Pub date May 2, 2006

Without Reservations


Split is a splendid little word, one of my favorites, at least when we are wandering through the joyous realm of sparkling wine. Who wouldn’t want an adorably petite bottle of bubbly for one’s own, complete with cork wrapped in fancy foil in a cage of golden wire? Yet split, alas, has other meanings too; in that terrible, inevitable restaurant moment when the check arrives, the word becomes the occasion for close scrutiny of the bill, who had what, some people drank more than others, tax is always a muddle, multiple credit or debit cards (all confusingly similar in appearance) are produced, and, at the very end, there is the dreadful business of agreeing on a tip. It is a business negotiation, basically, a moment for teams of accountants, and it sounds a slightly off note at the end of a lovely evening.

Splitting a check is somewhat less cumbersome and embarrassing in cash transactions, true which tend to be smaller anyway and I would grant an exemption for gigantic get-togethers like birthday-party dinners, where 20 or more people can gather at a single table and the tab can easily drift past $500 or even higher. But: For the usual small rendezvouses, têtes-à-têtes and so forth, somebody should just pick up the check. I nominate rich people. Rich people should pay. The richest person at the table should fess up or, better yet, just discreetly snatch the bill when it comes and discreetly whip out the putf8um card to settle the matter. This would be a kind of gracious ad hoc socialism that would also meliorate a small but galling social blight, and while it wouldn’t necessarily assure the fate of one’s eternal soul, if any ("Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" Matthew 19:24), it couldn’t hurt. Spending money on food is a virtue, as is spending money on other people so spending money to feed other people must be doubly virtuous.

How to determine who the richest person at your table is? I recommend the stare-down. And if two rich people happen to be having dinner? (Surely this happens from time to time.) One pays this time; the other, the next socialism for the rich, kind of. SFBG