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Jun 12, 2007 12:56 PM

NYT - "You Do the Math" about anxiety over birthday parties in restaurants

This was published back on May 6, but I couldn't find any mention of it searching this board (sorry if I was wrong). It talks about some of the gripes people have about celebrating birthdays in restaurants with big groups. Main issue, of course, is the fact that those who don't eat or drink much get stuck subsidizing those who do - a topic that's been hot on the CH "Not About Food" board. As someone who typically doesn't drink much in restaurants, I found the situations described in the article very familiar!

Lots of funny quotes:

"It’s not that we don’t wish many happy returns to [the birthday person] ... really, we do. It’s the guy two chairs down who ordered the foie gras appetizer, Dover sole entree, side of truffled mashed potatoes and three martinis made with designer gin whom we never want to see again."

“Vegetarians always get screwed at these things...”

"Large groups of friends going Dutch at birthday parties, at what people persist in calling “ethnic” restaurants, is common practice just out of college. 'After age 30, it’s tacky'... "

I wholeheartedly agree with the first two quotes above (unless said vegetarians are big drinkers!), but I'd say the jury's out on the third one, depending on how fair your friends are!

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  1. I read the original article and I thought it would have generated a lot of discussion on chowhound as well. Fortunately, I live in places (Birmingham, AL and Durham, NC) where most restaurants (even higher end) do not have a problem splitting checks. However, on those occasions when I do end up at a restaurant that doesn't split checks and there are 6 or more people, there's always one friend who ends up putting it on his credit card and others pay cash. What bugs me about that is that there's always one person in the group who has dubious math skills (whether intentional or not) and ends up shortchanging the person who put the bill on the card. That irks me to no end. It doesn't seem to really both the other person but I get plenty mad for the both of us. :)

    1. Sad to say, but with my wife's family I've always learned to bring plenty of cash to any group dining. I was the credit card person once and ended up about 20% light on the bill and way under on tip. Now I just pony up my share in cash and let someone else be the sucker.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Scrapironchef

        To make everything easier the person making a reservation should automatically inform the restaurant that separate checks will be needed. With enough notice most restaurants usually do not have a problem. Another option would be to work with the restaurants manager and assemble a preset menu with about three entree choices (of course a vegetarian item is always assumed, but typically not printed). Then at least a certain price will be set and the party planner can inform everyone of the cost (before wine, cocktails, etc).

        Otherwise I always bring enough cash and keep track of what I consumed and how much it is (pain in the you-know-what, but I have been on the overpaying end before). I like what my good friend does for her birthday every year: Teppenyaki. Because at most places a table of eight is normally independant couples or families so the checks are assumed separate-no squabbles or mistakes. Of course, I can't see doing this for my birthday, too much noise at times.

      2. I know this will strike some people as incredibly tacky, but the best investment I ever made was spending $3.99 on a solar calculator from my local drugstore. It is slim and small enough to slip into my pants pocket and I am quick to bring it out when I am in a large group setting where the big eaters may be relying on a subsidy from those who are only feeling like a snack.

        The first time I brought it, there were complaints until I asked why anyone would be offended at having to pay for exactly what they ordered. Since then, I have found my trusty calculator has added much needed chlorine to the acquaintance pool as those who were looking for a subsidy are now always too busy to join in the fun.

        It may be tacky, but it certainly has saved me a lot of money and discomfort.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Seth Chadwick

          Every cell phone I've owned has a calculator built in.

          1. re: KTinNYC

            KT...when our son goes out with a large group of friends they all pull out their cell phones to calculate the bill, some sort of right of passage for young adults...but once they start earning their own money it's amazing how "smart" they get!

          2. re: Seth Chadwick

            Y'know, Seth, you make a great point.
            I always thought it was nerdy and/or rude to bust out the calulator -- like insinuating people are dishonest -- but you're right: who would be offended?

          3. I've come to a different place on all of this: I don't go unless I'm willing to fork over a lot of money. For big group dinners (ie, more than, say, 8) I figure that someone is going to end up adding far more money than they should strictly owe. I also always figure that's going to be and my wife. If we're good with that, then we'll go. If we feel like we don't like the other people in the group enough, then we'll decline the invite and usually take the birthday person out another time or have them over for dinner to our place.

            I'm not claiming some high moral ground here...its just I figure someone is likely to get hosed in a large group dining situation and I always make my decision based on whether I'm willing to be that person.

            3 Replies
            1. re: ccbweb

              I very much like this idea (although for now it means I will have to stay home, being a poor graduate student)

              1. re: ccbweb

                I'm with you on the idea of knowing you may have to cover a little of someone else, I've paid for people when it is appropriate. Your method works fine with friends who are "optional", but family events can be another story.

                1. re: Scrapironchef

                  Very very true about the family events being a different story. I do find that to be true across the board and not just in this sort of situation.

              2. I posted something!

                Brilliant, insightful article!

                After a heinous experience at Zibibbo restaurant in Palo Alto back in my college days, group dins are verboten for me. Better to have people over at home for large group celebrations.

                If I do go (for good friends, no more than 8, and some of those got to be couples) I mentally prep myself to accept that I'm going to be paying more than I intend to.

                Btw, something just doesn't feel right about punching away at a phone calculator on the table...

                2 Replies
                1. re: amandine

                  nothing feels right about getting hosed amadine :) (wink) pull out that calculator!

                  1. re: HillJ

                    Fortunately, my friend's bf is a graduate student in mathematics, and an incredibly good guy, so I just hand it to him and save myself the anxiety...