I Am The King of Reaching For The Check (But Never Getting It)

My skills are world-renknowned.

They whisper my name in hushed tones, quietly wondering if I am the man they think I am, sitting there across from them at the dinner table. They watch, with bated breath, wondering if when the end of dinner arrives — if I will flex my muscles and make an offer that, in the end, I will most definitely refuse. In Spain they call me Volvereturno! which is a simple yet clever combination of the Spanish verb that means “to return” and the obvious American word “return” — which just communicates how doubly-dangerous I can be.

That is, dangerous…when the dinner check arrives.

Next to waiting for that first date to honk their horn, that heart attack to arrive, or your final breaths to be breathed when you’re doing that breathing-thing in your last few minutes of life — people seem to wait for the dinner check more than any other thing throughout their lives. There is a passion and nervousness and anticipation that comes with the last ten minutes of every expensive meal. There is a desire and a repulsion for the spongy, little black folder. There is an overwhelming uncertainty that accompanies the monolithic check folder as it stands alone, in the middle of the table, waiting for someone to claim it as their own.

But that’s where me, and my check reaching skills come into play.

I have trained long and hard in the arts of simulated check reaching, working with some of the best check-reachers in the continential United States. I once sat across from my mentor, Dr. Gregory Poussat, and watched in awe as he convinced a table of thirty (a birthday dinner at an expensive restaurant that only the birthday girl had chosen) that he was going to pay for the meal — then sat back stunned as everyone else offered to pay instead.

I have been put through months of training in a dark, simulated four-star restaurant in an underground training facility where I had to crawl out of a pile of a thousand dinner checks, without rope or a helping hand. Where my reflexes and recoiling skills were put to the test. Where being able to fake-cry is one of the last, and most complicated skills to master.

But the pay-off, from all that training, left me the King of the you-know-what.

I am skilled in the art of the credit-card reveal (then hide), the left-handed arm extension (then retraction), the fist-clenching cash presentation (then pocket stuffing), the bladder motion-hold (then disappearance to the bathroom as the check arrives) and many many more skills that convince the others at the table that I am really thinking about covering the bill thus subconsciously urging them to pick it up themselves, instead.

Not to toot my own horn, but I have finished a meal with three other people that totalled $458.29 (without tax), reached for the check while telling my sad story about being investigated by the I.R.S. and having to declare bankruptcy and then watched as people literally climbed over each other to be known as the check-picker upper. I have feigned the stomach flu and disappeared into the lavatory (which in reality, was the bar) and returned to find mints, a dinner check stub, and people using toothpicks. I have taken out my calculator to determine how to split the bill thirty-five ways, then split that in half since there are just couples at the table — only to urge someone to just put the whole thing on their corporate card instead.

Where there is simplicity, I create complications. Where there is clear-headed thinking, I create confusion. Where there is the potential to get someone else to pay for the check and make it look like I was going to do it in the first place anyway — there is me.

Because I am the royalty of the non-royalty payers. The one reaching for nothing, really, at all. I am the King of reaching for the check, but never ever getting it in my hot little hands.

And that, my friends, is just how I roll.

In other news, don’t forget to check back in tomorrow for the surprise of all surprises. Well, okay, maybe it’s just half of a surprise of all surprises, but it’s at least a partial surprise where all surprises are concerned.

20 comments on “I Am The King of Reaching For The Check (But Never Getting It)

  1. LisaBinDaCity - March 30, 2006 at 8:04 am -

    Maybe I’m just really, REALLY tired but this didn’t make any sense to me 😉

  2. Jerry - March 30, 2006 at 8:13 am -

    I hold special respect fellow pseudo checkgrabbers. It is truly an aquired craft that is handed down from only the finest mentors. I often work a variation of this technique which is the pitch forward left on the seat and reach for the wallet pump fake. A very dramatic gesture that signals all to pony up. I also find in a business crowd setting, actually exposing the AmEx Card prompts almost involuntary responses from other males in the group seeking to elevate their status in the office — a pissing match as it were. The dog pack mentality surges and those fools throw their gold cards at the server. Hell, my Am Ex account has been inactive for years now.

    Pauly, perhaps you can do a follow up post on those who offer to pay the tab entirely on their credit cards (that usually yield them miles or cash) and then scam hard cash off the rest of the group to “cover” the amount put on their card. Like that cash ever ends up paying off the monthly bill.

  3. Wendi - March 30, 2006 at 8:33 am -

    wrong…i’ve mastered that art…so much so that i teach a class on it…it was only an audience of one…buy hey…still true

  4. Wendi - March 30, 2006 at 8:35 am -

    i wonder what it would look like if we both fake reached for the check…i wonder how long we would let it sit there without anybody ACTUALLY grabbing it

  5. Keith - March 30, 2006 at 8:49 am -

    So that’s why you keep asking if I want to go to dinner with you…

  6. sandra - March 30, 2006 at 8:58 am -

    You are the Mr. Miyagi to my early Karate Kid Daniel-san. I think I have potential…but I need to be taught!

  7. Kevin - March 30, 2006 at 9:06 am -

    It is most definitely an art form. One that, while I’m not quite at your level of mastery, I hope to perfect.

    Are you accepting new students, oh wise Sensei?

  8. Jerk Of All Trades - March 30, 2006 at 10:19 am -

    Man, I HATE the check game. Pay or don’t pay, and if I call your bluff, dont get all pissed off that you have to pay.

    I’ll have to say “Boooo” to this one Pauly.

  9. Curt Sawyer - March 30, 2006 at 10:48 am -

    Back in college (has it really been 15 years?) everyone paid because no-one could afford to cover the check for everyone. I used to know a girl in college who would look at the check and say, “My meal was $7.89 so I’m leaving $8 and that will cover it.” And we’d say, “Um, didn’t you have a soda? Don’t you want to leave a tip? Have you ever heard of a little think called ‘tax’?” And she would do this every. single. time.

    She works for the Department of Motor Vehicles now.

    True story.

  10. Amy - March 30, 2006 at 11:50 am -

    Curt, I have a friend that does that too. Then there’s the guy who grabs the check in order to “collect” all the money and count it all up while never putting any of his own in. He says, “Gee, we’re still a couple dollars short, everyone chip in another buck” when in fact we were all covering his portion. Paul you could try that one!

  11. Dan - March 30, 2006 at 11:59 am -

    Yes, but have you ever gotten a GIRL to pick up the check on a date? And without having to threaten her? Hmm?

  12. Bre - March 30, 2006 at 12:52 pm -

    Haha – you have far many complicated skills than I do. I mostly just give the check a glance, then look up at my date with my best “you’d better impress me now, buddy” look.

    it’s working out quite well so far!

  13. susan - March 30, 2006 at 2:11 pm -

    Your talents never cease to appall me. However, I would love to have been at the fancy (of course) dinner when you were annointed “King” and seen you and all your other cheapo/fakers out-fake each other, bobbing and weaving and gesturing when it came time to pay the bill. YOU, boohaha, WIN, because, of course, you are the KING.

  14. Pauly D - March 30, 2006 at 5:38 pm -

    Bre – The advantages of being a woman, I guess.

  15. Janet - March 30, 2006 at 7:14 pm -

    The training sounds intense.

    Fortunately, as a woman I can bypass that training without any future penalties.

    Woman are exempt from selective service and the tab. How do you manage the bill when eating out with a woman? Wife, date, whatever? This interests me. When, exactly, does your traingin foil?

  16. Jennifer Lankenau - March 30, 2006 at 8:35 pm -

    I serve people like you often.

    I actually am grateful for your artful dodging of the bill, because it prevents the dreaded “check duel” that guests engage in, inevitably putting me in the middle knowing that no matter whose credit card I grab, SOMEONE is going to be pissed off. (Fortunately it won’t be the one responsible for my tip…)

  17. Curt Sawyer - March 31, 2006 at 5:02 am -

    Another true story.

    I used to work for the Federal Government and one guy would always volunteer to order the pizza and collect the money from everyone once a week. One day he was out and we ordered the same thing we usually did and then we noticed that we had to pay the exact same amount. Even though we were a man short, everyone’s share came out the same as always.

    Then we figured it out – we’d been covering his pizza for 2 years.

    When confronted about it, he said, “But I deserve something for ordering it!” Apparently using the phone for 60 seconds was worth $6.

  18. Belinda - March 31, 2006 at 11:11 am -

    There’s another component to this, if you’re eating in a “lesser” restaurant, and that is the very beginning, when the server asks, “Will this be on one check?” That’s a tricky moment, and you have to know your company well to know whether it’s best played by feigning deafness and forcing them to answer or by giving a momentary pause and beginning to say, “No, sep–” and hope you get interrupted. Because once someone has made the “put it all on one” call, they’ve pretty much accepted responsibility for the check when it’s time to pay the piper.

  19. nic - April 1, 2006 at 8:04 am -

    I love when I am serving a big party and several of the customers give me a secret “give me the check” look. I nod at them and then give it to the first one who did it. I usually end up getting a “secret” tip from each and every one!

  20. Belinda - June 9, 2006 at 1:14 am -

    Paul, I had to go back and dig this post out of the archives and plug you on BlogHer, because…well, see this thread and you’ll understand. I thought they needed your perspective, since it seemed to be such a serious problem!

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