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Logic Rules: Paying The Bill

Urban Times brings you the second in a new series, ‘Logic Rules’ – examining the many logical behaviours we eschew for illogical reasons.

I have been traveling a lot lately, so I get to spend a great deal of time dining on my own. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, I have done them all solo, and have come to realize that single patrons don’t get the respect couples or groups do. They get the shitty table by the corner, or the one between the pillars, or the one in the cage hanging from the ceiling. At least that’s how it feels sometimes.

One thing dining alone does afford you is the time to notice things you don’t notice when in the company of others

One thing dining alone does afford you is the time to notice things you don’t notice when in the company of others. Silly things, like the process behind asking a server for the bill, or the check if you are in the US, or l’ addition in France, die Rechnung in Germany, il conto in Italy, to logariasmo in Greece, la cuenta in Spain, and de rekening in the Netherlands. Wherever you are, the drill usually goes something goes like this:

You ask for the bill; they nod; they bring it over; they leave; they come after a little while to pick up the payment; they bring the change, or the card machine, say thank you, and you’re done.

Simple isn’t it?

You’d be surprised how long this simple process takes, even at the fastest of places, where they turn over clientele like cattle on a prairie. A few minutes at best. Sometimes it takes a lifetime, as if you have to beg them to take your bleeding money.

You’d also be surprised how difficult it is to cut the time and steps down if you are in a hurry. Servers will drop off the bill and rush off to the next table, not even considering the possibility you may have the money in hand. It’s part of the process, a way to give clients some time to settle their affairs without standing over them like some kind of goon, waiting for the moola.

I appreciate that. But when dining alone and on the trot, I am often ready to go. I want to carry on with my day.

You may think I’m overreacting. What harm is it to wait an extra 3-5 minutes per meal, to pay for my food? Not much really.

But why do it if it can be avoided? I mean, it’s such a simple thing to avoid.

See, I have taken it personally and am now involved in a neurotic competition with servers, which I myself have proclaimed, and of which only I – and now you – are aware, in which I have to pay and leave in no more than four steps: 1) ask for the bill, 2) be given it and pay with cash or card in one go, 3) get my change, and 4) leave.

What I usually do is ask for the bill, then, when they bring it to me I ask the server to hold on a minute and hand them the cash. It seldom works smoothly. They are programmed to scoot off. I have at times grabbed them by the hand and forced them to stay there, which didn’t go down so well (a waiter once almost beat me up and a few waitresses have on occasion reacted as if I were the devil), or had the money already in my hand, which I shoved in their palm before they could set the bill down, prompting them to frown at me, as if I were doing something extremely strange, when all I was really doing was:

Trying to pay the goddamn bill on the spot, so I could fuck off and get on with my day!

Is that so much to ask?

A little extra attention would go a long way, unclogging the system and saving everyone precious time

A little extra attention would go a long way, unclogging the system and saving everyone precious time. See, in my mind, here’s what makes sense. Bring a customer the bill and spend a extra couple of seconds hovering around (or have your eye out on your way back from the table you have just scooted off to) to cater for those in a hurry, so that they don’t have to wrestle you to the ground before they leave. But since I don’t own every restaurant in the world, all you people who are on the trot, especially those dining alone, will have to endure the extra wait every time, unless you make an extra effort to speed things up, which will hopefully not find you charged with harassment.

There we go. In this edition of Logic Rules, logic obviously fails! Unless, of course, you’re in parts of Germany, Holland and Switzerland. There the servers carry their own till in a pouch tied around their waist, or in a little bag. When you ask for l’ addition, or die Rechnung, or de rekening, you settle the account on the spot, at the table.

Ah, teutonic/frisian efficiency. Gotta love it when it works with you. Makes even a term as ‘de rekening’ (the reckoning?) sound promising.

Then of course there’s the English pub. There you pay at the bar and can do whatever you please afterward. So long as you don’t ask for beer in a cocktail glass, you’re fine.

Cheers! Logic rules after all, on occasion.

PS – did someone say Starbucks sucks? Not in my book it doesn’t.