Hola amigos. I know I haven’t rapped at ya much recently, but I’ve been busy with finals and whatnot. I’m all done for now, so I’ll be able to drop science on you more consistently. Let’s get right to it: last Friday some classmates and I went out to a local tavern to celebrate the end of classes. As soon as we had had our fill of wings and beer and merrymaking, we were collectively bitch-slapped back to reality by the bane of all American diners: the check. There were eight of us, and we each had to spend several minutes scrutinizing the bill, trying to figure out what we had ordered and how much we needed to chip in. Predictably, despite our best intentions and effort, our cash pile was well short.
Why does dining out require a Ph.D. in astrophysics? Well, for starters, there’s the obnoxious institution of tipping.
Mr. Pink makes a good point: why does society deem waiting tables, and not other jobs, worthy of a substantial tip? More importantly, how do employers get away with paying waiters and waitresses (side note: when and why did they become “servers?” I refuse to use that term) far less than the minimum wage? They should be salaried or paid a legal hourly wage just like all other employees, and service should be included in the price of the food. No calculation required, and no conflict because people have different ideas of what constitutes an appropriate tip. I anticipate objections to the effect that the consumer will lose power and get inferior service. I claim that the consumer already has little choice in the matter, since tipping at least 15% is obligatory unless the service is particularly bad. In such cases, a customer could complain to the management and have his bill reduced. Besides, why do people consider it a right and a pleasure to lord over those whose job it is to serve them?
The tip is not the only hidden cost of dining out; there are also taxes to worry about. Because tax is added after the subtotal, it’s difficult to know what fraction of the tax you owe. To make matters worse, Pittsburgh levies an additional 10% tax on all alcohol purchases. Why can’t tax simply be included? I see no reason why merchants should be allowed to advertise a price that is lower than what you’ll actually have to pay. This goes for all purchases, by the way, not just those made at restaurants. How nice would it be to know exactly what you’ll owe before placing your order? This would also have the advantage of simplifying transactions. As it is now, when something is listed at $1.99 (does this gimmick really still fool anyone, by the way? Just price it at $2, for fuck’s sake), it will actually cost $2.09 in a state with 5% sales tax. Unless you happen to carry around lots of coins, you’ll get stuck with 91 cents in change. This is not a mere inconvenience; making all this change represents a nontrivial cost to the economy (scroll down to the fourth section).
Lastly, there’s the fact that separate checks are not the default. When a group of people dine together, why is it assumed that one person will pick up the check? This is not the case most of the time, and the diners have to do the work of figuring out who had what, which can be difficult due to the cryptic nature of restaurant checks (“who had the Chx Frs x 2?”). Making split checks the default would clear up this confusion and make everything go much more smoothly. I suppose it would be a little bit more work to enter each customer separately, but waiters would also save time by having to explain the bill far less often.
There you have it: three simple suggestions that would make dining out a more pleasant experience for all parties. Get on it, legislators.