2/13/2012 05:00:00 PM

Controversial Restaurant Policies: Should You Have to Ask For the Check?

No one should feel rushed out at the end of a restaurant meal, but those who linger at their tables can delay dinner for everyone else who is waiting. Restaurants have one key way to move things along - the check drop. Once that bill is on the table, it's only a matter of time before the diners pay and skedaddle. But, is putting the check down before it's asked for too pushy? Check out this week's installment of Controversial Restaurant Policies to see our editors debate proper check timing:

James: The other night I was dining in the West Village, and the servers totally tried to give us the rush out - they dropped the check while the desserts were being cleared, before we even asked for it.

Kelly: I mean, how long were you sitting there after finishing your desserts?

James: We still had wine left - we were sipping it and still talking. No one was ready to talk about money.

Kelly: Had the server come up a few times and asked you if you would like anything else?

James: He dropped by and asked if we needed anything and we said no. I don't think a restaurant should give you the check before you ask for it.

Kelly: Yeah but you also need to be considerate of time. There were other diners probably waiting for your table. It's totally appropriate to drop it after dessert if the diners have indicated they don't want anything else.

James: As soon as we said no he took the check out and put it on the table - he had it ready.This totally made us feel rushed.

Kelly: I mean honestly that wouldn't bother me, sometimes also servers need to cash out their tables before leaving for the night. I never minded if people lingered at the end as long as they paid somewhat quickly. Personally I hate having to ask for the check.

James: We also had paid some dough for a nice bottle of wine, we should have the chance to finish it without digging around in our wallets.

Kelly: Whatever knowing you you were wasted and hanging out wayyy too long. Move it along, they've got tables to turn, hello.

James: Well, I wouldn't have lingered for hours or anything - I know there are tables waiting. I just think the check can land like a thud in the middle of the table - let the diners decide when the reckoning comes. Feeling like you're being rushed out can ruin the entire meal.

Kelly: I mean clearly you have deeper issues pertaining to paying for meals. I can't help you there.

James: I'm willing to pony up when the time comes - you're the one who always seems to be running off to the restroom when the plates are cleared.

Kelly: Oh no you didn't. I'm done with this convo. Check please!


  1. James, parking your butt in the chair for more time than it takes to eat & drink your food is called "camping" and waiters hate you for it. In the US it's not improper for a waiter to drop your check when they have checked back on you and you say you don't want anything else. Waiters live on tips, so if you prevent others from being seated, what you're doing is limiting what they can earn in a night. Also, waiters like to go home, too! If you want to sit around and chitchat, go to a starbucks or some other place where you can linger until they close and have to throw you out.

  2. I love the European approach ... ask when you are ready and don't worry about being rushed before then. The flip side, though, is that you need to understand you are renting the table. Don't just tip a percentage, tip for the experience ... including the lingering over desert or the rest of that bottle. There is too much focus on efficiency and rushing from place to place. Stop and smell the roses (or the rosé).

  3. @BobD That's not really a fair comparison. In Europe the situation is radically different than here, with regard to how waiters are paid, and the rules for tipping. Being a waiter at a fine restaurant is a career, not something you do between jobs or while waiting for your big break.

  4. James, have some compassion for the poor people waiting for the table and the buss boy and waitstaff who may be waiting to go home. Go to a bar if you want to hang out and talk.

  5. I agree that having the bill dropped on the table before it is asked for can seem pushy, but on the other hand, lingering at the table for an inordinate amount of time can be disrespectful to the servers and the other guests who may have reservations after yours. My friends and I went to the Lion for a girlfriend's birthday. We had a 9:15 reservation and did not end up getting seated til after 11 because the guests who had the reservation before ours would not leave. And because one of the patrons was a "celebrity" (so to speak), the restaurant did not put any pressure on them to get up either. the whole experience was extremely frustrating and came off as a big f you to me and the other women I was with. The restaurant staff provided us with free dessert to deliver what they considered to be a sufficient apology for the egregious wait time, but I know it will be a while before any of us return to the Lion. Those kinds of negative dining experiences, especially at an expensive restaurant, leave a lasting impression that no amount of free cake can override.

  6. More than rushing you out, which you can delay by telling the server that you are not finished yet, is rushing you in. Too many servers have gotten in the habit of asking for your diner order before they have even placed the cocktail order. I prefer to enjoy my cocktail before being rushed to eat. I think a reservation should allow you time to enjoy conversation and cocktails before being rushed into ordering and also time to enjoy dessert, coffee and wine before being presented with the bill. Restaurants need to allow people to move at their own pace, but sense when it is time to have them move on without rushing them

  7. I think it's best to wait until the table asks for the check, unless it is getting to that point where they're lingering way beyond an acceptable length of stay. When I was a server I used to just tell some tables politely that I'm cashing out and would appreciate them settling the check, but also said they're welcome to stay if they're not ready to leave. That subtly implies that you want them to leave, without actually saying it...and they usually get up right away.

    Or I've had servers just drop the check after asking if there's anything else and then just saying oh I'm just going to leave this here for whenever you're ready, no rush. Depending on the server's attitude throughout the meal, it could either come off as genuine or bitchy...

  8. This procedure should first be based on the type of restaurant and its corrosponding clientele. For instance where i work we do a fast paced business lunch and our guests certainly dont want to wait around to pay, that is going to leave a bad taste in any diners mouth and something they will remember and tell there friends. Alternatively, our dinnerservice is more relaxed and diners spend longer at the table. They also aremt in a rush to go anywhere. I preach, in any case that the best dining experience is not having to ask for anything, period. A wait staff that can properly read their guests and anticipate their needs will eliminate this issue entirely! You can also tell your staff to explain to the guest when you drop the check that this is just for your convenience, and if there is anything else we can get for you please let us know.

  9. I was recently rushed because the restaurant over booked and the next guest was hovering for MY table. They are now banned and I am spreading the word.