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Separate checks = staggered service?

  • 4

This weekend I had dinner at a local restaurant with my girlfriend, her mother and her mother's friend (we're not sure yet if they're dating or just hanging out.) We asked for separate checks when we first met our server. They had no problem with one check for me and my gf and one for her mother and friend.

My gf and I got our entrees pretty quickly (in fact, they brought them out while she was still eating her soup.) About ten minutes went by and they still hadn't brought the rest of the order. We flagged down another server and asked about it. She brought one of the owners over. The owner told us that when you ask for separate checks it can cause a delay in service. Apparently the kitchen staff has trouble figuring out that two checks can be from the same table.

Has anyone ever heard of this before? My gf works in the hospitality industry and she hasn't. This is a restaurant I've been going to for years (for meals, drinks and live music) and I've never had poor service there before this happened.

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  1. I assume the kitchen is regarding it as two separate orders which, of course, it is.

    1. Maybe a just poorly trained waiter that did not push the proper buttons on the POS terminal and the ticket was sent to the kitchen like 2 different orders (2 checks) instead of 1 order (2 checks).

      1 Reply
      1. re: Maximilien

        Sounds plausable, considering the point in the OP about the timing of other entrees.
        The situation described by the server reminds me of the challenges of "separate bills" in our local restaurants 20 years go.

      2. Did you happen to notice if they were using handwritten checks or a POS (point of sale) computer system?

        My hunch would be that if they were doing it old school with hand written checks/dups to the kitchen the kitchen might not see or realize it's the same table.

        If the order is coming from a POS system then it should be clear on the slip in the kitchen the order(s) are the same table.

        1. I've never really understood the desire for separate bills, particularly when the diners are friends or family. For example, we'll be dining with another couple later in the week. We'll pay 50%, they'll pay 50%. I am not such a tightarse as to be worried that, for instance, we have not consumed 50% because I don't drink alcohol or my partner didnt want dessert.

          (This is a general comment. I am not so ill-mannered as to suggest that the OP *is* a tightarse)

          10 Replies
          1. re: Harters

            I never do separate checks either (I think a lot of this is regional? I'm in the Northeast US and never see this while it's common among my Southern friends).

            That said, I DO often insist on paying more if I have alcohol and dining companions do not. A couple of cocktails and a bottle of wine can easily top $100--no need for anyone else to pay for my vices!

            1. re: LeoLioness

              It's becoming more common in the northeast but still the exception. When we have visitors from other parts of the country they're always mystified when places won't split the checks

            2. re: Harters

              No, I'm not a tightarse. Sometimes separate checks makes things easier.

              1. re: 4X4

                Sometimes they will only run one credit card per check. In the plastic age this makes for an awkward situation if the other party has no cash.

                1. re: melpy

                  the app Venmo makes things easy in situations like this. It's paypal-ish, and you can "charge" your friends for their half via your smartphone, which they then authorize and the amount is transferred. We use it often.

                    1. re: 4X4

                      It was more a general statement, rather than directed at you specifically. I would venture that a significant percentage of frequent diners DO have smartphones.

                  1. re: melpy

                    Nobody in our party used credit cards until the meal was over and we got the checks. The problem was with the service during the meal.

                    1. re: 4X4

                      I think the suggestion was that you could have asked for a single check (and avoided the service issues) and worked things out among yourselves the old-fashioned way. And that there are now some new-fangled tools to help people do the old "I'll put it all on my card and you all pay me back". Personally I'm interested in checking that app out.

                      That said, I totally understand that not everyone wants to do that, and so I agree with you that if you ask for separate checks, and the restaurant accepts, they should have a decent system in place that ensures that the whole table stays on the same timing.

                2. re: Harters

                  It depends on the group. I have friends that will drink 100 in alcohol and we might not have any. 50 dollars extra for someone else's booze is a little tough to swallow.

                3. I have worked in the kitchen of restaurants; when people at the same table requests separate checks, it is considered two different transactions. However, usually the server will speak to the chef & ask that both tickets go out together. Sometimes, depending on how busy the kitchen is, it does not work out this way.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Cherylptw

                    Unless the restaurant has a modern, rational POS system. The server can divide up the table into as many check he wants to come payment time, it will still spit out a single ticket for the table back in the kitchen.

                    1. re: Cherylptw

                      It has been a very long time since I have worked in a restaurant (21 years?), but in the three different places I worked we had a system for this. Separate checks same table (handwritten back then) went in together, came out together. Each place had a system for marking it.

                      (Now that I think about it, at one of those places the system was to put everything on one check but to indicate separate with horizontal lines. I can't recall what the coding was in the other places.)