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Please bring me my check!

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I know a lot of restaurant folks frequent the Chowhound boards, so I have a question about an issue that absolutely VEXES me almost every time I eat out.

Why, oh why, is it so hard for me to get my check, then to have it settled, in a timely manner once I've finished my meal?

I suppose it might have something to do with the fact you are no longer a candidate to order more food or drinks once you ask for the check, so your order of importance drops from those who can still add value, but especially in getting the check in the first place, I still have my gratutity/tip to consider so I would think any waiter/server interested in maximizing my satisfaction would not want to annoy me at the EXACT moment prior to my decision on said gratuity. Also, in a busy place, since I'm done ordering wouldn't you want me to settle up so you can clrear and turn the table?

However, whether I'm at a Cheesecake Factory or an independent restaurant where I've dropped more than $200-$300, I consistently run into issues in this area. I'm like "please, please take my money" but the servers disappear and it leaves a very bad impression of my experience no matter the quality of the meal - especially if I have somewhere to be after the meal (movie, concert, relieve the babysitter, etc)

This is something that has happened to me in many areas of the country (though I admit it is a bigger issue with younger servers), so I feel there must be a reason why restaurants do not pay attention to this - or maybe I'm just asking wrong. But all research shows the final impression of any experience is the dominant one for impacting satisfaction and intent to return or recommend, so why a restaurant would want to create frustration at this stage is a mystery to me.

Please enlighten me......

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  1. While I agree with you, I think, at least in some cases, it has to do with priorities.

    As in folks waiting to order, have food delivered (hot & in a timely fashion), have drinks refilled, are more pressing in the grand scheme of things than check duties.

    I'm not saying it's right, just that that's what most likely happens.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Bacardi1

      That makes sense on the surface but paying the bill is as much of the experience as is ordering, eating etc, and it's even more of an issue as it's the establishments final impression - but I would guess the average server likely is more focused on the food and drink issues.

      1. re: YosemiteSam

        i can't speak about chains because i've never worked in one, nor do i eat in them.

        however, some places sop is to NOT drop the check until the guest actually asks for it. if you know you want to pay and not get dessert, just ask for your check when the meals come.

        you have no idea how many guests "hide" the credit card inside the check presenter, so a server can't tell if it's ready to be processed or not. they don't want to keep asking because that seems rude.

        there may only be one cc processing station, with lots of servers trying to use it.

        if you pay cash, the server likely has to wait for a bartender or manager to close the check and make change. if the bar is slammed or the manager dealing with something else, this could take a few minutes.

    2. Can't enlighten you as this rarely if ever happens to me. The exception is usually if I am forced to dine out on a hallmark holiday (VD, NYE, MD, etc) as those days are usually slammed and it's all the servers can do to keep up-one of the reason we stay home for them. The other exception is a new server/bad management but again this is rare.

      We don't eat in chains like CCF or Applebees type places but from an outsiders view they look like the type of place where they want to turn a table quickly so that makes no sense why they don't get you the check.

      1. When you order your meal (if you know you won't be getting anything more) or your dessert, ask the server to bring the check along with the food. You can add that you are on a tight schedule, if you want to be certain s/he gets the message.

        1. Hi, Sam:

          This has bothered me occasionally, when the server has *already* brought the check, yet delays in processing a visible card or bringing change when cash is laid out.

          However, for me anyway, I think it makes for a *worse* experience for the server to leave the check the second the fork has been turned over. In many places in the world, it is considered rude to bring the check until the patron asks for it. I kind of like the idea that the top is mine for as long as I wish.

          Aloha,
          Kaleo

          1. Please enlighten me......

            The few times this has happened to me, I've just gotten up, walked to the front to the cashier/hostess and said, "I can't seem to get my check and I need to leave now"...You would be amazed how fast I got the check.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Uncle Bob

              yup,
              that's the system i've used for several decades now and it's worked every time.
              i start out with the assumption that people basically WANT to please me and that there has been a small error. that attitude, goes a long way.

            2. Thanks for the responses.

              I do use many of your ideas and they work of course. I was just curious why this happens - seems like it's just under the guise of bad service when it does occur in an extreme fashion - lord knows their is plenty of that to go around in a tourist mecca like Orlando

              1. I think that part of the reason that it takes a little while to get your bill is because the server is trying not to rush you, which in my opinion would ruin my experience. If you are in a hurry I would suggest telling the server when you get there so that they are aware of the fact that you want to get in and out of there as quickly as possible. Also, if the restaurant is very busy, it might take a little bit longer for the server to print out your bill depending on how many POS systems the restaurant has in the back.

                1. For every person that wants their check right now, there is a person that does not want to feel rushed.

                  1. If I'm really in a rush I'll ask for the check and have my credit card ready when it comes. The server hands me the bill and I hand the credit card over without giving them a chance to leave. This cuts out a lot of time. Of course, I don't get to check over the bill prior to forking over my card but the itemized check usually comes back with my card - I take a quick look, write down the tip and total and I'm outta there.
                    When you do this, even the most rookie of servers can figure out you're ready to leave and act accordingly.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: bobbert

                      Exactly.

                      The whole episode takes about 60 seconds.

                    2. If I'm waiting ill lock eyes with any server and make the rectangle sign with my hands... If I'm really waiting ill walk up to the front booth or whoever, ask for the check, and leave no tip.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: youareabunny

                        so... numerous times dining out, you have waited so very long to pay that it negated an otherwise pleasant meal? i dine out a few times per week and don't recall ever feeling that way. have i waited what i felt was too long? yes. but never so long that i had to stiff the server.

                        then again i'm generally pro-active about asking for the bill especially if the server seems to have trouble multitasking -- which is easily evident long before it comes time to pay.

                        1. re: youareabunny

                          <Leave no tip>

                          Even if the service is stellar up to the point when you feel you're not getting your check quickly enough?
                          I can't imagine that.

                          1. re: latindancer

                            for all you know the server could be sick in the bathroom, getting screamed at in the office by a manager, have fallen or been burned, or called on the phone to a family emergency. life is not always black and white. at least to me.

                          2. re: youareabunny

                            no tip? really?

                            1. re: youareabunny

                              " If I'm really waiting ill walk up to the front booth or whoever, ask for the check, and leave no tip."

                              So all the hard work that server did leading up to this one mistake negates a tip? Wow.

                              1. re: youareabunny

                                <<leave no tip.>>
                                wow.
                                i guess that your performance at work is absolutely perfect every single day
                                also, if you should ever have a slip up your employer will penalize you financially and that seems totally fair to you even if the slip up is trivial and, in fact, may have been unavoidable given that day's volume?

                                1. re: youareabunny

                                  No tip? I disrecommend you. -1.

                                  I must be a nice person. Or notable in some positive way. I *never* have these problems with waiters. I feel some people look for things to pick on waiters over.

                                  I know someone who would pull a maneuver like this and feel justified in doing so. We no longer live in the same city, but when we did, I reached the point where I avoided eating out with him.

                                2. I'm one who will tell the server up front that I'm in time crunch, so to please bring the bill as soon as we're finished.

                                  I resent being made to feel like I'm being pushed out the front door -- I'm not a camper, but I if I'm dropping some cash to enjoy a night out with friends, I don't need the server coming by with the not-so-subtle nonverbal cue of "kthnksbye"

                                  12 Replies
                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                    Usually my servers bring the check up as soon as I decline dessert (not big on them for some reason) and say "no rush, whenever your ready," but a few times you get a rushed server who says nothing, a guy from the back already windexing the table, etc.

                                    1. re: youareabunny

                                      that's the nice thing about restaurants in Europe -- there's no "Hi, I'm Debi, with a heart over the 'i', and I'm going to be your server tonight" and no being given the bums' rush out the door.

                                      You have the opportunity to sit and enjoy the meal, the surroundings, and your companions, and leave when you're good and ready.

                                      I find the "no rush, whenever you're ready" to be a gentler translation of "really, I'm not going to pull your chair out, but you need to leave"

                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                        Didn't even think of that. Most of the servers here are kind and attentive but never waste time with introductions. The worst I've had is the introduction + today's specials spiel. If I was interested in the specials I'd ask.

                                        Over here they make it a point to enjoy the meal. There's plenty opportunity on the way to, from and on the subway to be rushed.

                                        1. re: youareabunny

                                          I do want to know about the specials! Ideal time is when I order my drink not when you introduce yourself. However I don't want to wait until you come to take my meal order either usually the time it takes for you to make our drinks etc is enough time to decide.

                                          1. re: melpy

                                            That's a good time to discuss specials. One time the guy mumbled the specials so fast icouldnthearwhatthespecialswereanyway.

                                            1. re: melpy

                                              I prefer chalkboards and/or menu inserts for exactly this reason.

                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                A chalkboard doesn't work at a fine dining restaurant and many times they are only at the entrance. While I like and insert, I find it to be wasteful of resources, especially when only used for the evening.

                                                1. re: melpy

                                                  anything has to be better than a monotone droning at three times normal speaking speed.

                                                  Either find a way to present your specials in a manner in which they can be understood (verbal or nonverbal, makes no difference) or don't offer specials.

                                                  There's not much point in offering specials if no one can find out what they are.

                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                    I have never had trouble understanding my server with regards to specials. They speak perfectly normally with appropriate intonation. I often order a special and have no trouble finding out what they are. Sometimes the restaurant wants to wait until right before we order to tell me but usually I will try to find out ASAP because I take a while to decide.

                                                    1. re: melpy

                                                      either you're lucky, or I'm not.

                                            2. re: youareabunny

                                              there are many places where the intro and reciting the specials are sop. servers are just cogs in a wheel.

                                              for those who say they "would ask if i cared about specials" there is an equal number who would complain they were never told.

                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                Just let me know "we also have some specials this evening but I'll let you look at our wine and beverage list a moment while you settle".

                                      2. i'd rather the server err on the side of NOT rushing me to pay and get out.
                                        it's easy to speed things up, but very difficult to slow things down when a restaurant is trying to turn your table.

                                        one of the reasons i love restaurants so much is that they allow me the luxury of just paying attention to my dining partner. it is even more lovely to be able to sit around after someone else has cleared the table and be able to enjoy my friends' company.

                                        a restaurant that doesn't make me feel pressured, and allows me to linger, gets positive points. same for such a server. i tip MORE if they are diligent about getting my food served to me at a reasonable pace and then disappear after i've finished the meal.

                                        1. I've always put my card down on the table next to me. For some reason they jump and take away my card.

                                          1. "I suppose it might have something to do with the fact you are no longer a candidate to order more food or drinks once you ask for the check, so your order of importance drops from those who can still add value..."

                                            Not at all. Closing the check is of the utmost imprtance to a server since they are usually held accountable for any checks people skip out on.

                                            1. Agree, agree, agree. Then again, I am not one to linger after a meal. Many people are, and don't want to be rushed. And presenting the check unasked is the ultimate rudeness. So I try to make it clear, ask for the check when the main is being cleared, have my card out and ready, and, if I am heading for a curtain or downbeat, specify that I have to leave by a certain time. Still, the delays you cite sometimes happen anyway, and it is frustrating.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: mwhitmore

                                                Unless I have somewhere to be or I am uncomfortable a normal amount of pause does not bother me. If I have a deadline then I alert my server at the beginning of the meal. If I am uncomfortable and need to leave I alert the server to bring my check when clearing. Worst night of waiting was for 30-45 minutes at an Indian restaurant that was quite crowded to which we had never been. We learned to always ask them for the check after that.

                                              2. All very interesting - for me at this point in life I almost always have somewhere to go after a meal so I sadly rarely ever get to linger over a well-eaten meal - so envious of those who do

                                                I do want to clarify that I am only talking about delays when I've specifically asked for the check, and even worse, when I have reviewed it and put my credit card in it - just over and over again they never seem to come back and check on me to pick up the card and I'm usually stuck flagging down table bussers to find my waiter. I share with all of you that they should NEVER bring my check until I ask for it, and frankly that never really happens (thank goodness)

                                                1. I realize that many people want to linger, as do I sometimes, and it can be annoying when the bill comes too soon (particularly if they bring it before asking if I want dessert and or coffee...grr!).

                                                  That said, I share your pain. so, earlier in the week hubby and I were trying to have dinner on a fairly tight connection at an airport restaurant. When we ordered, I asked that the check be brought with the food, a request that was acknowledged with a 'sure thing' AND I laid down my credit card before the server brought the food in a location where she couldn't miss it. You guess it, she brought the food, no bill and ignored the card, ran off, and it took ten more minutes to get the bill: then when she brought the bill, she didn't take the card and ran off again! WTF?! Moreover, the place was completely full; every table taken. Why she didn't want to turn ours quickly is beyond me.

                                                  5 Replies
                                                  1. re: susancinsf

                                                    maybe she was a beginner?
                                                    maybe she wasn't cut out to be a server?
                                                    maybe they were short staffed and she wasn't experienced enough about how to pick up the slacK?

                                                    1. re: westsidegal

                                                      They didn't appear to be short-staffed despite the crowd (she was at our table to take drink orders within seconds of our sitting down, and food came quickly); she didn't appear to be a beginner (judging by the way she carried the plates between crowded tables with well-practiced ease, and by her age); and while I can't be sure if she was cut out to be a server or not, she certainly handled every other aspect of service appropriately.

                                                      All of the above are possible, but I think it is much more likely that OP is on to something: many servers don't get that being in tune with how customers want the check brought is part of service. Moreover, I think that in busy environments such as that one servers probably get into a routine and breaking out of it is difficult.

                                                      The odd part is that one would think the routine would be thought of differently in an airport restaurant, but perhaps even there routine trumps individualized service (or maybe even more so there: obviously, this was no upscale restaurant where good service should expected as part of the package).

                                                    2. re: susancinsf

                                                      I've actually had the worst time getting the bill at every airport restaurant I've ever eaten at which I've always found strange as that is one environment where I would assume the majority of the clientele will feel accomodated as opposed to rushed if they are given the bill quickly.

                                                      1. re: hyacinthgirl

                                                        I too have experienced problems getting the bill at airport restaurants...agree that it makes no sense! Of course, there are two types likely to eat there....the first is between flights and hungry and in a hurry...the second are those whose flight was just cancelled/delayed and have lots of time to kill. Maybe that second type is what the staff is more used to seeing....But I feel your pain: I have gotten to the point where I pointedly ask for the check when ordering at the airport restaurant. And if its not brought with the food I ask again. I am not above pretending to leave; as I believe someone pointed out, that usually works....

                                                        1. re: janetofreno

                                                          I always ask for the bill right away in those situations. I got screwed once as my flight was supposedly delayed 3hrs, when suddenly, right as the food came, there was an announcement saying the delay had been canceled and they were boarding (this was 10 years ago and that's never happened to me again).

                                                    3. Yosemite, I'm going to go out on a limb and decide that you are a gentleman.
                                                      . As a lady diner, and often a single one, I have a routine -- when I am through with my meal, I gather up my purse and go to the Ladie's Room. I might be a little dramatic about it if I have already been waiting.
                                                      . Often, my server will encounter me, and I can smile and say "Oh, can you leave the check please?"
                                                      . Sometimes I have to ask where the facilities are located-- and then I'll add "Thank you --and, can you let my server know I'm ready for the check, please?" This doesn't always work-- particularly if I'm grabbing a server enroute to a table
                                                      . And, sometimes I either don't cross paths with a server or the request is mislaid-- then I start roving eye contact until I get someone.
                                                      . A verrrrrry few times, I have had to walk to the Hostess and ask for the manager. Then I go into reverse apology mode "My server must be very busy because I've been ready to go for half an hour and ...." usually the Manager turns into a hummingbird at this point.
                                                      Or the REAL Yosemite Sam -- "Brattle Rattle braten rat!!"
                                                      .
                                                      .
                                                      . I'm waiting for the day when I'm 88 and I can do all of the above as a tottering old fool...

                                                      1. As a server myself, hopefully I can shed some light on this topic.
                                                        First of all, I want to acknowledge that you are correct- there is a lapse in service that needs to be addressed by managers around the country. And I also understand there are many absent-minded servers out there who may forget about tables.

                                                        However, I can least explain why this may happen even when you have an attentive server...

                                                        In a typical restaurant, hosts/hostesses will try their best to rotate which servers they seat throughout the night and in a way so servers constantly have an active table. So typically once a table is slowing down for server, thats the signal for the hostess to bring them another set of guests.

                                                        So- while you're waiting to pay, the server has a brand new table they want to make a good impression on. And as a server, I know that 100% of tables are eager to be helped right away with drinks and food. But there's about a 50/50 chance that guests are in a hurry to leave, with the other half not wanting to be rushed. As a server trying to prioritize 4 or more tables at once, I have to take my chances and put the new table at the top of my priorities.

                                                        Now, is this fair? Perhaps not, which is why its an issue restaurant Owners and GMs must work around. But this hopefully provides a little bit of insight. I'd be happy to try and address other questions if I wasn't clear on anything.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: ChicagoKev

                                                          Great post, ChicagoKev.

                                                          "Now, is this fair? Perhaps not, which is why its an issue restaurant Owners and GMs must work around. But this hopefully provides a little bit of insight. I'd be happy to try and address other questions if I wasn't clear on anything."

                                                          You ask "is this fair" and I think that is big of you. Many things in life are not fair but as adult human beings, we have the choice to suck it up, grin and bear it and go with the flow. Then there are those of us who will sit and seethe in anger until they blow up and take it out on the server, etc. Those are the people who would rather complain and not do anything proactive to rectify the situation. Just because a wait person is called a "server" does not mean they are a "servant." It never ceases to amaze me how many people feel this way about wait staff.

                                                        2. Rarely, but sometimes in desperation I have done this: Estimating the bill, including tax and tip, leaving that amount in cash readily visible, and leaving. Not illegal, not immoral, and less fattening than waiting for dessert.

                                                          1. I guess that I just do not notice that. We dine in the UK and Europe so often, where asking for the check is part of the mechanics of dining out, that I never notice. I just expect to ask, and do so.

                                                            In the US, I often feel a major "rush" to deliver the check, get the bill paid, then clear the table, even if there are no additional diners to be seated - just a big rush.

                                                            Hunt

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                              Amen, Mr. Hunt. Amen.