Ask The Salty Waitress: Why do servers always give the guy the bill, even if I’m paying?

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Photo: m-imagephotography (iStock), Graphic: Nicole Antonuccio
The Salty WaitressThe Salty WaitressSalty Waitress is The Takeout’s advice column from a real-life waitress that will teach you how not to behave like a garbage person while dining out—and maybe in real life.

Dear Salty Waitress, I’ve noticed for years now that when I go out to eat with a guy (I’m a woman), whether it’s just a friend at a casual lunch place or a dinner date at a fancy restaurant, the waitstaff will usually hand him the bill. This isn’t a huge deal; guys usually pay for dates, and it’s probably habit to just give the bill to the guy.

But it gets frustrating when I’m paying and have physically handed the waitstaff my card for them to run. Even when the staff took the card from my hand, the same waitstaff will nearly always give it (and the check) back to the guy to tip and sign! This happens so frequently that it gets annoying, and it even makes me want to reduce how much I tip from 20% to 15%. Am I being petty? After all, it’s probably not intentional. Would it be even worse to write a note explaining why I reduced the tip? Should I just give up?

—Please hand me my card?

Dear Cardholder,

Oh, sister, who among us hasn’t been here? And I wish I had the perfect snappy putdown for you, because—ahem, servers—we no longer live in the ’50s and women have money that they earned themselves and don’t have to trade sex for restaurant meals and everybody should get menus with the prices on them. Oh, sure, the server could just be handing the little folder to the guy out of sheer laziness, because he’s closer—but for God’s sake, how hard is it to pay attention to the name on the card or remember who handed it over to you in the first place?

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And still, if you try to do anything about basic everyday sexism like the server giving the man at the table the bill after you’ve handed over your card, you still come off as the difficult one.

So what to do? You could reach over and grab the bill dramatically and yell, “I’ll take that!” Or wave your arm in the air and say, “That’s my card, thank you.” Who knows, this might inspire an instant and complete change in server behavior. (Although in my experience, lighthearted teaching moments never work out the way you hope they will.)

Or you could give in to the impulse to be punitive with the tip, although that does push you into difficult customer territory. It would make you even more difficult—a scold!—if you wrote a note on the receipt, especially if you plan on dining at that particular restaurant again. You could really go off and complain to the manager—but that assumes an environment of benevolence and concern for personal growth that does not exist in many restaurants. (And of course there’s now a pejorative term for that: “Karen.”)

Or you could ignore it and chalk it up to one of those annoying restaurant things, like a server coming over and asking how you’re enjoying your meal while your mouth is full. The choice, sugarplum, is yours, depending on how you’re feeling and whether you feel like the server was acting out of sexism or carelessness.

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But in this situation, you can only react. It’s up to servers to make sure it doesn’t happen in the first place. So, servers: If you can’t remember who gave you the card in the first place, just drop it on the table. Really! It’s fine! And you won’t be pissing off a woman just before she leaves you your tip.


Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or just a general question about life we can help you with? Email us: salty@thetakeout.com

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