Separate Your Own Damned Checks

I love the self-checkout line at the grocery store. I prefer the online banking option that prevents me from having to interact with another human being. And when I go to the movies, I always buy tickets at the kiosk rather than deal with the surly teen behind glass.

But when I go to a restaurant, I'm not looking for a DIY experience, which is why my recent trip to Maudie's Too on South Lamar in Austin was so strange.

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I've been going to Maudie's on every trip to Austin for the last 11 years. It's not a Michelin star kind of place, but it is a gem among the many Tex-Mex places in town. Their house margaritas are so good you don't need to order a top shelf, their queso is outstanding, and every time I eat the Strait Plate (three beef enchiladas topped with chili con carne, chopped onions and two fried eggs) I hear the Old 97's cover of "El Paso" in my head.

On Saturday, I was in town to help a good friend from college celebrate her birthday, and about 15 of us met on the patio at Maudie's. She had notified the management before everyone arrived that we would need separate checks. When our waiter came out, he put us on the honor system: He told us to keep track of what we ordered and he would give us separate totals at the end of the meal. We thought that was strange, but everyone was filled with a friendly queso glow, and anyway it was nothing a second margarita wouldn't fix.

Unfortunately, at the end of the meal, our waiter evidently forgot his original plan and brought out one check for the table. What's more, he told us that he wouldn't be able to separate it for us. Then, he gave us new directions: We were to add up our own totals, calculate our own sales tax (thank God for smart phones with built-in calculators), and then write on the back of the ticket exactly how much was to be charged to each credit card.

Now, I realize that a couple of ice ages have elapsed since I was last a waiter, but this was a new experience to me. I remember hating to separate checks for large parties, but I did it because it was part of the job. Who knows, maybe the world has changed? So when I returned home, I called the manager.

Eric Benson, the manager for the South Lamar location, was very nice when I spoke to him, and to his credit, he was already very familiar with what had happened. Maudie's does separate checks for large parties, and Benson agreed that he should have done it for us.

What's your opinion on all this? Folks from the restaurant industry -- what's the biggest check-separating nightmare you've ever had to deal with? Diners -- has this kind of thing happened to you?

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13 comments
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anotherserver
anotherserver

I agree with Twinwillow: as a server myself, it is SO much easier to divide the check evenly (as there is a nifty little "split evenly" button to hit, and then you enter the number of people). However, check-splitting can be a huge pain, especially when you're busy, especially when people have had multiple alcoholic beverages. I know waiting on you is my job, keeping a running tally on how many margaritas you and each of the other 14 people at your table have downed, is not. Also, some systems (such as Aloha) are much easier and have a much more efficient way to split checks than others. The older the system, the harder it is, and by the looks of Maudie's, I would chance a guess their system is pretty old.

Anthony Marks
Anthony Marks

Thanks for all the comments. Thought I’d offer a quick response to all the questions and suggestions:

Yes, I will go back to Maudie’s, and I strongly recommend it to anyone going to Austin. I’ve had too many good meals and good times there to let one odd incident ruin it for me.

For the folks recommending splitting the check evenly among all parties – I agree, this is normally the best approach, and it’s what I typically do. In this case, though, it wouldn’t have been fair; I had an appetizer, an entrée and two margaritas over a 2.5 hour span. But other folks had already eaten and just had drinks. So I would have ended up paying much less than my share, and others far more.

Asking everyone to bring cash would technically work, but it would have made the invitation kind of strange: “I hope you’ll join my birthday lunch on Saturday. But we’re going to Maudie’s, so bring an envelope of cash.” Good or bad, most people don’t carry around a lot of green.

Personally, I’m looking forward to technology eventually solving this problem and making the lives of wait staff easier in the process – Slate recently ran a piece on a new person-to-person payment system that Visa is introducing that would have made this very easy: http://www.slate.com/id/228861...

Martingermany
Martingermany

Wow. People here don't seem to get the word "service" in service industry.I'm sure your employers would be delighted to hear that you discourage people to bring large groups of people to spend money at their business, just because it inconveniences you a little.

Also, in my experience when people split a check, they end up giving more in tips than when they pool it, but hey, if it's too much work for you...

Gus Mitchem
Gus Mitchem

There is this green and grey stuff, I think it was once called money, but it works really well and you can just throw it down at places and they accept that as payment without having to electronically check with your bank. Usually if you are in a major city your going to need some of it to park your car, so generally if you know you are "planning" on going out then you should have some available in your pocket.

Also if you dont trust people you call friends not to screw eveyone else at the table by being a total drunk and orderign tons of drinks and apps then maybe somone in the group should have the balls to tell them they are not invited and thus not really a friend

Monkee
Monkee

Stop eating with fourteen of your closest friends. That should solve the problem.

MattL1
MattL1

When I waited tables, the software made separate checks very easy, though the restaurant was small and rarely had parties larger than 6. It usually depended on the particular table how much of an onus I would place on the customers regarding the split.

Now when I go out with a large group, I'm definitely in the "split it evenly" camp. The number of times when I've done the whole "write your own total on the back of the receipt" thing and the total hasn't come up right is staggering.

Landings Geo
Landings Geo

I was there, and I think the thing that bothered wasn't the waiter's shift from proto-Austin, peace & love, "you guys are on the honor system" to a passive-aggressive dippy-hippy, "add up the check yourself, and don't forget to include the 18% gratuity and your .0825% sales tax," but more the fact that they were called *beforehand* to see if separate checks for a party that large would be OK, and they said yes.

I've waited tables, and know what a pain in the ass a large party of separate checks can be. But if you say you can do it, do it.

Also, I'll be back. Their queso is nearly last-meal worthy.

StevePDX
StevePDX

Large parties are always a pain in the ass. Divide in half, put it on two cards, and figure it out later so someone else can take the table and the waiter can get back to making money. Or bring cash if you know there are 15 of you already requiring them to rearrange the entire floor of the restaurant to put 6 tables together (that they will have to move back after you leave just to seat a 2 top). Or take your party to Taco Cabana.

Dangergirl
Dangergirl

The whole issue for me is that they called ahead and talked to the restaurant about separate checks AND the waiter told them he would give them separate totals. Regardless of how easy it is to divide the check between the people, the waiter didn't deliver on his word. Lame. What I'm wondering is why didn't anyone call the waiter on it?

Amy S.
Amy S.

Some point-of-sale software makes this very easy to do, just a touch of the screen to create as many separate checks for each group as is needed. But it also depends on the skill of the server and whether or not a party this large is his/her only table (which it should be, but isn't always). And not all restaurants are willing to spend on a point of sale system that will accomodate this type of sales tracking.

Question for you - will you be back or was this a romance ender?

Rtddfw
Rtddfw

Given the waiter's handling of the situation; what did you leave for the tip?

twinwillow
twinwillow

Give it a rest and just divide the check by how many people are at the table. Sure, some may pay a bit more than their share and some, a bit less. Unless someone's had steak and someone just had an ice tea, how much off could it be? We have a large group of up to 18 sometimes and thats how we do it and nobody complains.

TLS
TLS

I have taken it upon myself to write on the back of the check the amount to charge to each person's credit card. I have no problem doing this and it helps the waiter deal with the inconvenience of running multiple cards on one check. I don't care if it is part of the waiter's job to divvy up the check for me. If they're slammed, I'm not going to be another a-hole adding to the stress.

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