Base Camp is where visitors go to relax, unwind, and get familiar with an anthology of earlier material.

Logic Rules: Paying The Bill

The second in a new series, ‘Logic Rules’, this article examines the logical behaviors we eschew for illogical reasons…

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately, so I get to dine on my own often. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, I’ve done them all solo, and have come to realize that single patrons don’t get the respect that couples and groups do. We get the second-class citizen treatment, ending up with 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 affords you is the time to notice things you don’t notice when in the company of others

One thing dining alone affords 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 goes something 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 process takes, even at the fastest of places, where they turn over clientele like cattle on a prairie. A lifetime, is how long it takes. You have to beg them to take your bleeding money.

What’s more, it’s almost impossible to speed things up. 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’m often ready to go. Hand me the bill, I look at it, hand you the money (cash or card, either works), and we’re done! Stick around, asshole, I have your money! Where are you going?

You may think I’m overreacting. What harm is it to wait an extra 3-5 minutes per meal, to pay for my food?

True, but why do it if it can be avoided? I mean, it’s a simple thing to fix.

See, I’m taking 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, namely:

  1. Ask for the bill
  2. Pay with cash or card as soon as the bill arrives
  3. Get my change
  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 arm and forced them to stay there, which didn’t go down well (a waiter once almost beat me up and a few waitresses have on occasion reacted as if I were the devil).

Other times I 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 that I could fuck off and get on with my day, and let them get on with theirs!

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 next table) to cater for those in a hurry, and maybe they won’t have to wrestle you to the ground before they leave. But since I don’t own every restaurant in the world, all of us poor sods who’re on the trot, especially those dining alone, have to wait without reason, wasting our time, unless we make an extra effort to speed things up, which will hopefully not find us 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 cash 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 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.