It used to be taboo to drop a check on a table that hasn’t asked for it. Doing so would risk offending guests. But customs have loosened somewhat and restaurant goers—perhaps desensitized by the constant bird-dogging they receive in restaurants—are much more forgiving about being prematurely presented the bill.
Can bringing a check ever be a hospitable act? If the server brings us anything else without our needing to ask, don’t we consider it anticipating our needs? We’ve all experienced the futility of trying to flag down the server for the check. It’s a royal pain in the ass sometimes.
People’s irritation about check dropping is rooted in the notion that customers should decide for themselves when it’s time to leave. We’ve addressed this, with some degree of controversy, in a recent post. Loitering at your table after you’ve finished your meal isn’t an inalienable right, it’s a privilege. Of course, all restaurants would love to welcome you into their space as long as you’d like to stay but it isn’t realistic to allow everyone to do that. Sometimes busy restaurants can’t afford to extend certain privileges. Sure in a perfect world, the staff would stand around all day waiting for you to signal the “air scribble” but the bar is packed with people waiting for their turn.
A restaurant experience is like an amusement park ride. Everybody with a ticket gets a turn to ride the Ferris Wheel. But if random people decide they want to remain in their cars so they can go around again and again like an entitled toddler, there are going to be a lot of paying customers in line getting the shaft. It isn’t any less fair to expect someone to disembark from a ride in a theme park than it is to vacate their table in a restaurant in a reasonable amount of time.
If a waiter asks “Can I bring you anything else?” and you’ve answered no, it’s acceptable for him to present the check. If you have not been given ample time to finish whatever you’ve ordered, then he shouldn’t be asking the question. As long as everything has been cleared and your drinks are finished, the next step of service is to present the check. Of course you don’t have to remit payment right away. That’s your prerogative. But you shouldn’t be upset with the waiter for giving you the bill. It is not a hostile act, it’s hospitality.