Of all the awful, unforgivable things a waiter can say to me (i.e. “Unfortunately, we’re all out of meatloaf.” “We don’t have Dr. Pepper, is Mr. Pibb okay?” “We don’t serve your kind.”) unquestionably the most abhorrent is some rendition of the following: “I’m sorry, we can’t split dinner checks.” My heart sinks, my eyes are downcast as I prepare for the weeping and gnashing of teeth that is to follow.
Things were going so well. There was a brief spat over the just apportionment of the pre-entree bread roll, but otherwise all was laughter and fraternity. Then, in an instant, this seemingly innocuous utterance transforms our pleasant gathering into a petty, spite-filled bidding war where friendships and fortunes are lost in a matter of minutes.
Never, not once, have I seen a dinner bill divided equitably and amicably by a group of friends. The problem is that most of us have only recently figured out how money works and are still completely baffled by high-level mathematical concepts like fractions and percents. I can comprehend that my hamburger costs $8.99, which I know to be almost $9.00. I am vaguely familiar with the idea that I need to pay an additional 7.8% to the government. What 7.8% of almost $9.00 is, I haven’t the faintest. On top of that, I’m supposed to calculate an additional 15-20% for the tip, and divide the price of our cheese fries into sevenths and pay for my portion. Do I look like Stephen – mother freaking – Hawking? Do I carry a TI-83 in my pocket for emergencies like these? Did I really get 1/7 of those cheese fries? No. I did not.
Even with these mathematical hurdles, the whole process might be bearable if it weren’t for the inevitable self-interested posturing that accompanies it. There’s the kid who doesn’t have any cash. There’s the kid who owes someone money from before and the kid who’ll pay someone back if someone will “get him this time.” There’s the guy who dramatically throws money in one dollar at a time so it looks like he’s paid too much when really he’s only paid for his drink. Worst of all is the guy who’s meal cost $17.00 but says, “lets just all put in $12.00. That’d probably be easiest.” I hate that guy.
All of this creates a quagmire of currency and IOUs that makes our current economic crisis look like a game of tic-tac-toe. And the most tragic thing about all of it is that it could have been so easily avoided. I refuse to believe that any, non-Chinese restaurant in America today lacks the technology to print tickets for individual items. They can do it, waiters just don’t like pushing extra buttons. Do they not realize that it’s in their best interest to provide this final service? With all the angst that accompanies dividing up our own check, that tip percentage starts sliding from 15 to 10. Plus, 10% is a lot easier to figure in my head.
I’m not trying to be an ass. I’m sure writing down orders and filling water glasses for four hours is exhausting, but I’m tired of losing friends because they’d rather have five extra minutes to smoke a cig out back.