putting the card before the check
August 21, 2018 10:55 AM   Subscribe

When we go out to eat, my partner tends to hand over a card to pay the bill before our server has delivered the check. I think this is a bit rude, or at least dismissive of accepted restaurant dining practices. Is there a "right" way to pay the bill? I'd particularly be interested in hearing from folx who have worked as servers. Is it annoying when customers do this? Does it mess up your process? Or am I being too self-conscious about something that's no big deal? A few more details below.

Most often he does this as they're clearing plates, saying "I'll just give you my card now." It's not delivered in a rude tone or anything, but it strikes me as rather brusque. He also tends to hand the card to whoever comes to clear plates, often a bus person or waitstaff who is not our main server, and it sometimes takes a moment for that person to figure out what's going on. Most recently, he handed a card to a hostess who stopped by to ask how our meal was; she took the card, but our server was the one to come back to the table with the receipt.

His restaurant behavior in general is different from mine, a bit more direct...for example, when we first started dating he would order for me (not choosing my order, but saying what I had told him I would be ordering). I haaaaated that, and told him so, so he doesn't do it anymore! But he does tend to "take charge" and be the first to order, the one to order appetizers for the group, etc. We joke about how he's east coast impatient, and I'm a super-passive west coaster--admittedly, I'm often too deferential, the type to say "I'm sorry..." when asking for something, which is probably annoying in its own way.

I don't think there's anything wrong with how he acts in restaurants. He's not rude, and he's a great tipper. But the card thing in particular seems unusual to me, and I'm curious if restaurant workers perceive it as rude or annoying.

(He knows I'm posting this and I'll share answers with him.)
posted by adastra to Society & Culture (48 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not waitstaff, but my East Coast husband does this all the time. That said, he only ever hands it to our server, never to a bus person or manager or some other role, which is the only part of the exchange that strikes me as odd.

When we first starting dating, I had to tell him to slow the hell down on the restaurant experience, as he would bolt his food and then stand up and grab his coat and start looking around for the check while I still had half my food and most of my drink very obviously still in front of me. He's mellowed with time, although he always proactively offers his card.
posted by anderjen at 11:06 AM on August 21, 2018 [8 favorites]

I was a server (the worst one on Earth, but still) and when this would happen to me I perceived it as "yo I am ready to get out of here and I don't want to wait the traditional four steps of (1) I say 'just the check,' (2) you drop off the bill, (3) you return and I give you my card, and then (4) you go ring it all up and bring it back for me to sign." There's no real value added there; most diners are not gonna quibble with what the charges are and if they are not in a group they don't need to do math to split up the tab.

I sometimes do this when the meal is over and I am getting impatient to go. Servers don't want to make it seem like they are rushing you, so some of them err on the side of giving you space and that gets annoying when you want to go home. I think it's a totally legit move if your server has gotten tied up with other tables and a normal time has passed since you finished your meal. It's also legit if you have tickets for a show or a babysitter to spell or a train to catch or something.

Giving it to a busser or a hostess seems a little bold. There's an implied contract that once your server takes over she is the one who has the relationship, and giving it to a busser suggests that the server has failed in her mission.
posted by AgentRocket at 11:11 AM on August 21, 2018 [35 favorites]

Giving a card to your server is not rude (the multiple step dance of paying a bill is absurd). Giving it to some rando who just happens to work there is a bit rude.
posted by so fucking future at 11:13 AM on August 21, 2018 [59 favorites]

I have handed my card to the server before they brought the bill, but only if I needed to leave quickly for some reason. I would not give it to someone other than my server; if they didn't return, I'd track them down and ask politely for the bill.

I don't think this is rude, but to me it does imply you're in a hurry. Which, when I do it, I am, so that's the impression I want to give. But if your husband does this and then your table lingers, finishing your dessert or drinks in a leisurely way, that might seem a bit incongruous.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:14 AM on August 21, 2018 [7 favorites]

Agree that it's not rude (to give it to the server, not some rando), but does signal that you're in a rush. The only time I've ever done this is to head off the "I'll pay, no I insist, no no it's my treat" dance with other people. I just give my card to the server discreetly and say don't even bring the check, I'm taking care of this.

(I have been a server and this is not a super common thing to occur, but I wouldn't really bat an eyelash over it.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 11:17 AM on August 21, 2018

It saves the server a trip and gets the table open faster, and implies that you trust the server to get the bill correct. I think it's actually pretty considerate of the server.

It does mean that you leave the restaurant sooner, and you have less time to talk or finish stuff before you both leave (I mean, you _can_ stay longer, but you might feel rushed). So, you might feel that it's dismissive of your special time together, but that's about your and his relationship to time and the whole ritual aspect of dining out, which sounds like it's important to you.

Maybe if you planned to go for a lovely walk afterwards, or to get a drink somewhere, or just spend time together after you got home, then the time at the table would be less of a central thing?
posted by amtho at 11:20 AM on August 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

I'll sometimes hand over my card and say, "Go ahead and charge it if it's less than $X".
posted by amtho at 11:21 AM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I say, “can I just give you this?” and hand my card to the server when they come ask if we need anything else. I had figured it saved everybody a step, including the server, which makes things easier if it’s busy and/or we have our little kids with us.

I wouldn’t think it would be considered rude unless done dismissively, but I’m also from the east coast.
posted by lydhre at 11:22 AM on August 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

I think it's ok, as long as it's given only to the server. It's definitely rude to give it to the hostess or busser. They've got other jobs to do, and now they have to go find the server and hand over your card as well.
posted by hydra77 at 11:22 AM on August 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

As a former east coast server, not a problem at all. In fact, the type of people to do this were often really good tippers, which I cared much more about.

It's inconvenient for him to give it to someone other than the person waiting on the table though, and it probably wastes the time he thinks he's saving as that person has to now go find the server. I wouldn't say it's specifically rude from the perspective of the server, although part of working in the service industry is dealing with all manner of rudeness with grace and bitching about it afterwards.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:28 AM on August 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'd find it very rude personally, and I'm not one to stand on ceremony. I'd interpret it as a demand to RUSH to get the payment sorted out, and I don't think that's too cool. It seems akin to snapping ones fingers and demanding the check-- though others here don't seem to be interpreting it in that way. And I would be horrified if my partner handed the card to some random person working there, because then they have to figure out whose table that is, and track down that server, and do extra work that they aren't paid or tipped for. It just feels entitled and wrong to me all around.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 11:30 AM on August 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

As a former server/bartender, I don't think it's rude or even weird (from the restaurant's perspective) for a customer to take out his wallet/card at the end of the meal -- it just signals that he's ready to go. If anything, it's easier on the server because she doesn't then have to go through the whole check song and dance and can just turn the table.

That said, it's weird for a customer to hand over his card to just anybody who walks by the table. The server is the one who is going to actually process the bill, so the card should go to her specifically. Doing otherwise implies she hasn't been around giving good service, which is kind of rude and also won't give a good impression of her work to her manager/coworkers.

All that said, even though I don't think your partner is being rude to the server by giving her the credit card before the bill (etc), I think he's being rude to you. He's domineering ("taking charge") all through the meal, and then rushes you both out of there as fast as possible? I would be annoyed and feeling like, why isn't he concentrating on enjoying his time with you rather than on getting through his transaction with the restaurant as efficiently as possible? That's just me, but I guess my point is that I don't think that paying the bill early is rude to the server but I do think it's rude to your fellow diners to hurry them through the meal and out the door. He's taking on the role of host by being domineering, but then he's being a poor host and not showing a lot of hospitality.
posted by rue72 at 11:39 AM on August 21, 2018 [9 favorites]

I wouldn't have minded this when I was a waitress. Saves walking by twice.
posted by KateViolet at 11:42 AM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've worked in restaurants and don't find it rude to hand the card to your server. Typically I do this in any of the following:
- when service is slow, eg at an outside table where servers make less-frequent rounds
- in a group when I don't want to quibble about who got what and how to split the check
- in a restaurant where I'm a regular and know the server/bartender

If I'm in an actual hurry, I'll hand my card to the server at the end of the ordering conversation but typically in that circumstance I've ordered the food to take away.
posted by a halcyon day at 11:48 AM on August 21, 2018

My superpower is being invisible to waitstaff—I simply cannot catch their eye, no matter how hard I try. My west-coast passive version of your partner's strategy is to place my card on the outer edge of the table, where the check would typically be set, as an indicator that we're ready to close out. If a host or busser notices and tips the wink to our server, so much the better, but I'm otherwise chill about it. Eventually they come around, say something like "can I go ahead and run this, then?" and we're off to the races, with a few intervening steps neatly elided.
posted by mumkin at 11:49 AM on August 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

Servers don't want to make it seem like they are rushing you, so some of them err on the side of giving you space and that gets annoying when you want to go home.

Yes. I am East Coast aggressive but I wouldn't do this because to me it seems like it's trying to rush the server or being critical. It's funny that you ask this because I just did do this for the first time I can remember this weekend. We had been, I felt, abandoned by our server and we were all getting tired and way past ready to go. I interpret this card-handing as, alternately

- I am in a HURRY, please hustle
- Please drop what you are doing and cash me out because I have some reason my concerns should be handled out of order

That said, I can be reactive to this. I had a dad who was maybe on the spectrum who would literally start standing up and putting his jacket on when I was still finishing dessert (when he was really to go he was READY) which always put me in a DON'T RUSH ME state of mind. So it seems that other servers might not mind this. It would seem weird to me.
posted by jessamyn at 12:03 PM on August 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

I don't find it rude, but I don't really like it. My wife sometimes does this, and it's a difference between us. She's all about efficiency - let's just get it done and move on. I take things more slowly. But it's just a stylistic difference. It's not like she's a bad person for wanting to be efficient. I don't think it ever happened to me during the short period I was a waiter, but it wouldn't have bothered me.

Handing a card to a non-waiter may or may not be rude, but it's pretty dumb. What a great way to lose your card. A hostess may have a pocket to hold your card, but a busboy probably does not. Does your partner expect the busboy to stick the card on his dishcart amidst the half-eaten salads from the next table over?

I never waited tables in a modern, computerized restaurant, so I'm not sure how this would work now, but back in the old days, if someone else had a diner's card, I'd be worried about them ringing up the meal and snaking my tip. Give it to the waiter directly.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:04 PM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

My husband, a bartender, does this or something similar all the time. As long as you're polite about it, there's nothing rude about giving your card to the server before they actually bring the check. But don't give it to somebody else – that's messing up the restaurant's process, as well as adding the possibility of your card accidentally getting dropped or going missing during the handoff.
posted by Lexica at 12:04 PM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Nthing the read that handing the card to the server is not rude, but does telegraph an element of "we're in a hurry." But handing the card to whoever works for the restaurant and is nearest is mildly rude.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:07 PM on August 21, 2018

Electronic card charging changes this entirely. Now you ask for the card machine to be brought to table, or servers will often just bring it over with the bill. Tap (for smaller bills) and you're gone, enter a PIN if you have to. But the receipt-signing fourstep is a thing of the past.
posted by bonehead at 12:09 PM on August 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

My parents do this. They also love to arrive 20-30 minutes earlier than we had planned, and phone me to get my order so the food is waiting at the table when I arrive. Then pack up and hand the card to anyone walking by as soon as possible. I personally find it annoying... I like to play things out in the socially expected way.

That said, I used to get embarrassed when they would order their meals when the waiter asked about drinks, but now I do that too, if I already know what I want. So maybe in 20 years I'll be waving my MasterCard around. I doubt it, though.
posted by bonheur at 12:17 PM on August 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

I know this doesn't totally apply to the situation in your question, but handing the card early is also an effective technique when you're with another party and you are 100% the person paying for the meal.

It skips that awkward moment when you're having a nice chat and the check suddenly appears on the table and either a) everyone stares at it wondering who will reach for it, b) everyone reaches for it and there's a fight over who is paying, or c) you grab the folio and then everyone else wants you to hand it over so they can offer to pay.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:17 PM on August 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Not cool to give your card to the busser. They literally have their hands full with dirty dishes and if it's busy, they seriously don't have time to drop everything and hunt down the right person to give your card to.
posted by windykites at 12:24 PM on August 21, 2018

A lot of customers did this when I waited tables, at both low and high end restaurants. It never occurred to me that it was rude, brusque, or dismissive. Quite the opposite - from my perspective as a waitress it was convenient and saved me a lot of back and forth. Many people also said "no rush" or "when you get a chance" so it wasn't necessarily a sign that they were in a rush.
posted by rada at 12:35 PM on August 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

Most times I don’t wait for the check. I don’t try to give them a card while they’re juggling dishes, but I’ll usually just lay my card on the edge of the table when we’re done. The most common reaction seems to be the server is pleasantly surprised because it saves them an extra step.
posted by The Deej at 1:11 PM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I agree with The Deej - I put my card prominently on my table. If they come by and ask for desserts, I'll pick up the card, and say "just the check, please!" and without fail they say "Want me to just take that?" and ring it up without bringing it to me. Or they bring the check and I immediately hand them the card. Either way my method saves 5-10 minutes.
posted by bbqturtle at 1:17 PM on August 21, 2018

East Coast impatient doesn't cut it, IMHO - it comes across as weird and oblivious to the point that I'd feel embarrassed to dine with someone who does that. Take-out and UberEATS is great for people who prioritize "efficiency" over social graces.
posted by blerghamot at 1:29 PM on August 21, 2018

As a server, this saved me time, so I appreciated it (you only have to wait in line for the terminal and open up the right table once, don't have to make multiple trips to the table). But giving it to random bussers starts to get inefficient, because there's no system for them to hand it off to me -- they have to find me or wait for me to appear, whether I'm at another table or in the walk-in fridge or wherever. The manager, however, could ring you up, and in restaurants with more of a floating system where all servers help all tables, anyone could ring you up, so those would be fine, but it may not be obvious who is good to hand it to and who is not. And if you're actively ready to leave, then inconveniencing people (by handing it to a busser) is kind of what diners in that situation often need to do, so if you're to the point of wanting to ask the busser to send over your server, then it's more efficient to hand the busser your card. But if it's just an oh-hey-while-I'm-thinking-of-it thing, then I'd wait to spot your server.
posted by salvia at 1:30 PM on August 21, 2018

But the receipt-signing fourstep is a thing of the past.
That varies wildly. Most of the places I go leave the reader on the table if they have portable ones. If there isn't one there, it is not portable.
posted by soelo at 1:33 PM on August 21, 2018

i'm with Agentrocket on this
posted by patnok at 1:38 PM on August 21, 2018

Not wait staff here, but I don't appreciate the dance of waiting for the cheque all the time either. I'll agree that it's certainly not rude if done well - but handing it to a bus person or someone who hasn't been handling your table is quite strange - and if I might also say, a bit dangerous (considering credit card fraud or theft). It could also wreak confusion on someone who is not familiar with who is serving which tables or why you might be thrusting a credit card in their hands, and even take longer than the dance.
posted by itsflyable at 1:53 PM on August 21, 2018

When I was a waitress I appreciated when people would do this because it removed an additional step in my duties - dropping off check, retrieving check not-too-quickly but not-too-slow, running the payment, and returning it. Just being handed the card meant one less thing to worry about.

Agree though that handing it anyone other than the server is a little off and kind of might make the server (or more importantly, their manager) think that the server has been neglecting your table so badly that you've been forced to beseech other staff to perform their duties.
posted by Aubergine at 2:15 PM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I do this often, in the same way that I stack up my table's plates and put them on the edge of the table when I'm done with them. I'm just trying to make my server's night a little bit easier. Servers have a job that is often annoying and involves performing emotional labor for rude strangers in hopes of a tip. I want serving my table to be as smooth and painless for them as possible.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:32 PM on August 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

We are in the habit of doing this the last few years because often dining with a small child their patience runs out and you want to be able to make a quick escape. Usually one of us will say to our server, "do you mind if I hand you my card now?" I feel like it saves everyone a step and there's no problem with it as long as you're polite and hand it to your server (not someone who then has to track down your server).
posted by JenMarie at 3:08 PM on August 21, 2018

I do this. Why would I make the server make several trips? We all know what we're trying to get accomplished.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 3:14 PM on August 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

From back in my waiting tables days, this would be a-okay and not seen as rude at all. But give it to your server, not a busser or random employee. They might not know who's got your table, or how the payment flow works. It can add a bunch of confusion and even end up taking longer.
posted by lovecrafty at 4:42 PM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

We’ve also done this when we’re in a hurry or when our kid is starting to act up. If there’s no reason to rush then I think the rudeness is not necessarily toward the server, but to his dining companion(s). It implies that he wouldn’t enjoy lingering with them.
posted by Kriesa at 5:02 PM on August 21, 2018

It might depend a little on the restaurant - perhaps would seem a little abrupt at the most high-end, hoity-toity places. Anywhere else, c'mon.

But handing the card to whoever works for the restaurant and is nearest is mildly rude.

Oh I think extremely. It indicates an entitled a-hole to whom all servants are alike.
posted by Rash at 5:58 PM on August 21, 2018 [7 favorites]

This may be a cultural thing but I wouldn't do that at all, and I think most restaurant/cafe staff here would be confused or taken aback if someone just randomly handed them a credit card. If I was ready to go I wouldn't ask for the bill, I'd just get up and go to the till and pay. Sometimes my server might come to the till and handle the payment, other times it might be someone else. This seems to be pretty common here in Australia. I think the whole asking for the bill dance only happens in really posh restaurants.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:45 PM on August 21, 2018

As a server for many years, agreeing with above people who say that this is actually great bc it saves you time and turns over the table faster. Not rude at all.
posted by greta simone at 9:18 PM on August 21, 2018

Just wanted to add: the inefficiency of the check-dance is one reason some restaurants are implementing Ziosk units at the tables. (Of course it's also another revenue stream.) I use it any time it's available.
posted by The Deej at 5:29 AM on August 22, 2018

How are all of you checking to make sure you haven't been overcharged?? Has that literally never happened to you, or do you just not care if the bill is wrong? Like, it's happened enough to me that I would absolutely never, ever just hand my card over to waitstaff before checking the final total. I am absolutely stunned with all of these answers, truly!

I agree with those who are saying that it feels like your partner is prioritizing getting out of the restaurant as quickly as possible over spending time with you.
posted by cooker girl at 5:44 AM on August 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm with cooker girl. I've certainly handed my credit card to the server when in a rush - in those cases I decided to just risk that the check could be wrong. But for the most part, I don't pay without seeing the check first to be sure it's accurate.

(and yeah, no handing to anyone but your server)
posted by sunflower16 at 6:28 AM on August 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Electronic card charging changes this entirely...But the receipt-signing fourstep is a thing of the past.

I'm guessing the OP adastra is in the US, based on post history. If so, this point is not applicable as the portable electronic card charging machines that are in universal use in restaurants in Canada and Western Europe are much less common in the United States.

In fact, I'm not sure I have ever encountered one in use in a sit-down American restaurant. The receipt-signing four-step process is still for now the standard process for paying a restaurant check in the US.
posted by andrewesque at 12:28 PM on August 22, 2018

How are all of you checking to make sure you haven't been overcharged?? Has that literally never happened to you, or do you just not care if the bill is wrong?

As someone who answered upthread that we just hand over the card before being brought the check, we glance over the final bill slip when it comes to the table to be signed and point out any inaccuracies then. Which I know seems ass-backwards, but it happens SO infrequently, like I can only think of one or two times in the last decade of dining out together, that we're willing to take that chance.
posted by anderjen at 12:35 PM on August 22, 2018

Yes exactly - you look at the check and if it seems reasonable (after, in the US, voluntarily entering some amount into the service field*) you authorize the transaction by signing the receipt.

But now I understand, just as with most transactions now, the signature is no longer required. Has this become the case in restaurants? In that case yeah, verify first.

* In fact I think this may all hinge on whether or not this is a place where you have to tip
posted by Rash at 1:31 PM on August 22, 2018

I've done it many times. I've also done the halfway thing where I have my card ready when they bring the receipt and I just glance at the total and then give them the card (instead of having them leave receipt and coming back for it, which is more "normal").

I've never seen this "electronic card charging at the table" thing in the US. Either you pay at a register (to go, fast food, or diner-style) or you pay by this whole shuttling the receipt/card back and forth process (classic "sit down" restaurant).

Both my wife and I generally like to leave quickly after we're done eating (harder to talk in a restaurant anyways, due to noise/privacy issues, so we're there for the food), so anything to speed it up is nice.

(Still prefer Japan where you almost always just pay at the front on your way out, like Waffle House or something)
posted by thefoxgod at 6:17 PM on August 22, 2018

In the US, Ziosk has tabletop pay options at Chili’s and Olive Garden among others. You can buy games or order more food on them as well. The animation is annoying, so we usually turn them around until it is time to pay.
posted by soelo at 6:34 PM on August 22, 2018

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