Fighting over the check
I'm trying to understand the mentality that goes with having the server decide who pays the check. More specifically, more than one member of the party slips credit cards to the server. How are they to decide? It would seem that first come, first serve would be a good way to go except many people i.e. the "birthday" person, can be the first person to slip the card.
It can get hostile amongst guests. To be quite frank, I believe it is completely inappropriate to ask a server to get involved and less appropriate to say "I'm a better tipper!"
I think your topic is interesting: I also have wondered what servers go through in deciding who gets the check. (If I mean to do so, which is not routine because we usually split in our groups, I'll tell the server up front.)
But other parts of your message puzzle me, and I wonder if you're making a mountain of a molehill. Is it a real world situation when a server is asked to decide who actually pays? And if so, and if someone interjects that he/she's a better tipper, I'd assume they're just goofing around. It's not a server's job.
If two people both give their cards to the server, doesn't the server split the check between the cards? If not, wouldn't you have to go with who gave it first?
I served for a long time and while I haven't had someone straight up ask me to choose, I have had multiple people trying to hand me cards and arguing. I don't think I ever had a problem in that situation understanding who should really be paying. For example, if the bithday person is trying to hand me a card and arguing, generally the other person trying to pay would look at me and say something along the lines of "no really just put it all on this card" in which case I would grab it and run before anyone had time to put up a fight :)
In response to Babette if two people are splitting the check there is usally no argument and they are generally very clear (or I'll ask) how they want to split the bill i.e. split down the middle or divided by dish. Other than special cases like the one above, I would usually go with whoever gave their card first.
I also often had people pull me aside before the meal or on a trip to the restroom and say they'd like to pay. I think the polite thing when someone wants to pay (and it is appropriate for them to pay) is to offer that I pick up the tab once. If they insist then I say thank you and shut my mouth! but that's a whole different post.
"To be quite frank, I believe it is completely inappropriate to ask a server to get involved"
Inappropriate? Probably a little bit, but it is part of the undefined job for a servers to handle situations where multiple guests ask to pay for the check. I don't think I have ever seen people directly ask a server to decide. They may each try to convince the server, so you may say they are asking server to decide, but not in an open statement.
It comes with the business territory. A lot of jobs are like this. If you think about the Japan earthquake and nuclear radiation leak. There were many scientists and engineers stayed behind at the plants at the time. Was it appropriate? Let's just say someone has to do it, and even though it wasn't part of the job description, it has to be done.
"less appropriate to say "I'm a better tipper!""
Ok, that is in fact very inappropriate because that is a form of bribery.
When a second member of the party attempts to give a credit card to the server, the server need only respond, 'it's already been taken care of' smile and move on.
When I waited tables eons ago (40 years) we were trained to check the reservation book and identify the reservee (the Maitre D or Hostess often gave us a heads up. The check would be presented to the reserving party. He (yes 40 years ago, he was the most common situation) arranged for the table and he should receive the bill.
When I am treating, and especially if I anticipate resistance, I speak to the server, and instruct them to hand me the check. That usually works fine.
Thank you for recognizing the very uncomfortable position servers are often put into in these scenarios. My rule, and the rule of my restaurant is first come first served. The best way to avoid fighting is to hand your card over to the server when you arrive. Then, if someone else tries to pull the same thing, the server will, as noted below or perhaps above, state that the check is taken care of and will refuse the card. The last thing we want to do i negotiate check paying between total strangers, income levels and life situations totally unknown to us. It is not our job to decide or even to facilitate the decision. Often, a check goes on the table, and a fight ensues. I just wait a bit and pick it up when it is clear who is paying.
What's most interesting to me is that I have offered a server my credit card many times, and when the server returns, it's inevitable that the card is returned to my husband.
In most Chinese restaurants, the server just leaves the check in the middle of the table. You haven't seen anything yet until you see the Chinese argue over who will pay for the check! I mean, it involves pushing, shoveling and shouting that can go on for a while. Quite a scene!
You never saw my grandfather and father (his SIL) argue over a check (No, neither one is Chinese;-) Family members still laugh and groan about it, and my grandfather has been dead for some 30 years......But I learned something from those arguments.....I make every effort to avoid fights over paying the check. If my husband and I want to pay it, we will announce so ahead of time. If we think that's still not going to avoid a fight, we will hand a credit card to the server when we first arrive. Of course, there are some family members that will never put up a fight, and never offer.....:-)
I've occasionally had success in talking a group into credit card roulette. where everyone puts their credit card in a hat or bag and the server pulls one out.