Ask The Salty Waitress: Why Does The Server Ask If My Wife And I Need Separate Checks?

Dear Salty,

Is there etiquette or general protocol that governs when servers ask two customers eating together if they'll need one check or two? I inquire because with some frequency, my wife and I get asked this when she meets me for lunch. I say it's because it's lunch in the business district, I'm in a suit, she dresses nicely as well, so it's conceivable that it's two business types getting together. Splitting the check is obviously common in that scenario. She points out that it's only female servers who do this and gets (kind of) good-naturedly annoyed, asserting that it's kind of a sidelong disrespectful flirt, implying she's not with me. Who's more likely to be correct?



Dear MBH,

Servers get pretty good at reading people after years of watching guests eat, but we're not perfect. We do make assumptions, like anyone else, and are basing them on what we think is going on with a table. Sometimes, even if we think we know what a situation is, we like to err on the side of caution.

For example, I'll usually offer a woman a drink menu even if I think she might be pregnant, because hey, I don't know that for sure, and it's super awkward if I'm wrong. She can decline it if she doesn't want an alcohol beverage.

I'm sure it's a similar deal with you and your wife, where the server is trying to minimize awkwardness. The server might think it's easier for you to say "No, you can put it all together, actually" than to pipe up and ask for separate checks.

Also, look at the visual clues you and your wife are giving off: You're having lunch, which is a business-y meal. You're dining in the business district. You're both dressed professionally. Presumably, you're not making out across the table. How, other than some hand-holding or other affectionate gesture, would the server know you're married?

In 2018, men and women go out to eat as colleagues (unless you're Mike Pence). It would be condescending if the server assumed any woman out with a man for lunch was his romantic partner, especially given all the corporate clues you two are giving off.

I'd chalk it up to the server erring on the side of caution and assuming you're out to a business lunch. Your wife can read into it all she wants, but seriously, I doubt anyone's trying to steal her husband while delivering a chopped salad.

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