Just about everybody’s experienced one of those frantic restaurant meals during which stingy companions try to weasel out of their fair share of the tab, grudgingly pushing a stack of quarters back and forth across the tablecloth while a weary server looks on with ill-concealed disdain.
There’s a very good reason for that look. Your server has witnessed this financial fandango countless times before and knows that he or she probably will be receiving a tip of roughly 17 cents on a $35 lunch tab.
Perhaps even more chaotic, though, is the luncheon that ends with everyone feeling more than financially secure and insisting that they pick up the tab, the drinks, the tip and perhaps a new apron for the chef.
“I’ve got this one…”
“Not so fast, Mr. Trump, this one’s on me.”
“Au contraire, Boomer, I’ll take that check.”
“No, no, no – I insist!”
“Hey, waydaminnit, you got the last one in Singapore with the little pop-eyed crustaceans in the Grand Marnier…”
And so it goes.
I encountered just such a situation last week and, I’m afraid, the unexpected largesse scenario is just as chaotic as the Scrooge stratagem.
Three of us had been waddling through a modest 11-course lunch at a quiet Vietnamese eatery when the waitress made the mistake of placing our bill at a point on the table where any one of us could make a heroic lunge and pick up the meal tab.
Since newspaper folk are notorious for subtly backing away from restaurant bills, the server must have been more than a little startled when three hands shot forward and crashed together over the remnants of the curried prawns.
“Gimme that!” snapped one dainty diner as her fist collided with a bowl of rice and sent it hopping frantically across the table toward the lap of a second luncheon guest who handily averted disaster by blocking with a partially eaten platter of egg rolls as she made her own grab for the tab.
The ensuing melee would have done the Seattle Seahawks proud.
I faked left, executed a half turn and reached between the barbecue pork and the sizzling shrimp pot, deftly snagging the leatherette folder but losing the precious sales slip in the process.
The diner to my right intercepted, dropped back and went for her wallet while the waitress deftly kept two glasses of iced tea and platter of meatballs from sailing off the table.
Once the bill was secured, we diplomatically agreed to share the cost and the server heaved a sigh of relief. That’s when the large bills came out:
“Can you give me three twenties for a fifty?”
Following a half-hour of tense negotiations, we were able to rise from the table and exit the formerly peaceful little restaurant without further tumult.
The story, however, isn’t quite over.
Since my two colleagues are out of town this weekend, it’s probably safe to note that I arrived at the luncheon with $60 and somehow left with $85.
Now that’s what I call picking up the tab…
Originally published on November 26, 2000