The Smoothest Way To Pay The Restaurant Tab For Your Party

There is a proper etiquette for every restaurant situation. Nowhere are dining etiquette rules more complicated, however, than when it comes to paying the tab. Are you with friends, family, co-workers, a date? In all of these situations, the etiquette for who pays and how much can be slightly different. The only time it isn't complicated is when someone decides to be generous and cover for everyone present. In that case, it's simple.

Except for how to handle it, that is. It may seem simple to grab the check for everyone, but if you're with a large dinner party, it's not always easy to accomplish this in a way that doesn't feel awkward. In many cases, others will vie with you for the privilege of paying. The way to avoid this drama, of course, is by providing credit card information to the server before the meal has ended and the check becomes a topic of conversation. This can be done smoothly in several ways. Handing the card to the server along with the menu after ordering is the smoothest method of all, assuming you can do so discreetly in a way that doesn't alert your tablemates.

This is important, as you don't want anyone else to know you're paying until the bill is formally presented. At that point, as everyone mentally adds up the cost of their dishes and drinks, you can reveal that the check has already been paid.

How to be pick up the check unobtrusively

Prior planning is often required to pull off paying the check for a large party. If you are in a situation where others may compete to pay the tab, then by the time you discreetly slide your credit card to the server with the menu, someone else may already have beaten you to the punch. This is often the case when families dine together or at dinners with business clients. To avoid this unseemly competition, simply call ahead first.

If you're making the reservation, it only takes a few extra seconds to let the restaurant know that you'll also be taking care of the check and that the server should only accept a credit card from you. But even if you're not making the reservation, it's easy enough to call beforehand, reference the group you're dining with, and let the restaurant know that you'll be paying. Then, when you do discreetly hand over your credit card, the server will be ready for it, and no one else will be able to argue with you.

If you're unable to call ahead, it's still possible to arrive early or to find another opportune moment during the meal. But the longer you wait, the harder it is to pay unobtrusively without your dining companions knowing about it.

How to be generous without offending anyone

If you let the restaurant know you'll be paying via a phone call, you have the option of giving your credit card information in advance — while noting the size of the tip you'd like to leave. And yes, it's still proper etiquette to tip on top of a restaurant's service fee. That way, staff can automatically charge you at the meal's conclusion, without ever bringing the check to the table.

This still allows for the enjoyable reveal, in which you let those at the table know you've taken care of the bill. But it removes any perceived obligation on their part to offer to chip in, either for the dinner or the tip. This is an added courtesy, but if you're uncomfortable with divulging credit card information in this manner, it's perfectly appropriate to wait and hand over your card discreetly once at the restaurant.

To avoid an etiquette mistake, however, never pick up the check at a hosted dinner – unless you've cleared it with the host first. Generosity is its own reward, but you should never attempt to be generous in a situation where it might offend someone else.