All too often, when I dine with a large group of people in a restaurant that does not provide separate checks, the last person to receive the check and accumulated money finds the cash isn't enough to cover the bill. Does he then risk embarrassing members of the group by demanding more money, or pay the shortfall himself? The check-splitting deadbeat counts on the latter.
The check dodger, you see, never has the right change, accidentally forgets the second beer he ordered, and doesn't understand the concept of sharing the cost of appetizers, or taxes, or tipping. He does understand letting others cover his underpayment.
How can you deal with a check dodger?
First, try to select restaurants ahead of time that will provide separate checks. I'm always surprised when I encounter those that won't, yet automatically add a 20% gratuity. If you end up at one of these customer-unfriendly spots, ask the waiter to at least run a cash bar. A shared open bar tab is a recipe for disaster.
If you must split a check, set ground rules as you order. Will the pizza cost be shared equally, or in proportion to the amount consumed? Name someone with a calculator, math skills and relative sobriety as the bookkeeper, and clarify the tipping protocol. If groups automatically pay 20%, remind your dinner mates to consider that added cost when ordering their entrée.
If appetizers are suggested, clarify whether they will be a shared expense or a gift to the group from one of the diners. Discretely ask the waiter to record orders on the check with enough description that the items can be matched to the diners. Ask him to also bring the check as the diners are finishing their meals, rather than later, so that the proper apportioning of debt isn't lost in a rush to the door.
When the check arrives, pass it to the bookkeeper, and have him calculate totals for each diner, including tax and tip. This is also a benefit to those of us who, after spending the evening with Samuel Adams, can't add two and two.
Finally, try to keep everyone at the table until the money is counted.
Does this seem like a lot of trouble? It certainly would to a check dodger, but not to those of us who have been fleeced by one.