Check Yourself

What not to do when dining out with friends.


Let me relate one of my most unpleasant dining experiences. ABoston journalist was passing through Los Angeles for a night and hoping to see as many of her LA-based friends as possible. To help keep things sane, one of her local buddies organized a group dinner so she could see everyone at once. The evening was a great success—the restaurant was friendly and accommodating. The food was great. There was much laughter, much wine, much gossip. A sublime time was had by all.

And then the bill came.

It wasn't a big bill—the cost per person was about $45, which included chipping in for the guest of honor's dinner. But it was a group bill. And shortly after the bill arrived, the bickering began.

"My chicken didn't cost as much as his steak—I should pay less."

"Y'all had wine and I didn't—I don't want to pay for drinks I didn't have!"

"I didn't have an appetizer or a dessert—my bill should be at least $10 less!"

Needless to say, some of us were mortified. After all, these were not people who lived from check to check or bought generic groceries. They wore nice clothes, drove Mercedeses and Lexi, traveled abroad frequently and had a more than passing acquaintance with products from the De Beers cartel. Yet that evening they were complaining about nickels and dimes. (And remember, this was before the economy tanked!)

In the end, a few of us contributed quite a lot more to the pot to make sure that the waitstaff didn't get stiffed and that the next members of The Race who happened upon this place for dinner didn't get seated next to the kitchen door. "I have to live in this town," one over-contributor snapped, "and I'll be damned if I am too embarrassed to come back here again because these Negroes were too cheap to do the right thing!"

I totally understand the frustration behind the sentiment, but let me point out that fussing about splitting the check evenly is a universal, multiculti phenomenon. I was on the Other Coast a few months ago and shared drinks and hors d'oeuvres with a group of reporters at a chic watering hole in D.C. I was the only one of Us there. The bill arrived in one of those little leather folders that serves to prolong the drama, and not only did the bickering over who-ordered-what ensue, but there was even a virulent bout of selective amnesia for good measure.

"I'm sure I didn't ask for two orders of truffled fries!"