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Awkward situation - when is the correct time to put the money/credit card in the bill holder?

Last night I ate out solo for dinner. When the waiter brought the dessert he also placed the bill holder on the table, then left again to get my coffee.

When he came back several minutes later with the coffee he lifted up the cover of the bill holder, presumably to see if I had put money or a credit card inside (I had done neither--I was going to do that when I was all done and ready to go). When he saw that I hadn't put anything in the bill holder he slowly lowered the cover again and left.

The checking of the bill holder felt a bit awkward. Maybe I should have put the money in as soon as he left it on the table and went away to get the coffee? Is that what people usually do? Or was HE the weird one in this case? (LOL).

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  1. I vote he is the weird one. If you are still eating and he brings the bill, he's rushing you out the door. Pay when you finish the meal.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Janet

      I agree. Let them not intimidate you.

    2. When the check is brought sooner than I'm ready for it, sometimes I just move it to the other side of the table, or away from where the server is, until I'm ready to pay. Then I place it close to the edge of the table, much as I would do with a menu, to indicate it's ready to be taken. This applies whether I'm solo or not.

      I wouldn't necessarily take it as a sign that I'm being rushed. I would think the server was just trying to be conscious of your time - oftentimes a solo diner just wants to eat and leave. (For those who are inevitably going to protest, note that I didn't say ALWAYS.) I don't think either of you was right or wrong; it was just awkward, but I would bet that servers deal with that situation all the time and think nothing of it (unless you've been lingering and there are people waiting).

      2 Replies
      1. re: lisavf

        Agreed. I wouldn't think twice about it.

        1. re: BobB

          +2. Doesn't bother me.

          I also do what lisavf does, move the check aside until I'm ready to pay, then move the check/check folder with my card or money to the edge of he table. I may also wait to catch the server's eye and quietly tap the check folder.

          In some cases (with less stellar service there) I may hold out the check folder a little in my hand when the server next comes by.

          One exception would be if I were eating in a more diner-type or non-fine dining type place around 2-3 pm or thereabouts, when it would be logical to think there is an impending staff shift change. I may ask the waiter/waitress when they present the check if their shift is up - if the answer is yes, I try to pay immediately (so the specific server gets the tip).

      2. I don't know what "people" usually do. But I pay when i am good and ready, regardless of what my waiter does. If I am in a hurry and the room is busy and I am paying with credit card, I'd pay up before I am finished. Otherwise no.

        1. I do one of two things if I get a bill and am not yet ready to pay it:

          Either I'm very careful not to move the folder at all, so it's fairly clear to an attentive waiter that I haven't touched it, or if I have to, I move it so that it's closer to me, somewhere towards the inside of the table and generally out of the waiter's reach. That's my signal that it's not for him yet.

          Once I actually do pay the bill, I move it away from me, and towards the edge of the table I'm being served from, and try to leave the credit card or the edges of the money protruding slightly from the folder, so they can be seen.

          I'm not sure if waiters actually leave these clues as clearly as I mean them to, but I've never run into much awkwardness in doing it this way, so either it works or I'm lucky.

          1. Usually what I do is open up the bill holder and take a quick look to make sure that the bill indeed is on the correct table, and then I leave the bill holder open until I am ready to pay. This way the server can see at a quick glance that I have not yet dealt with it.

            2 Replies
            1. re: souvenir

              That's a good idea, souvenir. Just leave the bill holder open so the server can easily see you haven't paid yet. I'll do that next time.

              1. re: john333

                Problematic with me if I do that, unless the check is in a check folder with those half-pockets to stick the check into - because I would often be reading my newspaper and turning the pages with an unsecured check equals a check fluttering away to the floor.

            2. Where I am, the check wouldnt generally have been brought until I'd asked for it. And I wouldnt have asked for it unless I was ready to pay. I'm not familiar with the etiquette of a server just bringing it without being asked to, but I imagine I'd just ignore it until I was pretty much ready to leave.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Harters

                It's very common here to bring the bill without asking. I think I like your customs better, though. I think the error is more on the servers side in this instance though.

                1. re: boyzoma

                  I guess I don't see why anyone is in the error in this situation. I've certainly had a server drop the check before, but because we were deep in conversation or simply didn't notice, we hadn't paid before they came back. Whoops. Not a big deal. I certainly have never thought, wow, that was an error by the server. Maybe this would be a bigger deal in a fine dining restaurant that was known for impeccable service, but I think for most places (in the US, anyways as Harters points out it's not common in England(?)), it's just not a big deal. If the server keeps coming back and it seems they are rushing you, sure, that's an issue, but if it's one time, I wouldn't give it a second thought.

                2. re: Harters

                  Very common Stateside in lower-end/middle end places; less pronounced or more "gradual" in timing in high-end places (where they would usually wait untll you had your coffee or it was clear you had come to the end of your meal). Still, not infrequently I would need to ask for the bill in some places whether low-end or high-end. Bottom line: it varies.

                3. I always pay as soon as I get the check, even if I'm going to be there for a little bit. It's not a big deal.

                  21 Replies
                  1. re: JonParker

                    Except that twice recently a server dropped the check on the table without inquiring if I wanted coffee or dessert. If I followed your system of paying when the check arrived, i wouldn't have the coffee or dessert. That choice should be up to me, the server should not assume I don't want anything after the main course.

                    1. re: bagelman01

                      I hate it when they do that, bagelman01. I sometimes wonder what made them assume I didn't want coffee or dessert.

                      1. re: bagelman01

                        if the server brings the check too early, i just ignore it. If it is in the way i place it behind me between the seat and my lower back so it does not stay in the line of site. if i want coffee or dessert, i just order it when i am ready,

                        1. re: jfood

                          I'd love to order coffee and dessert when I'm ready, BUT often when the server has already delivered the check it is a sign that service has ended and you will not be offered a dessert menu, etc.
                          I also remove the check from the table and place it where it is out of sight. Last week, a server who had brought the unasked for check before offering coffee and dessert, came back, didn't see the check, interrupted our conversation and inquired if another server had picked up and processed our payment.
                          I replied, I'd like to see the manager. When the manager arrived, I asked him if he had a server that might be interested in completing service, as we were not offered coffee or dessert, merely received a unasked for check. The manger brought a dessert menu, and personally took and served desert and coffee. However, he did add the charge to the already tendered bill.
                          Basically, the server lacked good training.

                          1. re: bagelman01

                            the server lacked good training.

                            ...as well as a tip

                            1. re: jfood

                              Normally, the server would have blown his tip, BUT I was entertaining a prospective client who is district director for a labor union and there was no way I could stiff the server. However, I let the manager know that upon future visits I shall not accept a table served by that waiter.

                              I bring clients and prospectives to this establishment about 2-3x per month and I'm sure my wishes will be honored.

                              1. re: bagelman01

                                How would the prospective client know if you left a tip or not? I'm assuming the two of you weren't sitting side by side like mr. and mrs. jfood. Seems more awkward to have had the conversation with the manager while the client looked on.

                                1. re: c oliver

                                  The prospective client was both insistent on having coffee and dessert, and anxious to meet management as the union would like to get into this particular establishment.
                                  As to knowing whether or not I tipped, some people are very good at reading upside down when the person on the other side of the table is filling out and signing the charge form.

                                  1. re: bagelman01

                                    Already found out from jfood what I hadn't thought of.

                                2. re: bagelman01

                                  i agree with you if there was a client with. There is a different standard. I was served a rancid ribeye at a client dinner and it would have gone back very quickly if not for the clients. I just told them that I was full from the wonderful appetizers. You never know when a rogue server may accost you at the door demanding the tip. That would not be a good end to a business lunch. I assume you called after.

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    Good point about the tip. Hadn't considered that.

                                    1. re: jfood

                                      Why would you not tip on bad food, it's not the server's fault?

                                      1. re: James Cristinian

                                        no, no. different situation.

                                        i was referring to standards of bringing up issues at a business meal and a personal meal with this comment.

                                      2. re: jfood

                                        Yes, and it was in the phone call that I let management know I do not want this server in the future.

                              2. re: bagelman01

                                Sometimes though it makes sense for the waiter to bring the check early. I went out for lunch once and the waiter brought the check while I was still eating lunch and he said he was bringing the check early in case I was in a rush to get back to the office, but if I wanted to stay longer and have dessert, that would be no problem, he would just amend the bill accordingly.

                                1. re: john333

                                  a lot of lunch places due that and the server just adds the cost to the check at the table if ordered. most times you pay at the register at these places.

                                  at places whre there is a computer generated check is where i thought your OP was about

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    I've only worked at finer dining, upscale joints and have always seen the check brought partially through the entree during lunch. It seems to be SOP, as we get mostly biz clientele pressed for time.

                                    1. re: invinotheresverde

                                      i agree that it is sop to bring the check quite early for business lunches, where the folks are often pressed for time and don't want to have to wait for a check and the resulting payment turnaround. on most pos systems it isn't a big deal to re-open a check after it's been printed, the check is only "closed" after payment has been received. i think it's nice if the server makes a mention that they will still be attending the table if the diners would like to order any other courses, because i can see how some folks would see the gesture of presenting the check as "rushing" when it is intended as a courtesy gesture toward business people with limited lunch time. i think it's a sticky etiquette situation sometimes depending on the diners and the time of day.

                                2. re: bagelman01

                                  That's a totally different scenario than the one in the OPs question, which clearly stated that the check was brought with the dessert.

                                  1. re: JonParker

                                    I didn't reply to OP, but to your post, relating a recent experience.

                              3. Or was HE the weird one in this case? (LOL).


                                You were the weird one for thinking this situation was awkward.
                                The waiter isn't a mind reader and he doesn't have x-ray vision.
                                Do you think he wanted to make you feel awkward if he looked to see if you paid, I don't think so.
                                I don't know why server's get a bad rap for doing their job.

                                1. It is "awkward" only because you're making it awkward.

                                  2 Replies
                                    1. re: beevod

                                      Yeah, I might have put it differently, but why was it awkward?

                                      Suppose you HAD put the card in it and were waiting for him to take it. For him to have ignored it when he brought the coffee would have been aggravating as you might have had another appointment to get to.

                                      He checked to see if you were ready. He didn't stand there tapping his foot, right?

                                      I'd say don't take it personally; he was just doing his job.

                                    2. Maybe ya'll are more imposing or intimidating than I am, but am I the only one here who has waited a looooong time for my check to arrive? It seems to me that the waiter was just trying to keep things moving along to the customer's favor. If Mr. Waiter was impatient, there would have been other tip-offs, I think, and that would be a different matter.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: yayadave

                                        "am I the only one here who has waited a looooong time for my check to arrive?"

                                        Nope - but that's a different question. I agree with you that when I ask for it, I expect to then arrive promptly. I also entirely agree that too often it doesnt.

                                      2. I put the payment in the holder (or ask for the check) as soon as I'm sure I'm not going to order anything more that (unlike, say, coffee refills) will be paid for. That way, with any luck, I'll be all paid up by the time I'm finished eating, and don't have to wait around, hoping to catch the server's attention then waiting for the payment to be processed.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. Hi all, new here. I'm a server and just wanted to throw my 2 cents in. Regarding the situation the OP experienced, I believe the server should not have opened the holder unless they were very very slammed or the guest had showed signs of being in somewhat of a hurry. Did that restaurant's holders not have a pocket at the top so that when you insert your card it sticks out? Either way, the guest would need at least a few minutes to eat the dessert and the server should have been planning to check back if you liked your dessert anyway, so checking right when s(he) dropped off the dessert was not correct.

                                          I work at a diner/chain type of restaurant. Technically we are supposed to drop the check while the guests are still eating, while letting them know we will still be checking on them and can offer dessert later. Personally, I don't do this except during weekday lunch, when people might be in a hurry. However I also do not like my customers to have to ask me for the check. While or after I am clearing your plates, I offer dessert and coffee, if dessert was not ordered, I bring the check next and let you know there is no rush and I will still be around for refills. At least in my type of restaurant (I don't know if it is different for fine dining) if you have to ask me for your bill, I haven't been paying close enough attention to you, barring a sudden need to leave prematurely.

                                          If I was dining and experienced the OP's situation, I too would have thought it was odd and lazy of the server.

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: nicholas85

                                            In Italy it is just the opposite; it is considered rude to place the check on the table until the diners are more than ready to leave. Some Tourists think the waiters are ignoring them when it is their way onf being courteous. In fact the table is yours for the evening, in many traditional restaurants.

                                            1. re: ospreycove

                                              Interesting, it might be the same for higher level restaurants here in North America as well. Not however with my $9 entrees and buy one get one free coupons half my customers use.

                                              I think service is very different at the type of restaurant where the chef is of a high caliber. The guests, I assume, respect and trust the chef to eat his dishes the way he prepares them without modifications (except for allergies). The servers then also have confidence in the quality of the food, and the maturity of the diners, so they are able to step back and let guests enjoy their meal without babysitting. I believe in Italy restaurant guests don't need buckets of ranch with their french fries while chugging gallons of diet coke :)

                                              1. re: nicholas85

                                                nicholas, In the U.S. it is all about turnover, especially at moderate prices, like your place, you need to turn those covers in order to stay ahead of the next Government Tax rolling down the road, and hope there are a few crumbs left for your hard work and long hours, ( I speak from having been there), Success and Good luck to you !!!!!!!!

                                                1. re: ospreycove

                                                  I've always wondered if tips garnered both by cash and credit card are calculated at the end of the day or week or month, and then divided. If so, what would be the incentive for giving a large tip, and what would be the incentive for a server to give great service.

                                                  1. re: Rella

                                                    In my experience that is only the case at some ethnic or cafe type places. In a standard restaurant servers get their tips the next day or at the end of the week. They tip out the busser and bartender nightly according to their sales numbers. Pooled tips can work great with the right combination of workers and managers, but it more often leads to poor service and a negative atmosphere in the restaurant with employees each trying to get away with doing less work than the next guy. I think technically it is illegal in a lot of states, but I don't know the details.

                                            1. i don;t like being brought a check unasked. in my snarkier youth it would almost guarantee i'd order a cup of tea or something, just to be a pain in the ass about it.

                                              I'm much nicer now

                                              but as to being awkward - you seem to care too much what the server thinks about you.....

                                              1. Interesting. When I'm presented with a check folder I always use the little credit card slot at the top which lets the card stick out so the server can see It and knows I'm ready to pay. If I'm paying with cash I let the bills stick out just enough so the server can see them.

                                                I think a good server can be caught between a desire to make sure you're not waiting for them to pick up your payment and the opposite situation of seeming like they're rushing you to pay. My method seems to at least let them know when I'm ready, though I have had some servers do what the OP said BEFORE I was ready.

                                                1. The "correct" time is whenever you are comfortable doing it.