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Splitting checks…

…is up there with hot tea as the waiter’s “Public Enemy Number One”.

But it doesn’t have to be angst-producing.

There’s little that you can do when the guest makes it unusually complicated. For instance, sometimes everyone shares appetizers but wants separate checks. Or, people want to pay 2/3rd of the bill and want to pay part of it in cash and part with a credit card. You just have to deal with these things as they come along. Because of Murphy’s law, these situations almost always arise when you don’t have time to deal with them.

But sometimes, we make it difficult on ourselves. This usually happens when we haven’t been organized.

So, the key to a successful check split is keeping things in order from the outset. Here are some ways that you can do this.

1. Keep each individual’s entire meal listed together in some form or fashion. Don’t write courses in separate areas. In other words, try to keep the entire meal grouped together for each table. I write each persons order on a single line, from appetizers to dessert (sometimes I have to use two lines, but I keep them together before going to the next position.

2. Speaking of positions, seat numbers are your friends. Use your seat positions consistently when writing orders. For some, it’s even helpful to number each position, although, for parties of 6 or less, it’s usually not necessary.

3. If you take the ladies’ orders first, leave space for the men when writing the order. I use a little tick mark to the left to give me room for their orders. It also clears a space in which to insert an order.

4. If you have people sharing dishes and they aren’t sitting adjacent to each other (for instance, they might be sitting across the table from each other), use an asterisk or a number system to tie them together. I’ve even drawn lines to connect two different positions.

5. Don’t overcomplicate things. when splitting, try to move each person’s order over completely. Try not to move everyone’s salads, everyone’s entrees, then everyone’s drinks. Different POS systems have different ways of splitting a check, so try to stick with that system instead of trying to out-think the computer.

6. Begin each table with the assumption that they’re going to split checks.

7. Use a mental trick of telling yourself that it’s a simple process. Sometimes we psyche ourselves out. Many times, splitting checks is just a mundane task, not rocket science.

8. If it turns out to be difficult, keep your head. Ask management to help you. Have a colleague take care of your tables. Let your other tables know what’s going on, if possible.

9. Ignore the fact that one of your guests has a very good chance of screwing you out of the rightful tip percentage. Sometimes, focusing on this can be a distraction, and it can certainly put a cloud over the rest of the shift. Just accept that this is a definite possibility and go on with life.

10. Suggest splitting the check evenly, especially if people have been sharing things like appetizers and wine, or it’s clear that spending has been close. The best way to do this is to say something like, “Should I split this right down the middle”? If you can get them to split the check evenly, most POS systems will let you take two payments without even splitting the check on the computer. If you don’t have to, don’t “physically” split the check. Just get a calculator and divide the final total by the number of payments, then authorize each credit card for that amount. An added advantage to this method is the reduction of closed checks that you’ll have to deal with during close-out. A couple of things to consider – first, the guests might need itemized receipts. In this case, you have no choice – you’ll have to actually split the checks. Also, you might have different types of credit cards on the check. If you are required to separate by credit card at the end of the night, you might have to reprint the check to staple the correct type of credit card to the check and if you have different types of credit cards piled up stapled to the check, your house might not allow this. Also, it can slow down your check-out procedures if you forget that you have an AMEX in the middle of a bunch of Visa receipts and you are required to total your credit card receipts by type.

11. Know the limitations of your system. If there are things that you can’t split, like coupons or comps, finding out in the middle of a split can really throw things into chaos, especially if you’re in the middle of a split. If you can’t recombine items that you’ve split back together once you’ve completed the split, this can be a distraction. For instance, you’ve split the apps 6 ways. now you have 1/6th of spinach dip on each check. You take the checks back and some bozo says, “I meant to tell you that I want to pay for the appetizer myself”. now you have to go back and move 5 items back on his or her check and reprint every check. Not cool. Obviously, there’s nothing that you can do at this point, but by knowing that you have this system restriction will remind you to try to make sure you know exactly how the guests want their check split.

12. Keep your check presenters in pivot point order. This way you can just go around the table and place the checks without having to try to figure out who gets which presenter.

13. With larger parties, ask any guests paying with cash if they need change. If they don’t, just collect their check presenters first. This reduces the number of checks that you have to juggle. If some people have their credit cards ready, go ahead and take care of them right away. It means more trips to the register, but it makes it easier to deal with a couple of credit cards at a time. Also make sure that you have a system for running the cards. If you try to wing it, you run the risk of charging the same credit card for two different charges, which means that you might be liable for the check that you didn’t apply the proper credit card to. I usually open the check presenters one by one and not move to the next one until I’ve completed the previous one, put the credit chits in the book, returned the card to the presenter, closed the presenter and set it aside. If you try to do them without having a system, an error is just lurking for you.

14. If you have a quick task to perform to another table such as getting a refill on a glass of wine, try to do it before splitting checks if possible. Try to let the table that you’re splitting know that you need to take care of that first.

15. If you know it’s going to be an easy split, tell your table, “Sure, I can split your check. It will only take a minute or two. No problem”, or words to that effect. Guests are so used to sour faces, grumbling and the like that this will make them more inclined to reward you. Conversely, if you know it’s going to be a little while, be honest with them. Tell them that it’s going to take a few minutes and ask them if there’s anything they need in the meantime.

If you follow these guidelines and adapt them to your particular situation, house policies and POS system, you’ll see splitting checks in a whole new light.

Doesn’t mean that you ever have to like it though.

There’s an app for that! Only .99 for the discerning restaurant patron.

2 responses to “Splitting checks…

  1. Nick Boodris September 28, 2010 at 9:32 am

    Splitting checks is a pain in the neck especially when all your tables are full. But it goes with the territory. Excellent post.

  2. theinsidewaiter October 9, 2010 at 12:52 am

    This great. I love how instructive this post is. Of course, it’s kinda hard to learn how to split checks without being on a system like MICROS or POSI-TOUCH, but this comes pretty damn close.

    My advice for people starting out when they split checks is to SLOW DOWN. Whenever there is payment involved, SLOW DOWN and take your time.

    Additionally, make sure that if you mess up authorizing an amount for a DEBIT card, a card tied to a personal savings account, that you don’t RE-AUTHOIRZE the card for the correct amount!

    For example, you accidentally charge a debit card for the entire bill of $100, when you were supposed to only charge the debit card $50.

    Now, if you re-authorize the card for fifty, you have just taken 150 dollars from the person’s personal checking account — that money will be held aside for atleast 48 hours until the authorization clears. Only after 48 hours, or more, will they get their $100 dollars back. If someone is on vacation, you could really screw them over.

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