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Jul 21, 2008 10:09 AM

My New Dining Pet Peeve--I want Separate Checks

Hi all,

So I just came back from a few days in Montreal. Of course, the food was fantastic and I enjoyed each meal we had.

Something else I enjoyed, was the fact that EVERY restaurant, from the fanciest establishment, to the simplest, offered us separate checks for every meal. We could get the check split in any permutation/combination we desired. This made a moot point of the hated after meal ritual of splitting up the check.

Every time I've asked for separate checks in the US (especially in Boston, my hometown), the waiter looks at me like I've just asked him to calculate PI out to 2500 decimal places. I get all sorts of excuses about why it can't be done. I used to believe the excuses, but now I'm wondering if it's so easy in Montreal, it can't be that difficult.

I know that I for one, would probably eat out a bit more often if I didn't have to worry about paying for the two bottles of wine that I didn't drink, or if I didn't have to sit there with a calculator and yell out "Who had the Steak?"

Any ideas why this wonderful custom can't make it south of the border?

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  1. I've had no problems with this in the States. I've requested split checks (in all sorts of permutations and not just 50/50) in DC, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, Santa Fe, Ft. Lauderdale, Chicago, NYC and probably a few others I can't remember right now. Never had it arise in Boston, however.

    I think it really depends on the establishment. Don't think there is a general difference between Canadian and American servers on this issue.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ipsedixit

      This weekend when we ate out i saw the neatest came on one check if you wanted to pay together but each person was seperated out too.Very neat...of course a little freaky to see your four year olds stuff off to itself.LOL

    2. It's unbelievable how much systems and procedures vary from restaurant to restaurant. I wonder if they have a uniform system in canada and that's why it's easier?

      Case in point: 12 years ago I worked at a restaurant that had simple to use (for the servers) touch screens. When people wanted separate checks you could do any combination you wanted - when you logged into the check, it would bring up all the food on the order. You could just touch - steak, wine, fruit cup, end check 1, etc through all the food and at the end it print up all the checks on little plain pieces of paper so everyone had their own check. processing payment for each one was no more difficult than processing a regular check since each check was like its own separate transaction.

      About 5 years ago (much later than the earlier place) I worked at a restaurant where separate checks were a NIGHTMARE. The servers didn't have permission in the registers to initiate a separate check, so when you had one, you had to go get the manager on duty who was usually either expediting, talking to an angry table, cashing someone out, or in the back smoking. When you finally got them to come fix the computer then you had to stand there for like 10 minutes doing it. You had to put each thing in a specific order or else the separate check function wouldn't work. And if you had a whole bunch and had multiple credit card transactions, the manager had to come override it again to give you approval. A party of 10 could literally take 25 minutes to get their change/charge slips back.

      Why didn't they have a more modern system? different corporate owners, different priorities of what to spend $ on, I guess.

      5 Replies
      1. re: rockandroller1

        I don't know of a uniform system for tills in Canada; they vary as much as Interac pin pads in their design and user-friendliness. A lot of larger restaurants do use Squirrel (that's what it used to be called when I tended bar in university) but it's not the standard. Splitting the cheque should be something that doesn't require a heavy sigh and eye roll from the server although admittedly it's easier if a party makes it known ahead of time how they'd like it split.

        1. re: maplesugar

          100% agree and I tried hard not to do the sigh and eye roll but also to let them know that it would take me a few minutes.

          1. re: rockandroller1

            Deepending on the amount of checks, it could be more than a few minutes.

            Splitting checks on a modern POS system could not be easier. It's the cashing out of checks that creates a hassle, if everybody at the table either needs their credit card run through or needs change on their cash. THAT can end up taking an awful lot of time when you're busy. Perhaps, in Montreal, it is the custom to have a dedicated cashier take care of all of the transactions. Anything more than two separate checks here in the states can put you behind very quickly.

            1. re: hilltowner

              Splitting checks on a modern POS system could not be easier? Not if you don't have the ability to split it yourself! As rockandroller mentioned, many restaurants require a manager to swipe their card in the system to split a check, which doesn't work out very well when they have a habit of disappearing for long periods of time.

              1. re: hilltowner

                The last morning of our trip, we went out to a nice coffee shop for breakfast. Without asking, we received 4 individual checks for the meal. I had planned to pay for the entire thing, so I brought the checks to the cashier, who happened to be our waitress. She rang it all through, will no problems. At the other places, our waiter took the payments at the table, as usual. So I don't think it's an issue of more staff.

        2. wow i haven't had this problem either in the US. however, when i lived in nyc the restaurants there would not split checks. and we used to go out in large groups quite often so i was paying $50 many times when it would only be $20. but everywhere else i've dined here, i haven't encountered that problem. i would just ask or if you are going out with a group, maybe call ahead and see what their policy is. i hate the big group parties where i order salad and other people order wine and i wind up paying $75. (yes this happened to me.)

          1. When the situation warrants, I always ask for a separate check BEFORE I order -- I see no reason why it can't be done if asked before they merge the orders onto one check - and have had problems at only place (who wanted to play games) using this method. Otherwise, there have been no problems. I should add: that I generally tip 20% on that separate check -- so the server is encouraged to accommodate me again with separate checks.

            3 Replies
            1. re: karmalaw

              Well, maybe it's more of the custom in Boston and NYC not to do this. Those are the places where I've tried and failed in the past. However, I haven't tried recently to do it. Maybe computers and technology have caught up with the practice.

              However, the US friends I was with in Montreal, who are from Minneapolis, were also surprised and pleased with the check-splitting. I'll let you know next time I go out, what happens.

              1. re: mwk

                I live in NYC and it's near impossible to get separate checks here. However, I visited my sister when she was living in Indiana, and when we went out to dinner with a large group of girls the waiter was more than willing to split the check into any permutation we wanted. It was much easier.

              2. re: karmalaw


                Well, it's possible that times have changed, as it's been a couple of years since the last time I tried and failed to get separate checks. I've only had a lot of dining experience with this in NYC and Boston. Maybe it's different in those cities.

                However, my travelling companions in Montreal, who are from Minneapolis, also expressed surprise at how easy it was, and the way that almost every restaurant expected to split the bill. Also, it didn't matter that you ask before ordering. They would split the bill in any manner, at any time.

                I'll have to try asking next time I go out for dinner with a group, and report back. I'll make sure to ask before we order, just to be fair about it.

              3. When I first started working in Dallas, I was shocked that the average restaurant would tolerate five or six credit cards in a check split at lunch. I had never seen that before in New York or New Jersey, and in fact would have been embarrassed to ask for it. The average waitress or waiter would just as soon toss you out of their restaurant with a snarl if you asked for this.

                That said, splitting the check into multiples is quite the norm here. I am not sure if the ubiquitous chain restaurants just have better computer systems or what, but this doesn't even raise a brow.