Getting older seems to come with a fair amount of side effects—increased joint pain, indigestion, tooth sensitivity, general peevishness about being awake after 11 on a weeknight. Some of these are just general consequences of your body letting you know that you, too, are slowly decaying from years of treating it like Play-Doh. Others are just the impact of increased administrative responsibilities—if 14-year-old me had any idea of the clusterfuck that is tax season, I am more than sure that I would have tried to draw out my teen years as long as humanly possible.*
Then there are things that are just terrible but we keep trying to convince ourselves are worthwhile components of adulthood. One such example is attending Lauryn Hill performances in 2016. Another is group dinners.
Gatherings of more than six people for a communal meal at a restaurant continue to be one of the more irritable dining experiences that I, for some reason, find myself repeatedly paying for the pleasure of having. Every time, I find myself walking away with the song "Never Again" firmly in my heart … and then, with the frequency of a dental-cleaning reminder, another one of my friends insists that the best way to celebrate his or her birthday is with a collective of friends from different groups in your life who only ever interact with one another the one day we are forced to.
Even if you’ve made a reservation, it’ll take forever to get the table prepared for the group. That is, of course, assuming the entire group makes it to the reservation on time, a feat about as probable as me not eating a Popeyes $5 special for the next month. Once everyone is seated, it takes the entire baker’s dozen about 45 minutes to decide what to eat … which is then followed by another 45 minutes for all the food to be ready to come out at the same time.
The waiting game after you have ordered the food and are desperately waiting to stuff your mouth with all the starches the establishment has to offer is a special form of purgatory. If you are the guest of honor, the conversation is stilted because you are only able to really speak to the people immediately next to you. If you’re an attendee stuck between two people you don’t know and are unable to spark insightful discussion about what’s in the new crispy chicken wrap, you’re stuck checking your text messages and straining your ear desperately to hear if there’s a topic on the other end of the table you can jump in on, all while your stomach is doing the A-Town stomp awaiting some chicken and waffles. If you’re on the opposite end of the table … well, I hope you have some good books in your Kindle.
All of this happens before we even get to the business of the check. I don’t know what it is about settling a check that turns the tabletop at Elberta (RIP) into a live-action version of Game of Thrones, but it is the inevitable tense conclusion of every mass-dining function, and I want out.
No matter what your ragtag group of 20- to 40-something friends may consist of, the following personalities are guaranteed to present themselves once it’s time to pay the restaurant for services rendered:
1. The person who is vehemently against splitting checks—no ifs, ands or buts
A position I could understand if there were one or two people who spent egregiously more than others, but if no one splurged on the surf and turf and there are 10 of us with comparably priced entrees plus a drink, demanding an itemized distribution is the easiest way to get on everyone’s shit list. If the differential comes out to plus or minus $5 to $10, you’ll be fine.
2. The asshat that orders the surf and turf, seven bottles of wine and dessert
Stunt on your own time. We are all here to eat our medium-priced chicken carbonara, hug the guest of honor and go home. Save the spot for later if you must find out what their pig roast tastes like, but leave us out of that receipt, please.
3. The person who only has exactly enough for the sticker cost of his or her meal
Ignore the fact that, the bulk of the time, these events usually have a guest of honor, such as a birthday person, whose meal will usually get comped by the group. You’ve made it all the way to adulthood and need to be reminded that tax and tip are a thing?! Plus, gratuity is almost always included in the tab for large parties. Go back to whatever mole tribe you came from, but leave your $37.95 behind.
4. The person who shorts his or her part of the bill but won’t own up to it
It’s 11:15 p.m., everyone is full and tired and ready to say their goodbyes, but somehow we are 20 bucks short and no one knows how. Don’t be that person unless you want to be thoroughly embarrassed by me. Let someone know if you ain’t got it; more than likely, that person will be able to spot you. Or, an even more novel idea: Don’t go out if you don’t think you can afford the expenditure. Novel idea, I know!
In short: Large group dinners are awful, and if I have agreed to attend one for your birthday or graduation or going-away party, please know that I have made the mental calculation that our friendship is worth the approximately three-plus hours of agony that you have requested to put us all through. Please repay that love by never asking me to go through that mess again.
* As I write this, I have still not filed my taxes. S—t ain’t fun when you owe.