Dear Mr. Knowlton…


In the September 2010 issue of Bon Appetit, Andrew Knowlton (as the BA Foodist) responds to a reader’s question about the best way for a large party to split a check.

Dear Cecilia,

Unless you’re with only one other person (okay, maybe two–I’m feeling generous) or you’re 17 years old and out with a group of friends at a local chain, splitting a check is lame…

He then whinges on for a few more inches about how tough it was being a Brooklyn waiter and how you should just (wo)man up and put the entire thing on your own credit card and hope your friends pay you back.

But, really… the best word he could come up with is lame?

First of all, mingling money with friends is the fast track to ending a friendship. I speak from experience having been the point person on a bulk buy of fabric several years ago and one of the girls stiffed me for her portion. It took certified letters and untold stress to get the money from her and it was during a time just after my divorce when I didn’t have a lot of wiggle room in my monthly budget (this was after I’d dug myself out of credit card debt and canceled all of the cards I’d previously owned so we’re talking real dollars here, not credit). It wasn’t that she was a bad person or a bad friend in general, it just underlines the point that you should never lend money to friends unless you don’t want it back.

I cannot advocate anyone picking up the tab for a group of 6 or 8 friends when there’s the possibility that it will add to their credit debt. “Thoughtful and considerate” are gestures best left free of interest charges. It’s far easier, in contrast, to pick up the tab for one or two friends in a ladies-who-lunch situation with the express understanding that the next check will be picked up by someone else, that to do so for a large group.

Second, might I remind Mr. Knowlton and those like him the industry they are (were) in. It’s called the service industry for a reason, more specifically the hospitality industry. While I know, firsthand, just how difficult some customers can be and that “the customer is always right” is not always correct, your customers are paying a premium for food that comes with service and, yes, it should be with a smile or at least some civility.

If a server sees a large party without obvious familial hallmarks and doesn‘t ask, beforehand, if this will be on one check or separated then he deserves the check-splitting headache that’s to come.

Finally, if you are going out in a group with the plan to split the check, here are some ways to make the process easier:

  • Call ahead. Whether reservations are required or not, it’s always a good to give a restaurant a heads up that you’ll be arriving en masse and, while you’re at it, ask if they are able to split checks for large groups. Most will tell you it’s no problem but some will say no. If you run into one of the latter you can make plans to go someplace more group-friendly or advise everyone in your group to bring cash. If the restaurant has a website with their menu online, folks can figure out ahead of time what they’ll need to bring.
  • Tell the server you’ll need separate checks before the first glass of water is ordered. Forewarned is forearmed and it’s up to them how they want to keep track of the divisions.
  • Have patience. Not only do larger orders take longer to prepare, serve and clear, there will be extra time preparing the checks and processing them. If you’re on a time-line (like our ladies nights heading off to see a movie after dinner), make sure you give your server ample time to process 8 credit cards and still have time to get to your show. For that matter, ordering in waves–before everyone arrives–let’s the kitchen get a jump on those first few dishes.
  • Arrange large gatherings on nights other than Friday and Saturday or have an early dinner mid-afternoon on the weekends. A less crowded dining room means less-harried waitstaff and more flexibility for your group.
  • Tip well. Yes, it’s more work to process 6 smaller checks than 1 large one, so show your appreciation for their willingness to work with your situation. Large parties usually get gratuity added on to the bill, but a few dollars more per check adds up and may win you a favored server if you frequent the same establishments.

So go out and have your fun! And if you continue to receive less-than-stellar service from the hospitality industry consider turning those Girls Nights Out into Girls Nights In and keep your dollars where they will be appreciated.

Magazine Courtships


I think I’ve written before about getting into a magazine abundance rut–so many back issues, so little time–and pairing down to a manageable trifecta (Glamour, Imbibe and Food Network Magazine). Of course, my info-on-file with the Glamour subscription expired so it’s been on hold until I get my wallet in gear and update it and I missed some Imbibe‘s from the move and it’s expired. So I’m down to just Food Network Magazine and I miss the others showing up in the mail.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, this past month I’ve gotten 3 offers from 3 other magazines, all courting me for my subscription dollars. I feel so in-demand!

First was Bon Appetit offering me their Professional Discount Rate of $10 for 1 year (plus $3 shipping & handling). 12 issues of a long-running leader in the cooking magazine world plus a free cookbook. Hmmmm… not much to think about on that one, really. Especially with Gourmet having closed it’s doors recently.

Then a newcomer: Vegetarian Times tempted me with a 2 year subscription (19 issues) for $11. Now, I’m not a vegetarian and I’m not planning on becoming one, but I do recognize the health benefits of meatless main dishes and finding out new ways of preparing them is never a bad thing. I admit, I’m a little on the fence, still, but leaning towards acceptance.

Finally, what shows up in my mailbox one day but a sample issue (breaking out the big guns, no?) of Cuisine at Home. Apparently it thinks it’s best feature is that it contains absolutely no ads, because it says this even above the title! That’s some confidence. And speaking of confidence, let’s take a look at their price: $28 for 1 year (6 issues).

Now wait just a minute.

Bon Appetit is your BMOC, the one you’ll gladly take home to Mom: proven track record, a good family over at CondeNast. He’s generous, too, but not too pushy–he doesn’t need to be. Vegetarian Times , however, is more like the sweet, unassuming boy next door who’d really like a chance and is willing to go the extra mile. He’s not pushy, either, because he knows that once you get to know him you’ll be happy you signed on for that 2nd year for an extra dollar–he’s determined to prove to you he’s worth it.

Cuisine at Home, however, is the cocky, brash, bantam rooster type: you’ve never heard of him but he’s going to make sure you don’t forget him! Oh, sure, if you act now he’ll throw in an extra year for “free” but that first year? Yeah, it’s gonna cost you. But, he says, I’ve got no ads, I’m “100% Cooking” and I’ll prove it to you! I’ve got pictures galore and I make fine cuisine accessible to the everyday home cook!

Ah, but that where he tips his hand. I’m not the “everyday home cook.” I have a culinary degree and his sample issue recipes like Shrimp Risotto, grilled Pizza and Chicken Piccata are pretty basic to me. And, I think, a lot of self-professed foodies would consider it the same.

Furthermore, I don’t mind ads in cooking magazines. Why? Because the ads are targeted, they make sense: appliances, ingredients, cookware–I’m happy to see ads for these because it let’s me know if something interesting is out there that I might want to check out. Unlike website ads, magazine ads don’t blink or pop out at you, covering what you’re trying to read.

So at almost $5 an issue, I’m not inclined to invite Cuisine at Home in for a nightcap any time soon. It missed it’s mark with me, but that doesn’t mean others, those newer to cooking and looking to expand from basics, won’t find it interesting.