should I keep it? Let your server know.

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