Separate Your Own Damned Checks

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I love the self-checkout line at the grocery store. I prefer the online banking option that prevents me from having to interact with another human being. And when I go to the movies, I always buy tickets at the kiosk rather than deal with the surly teen behind glass.

But when I go to a restaurant, I'm not looking for a DIY experience, which is why my recent trip to Maudie's Too on South Lamar in Austin was so strange.

I've been going to Maudie's on every trip to Austin for the last 11 years. It's not a Michelin star kind of place, but it is a gem among the many Tex-Mex places in town. Their house margaritas are so good you don't need to order a top shelf, their queso is outstanding, and every time I eat the Strait Plate (three beef enchiladas topped with chili con carne, chopped onions and two fried eggs) I hear the Old 97's cover of "El Paso" in my head.

On Saturday, I was in town to help a good friend from college celebrate her birthday, and about 15 of us met on the patio at Maudie's. She had notified the management before everyone arrived that we would need separate checks. When our waiter came out, he put us on the honor system: He told us to keep track of what we ordered and he would give us separate totals at the end of the meal. We thought that was strange, but everyone was filled with a friendly queso glow, and anyway it was nothing a second margarita wouldn't fix.

Unfortunately, at the end of the meal, our waiter evidently forgot his original plan and brought out one check for the table. What's more, he told us that he wouldn't be able to separate it for us. Then, he gave us new directions: We were to add up our own totals, calculate our own sales tax (thank God for smart phones with built-in calculators), and then write on the back of the ticket exactly how much was to be charged to each credit card.

Now, I realize that a couple of ice ages have elapsed since I was last a waiter, but this was a new experience to me. I remember hating to separate checks for large parties, but I did it because it was part of the job. Who knows, maybe the world has changed? So when I returned home, I called the manager.

Eric Benson, the manager for the South Lamar location, was very nice when I spoke to him, and to his credit, he was already very familiar with what had happened. Maudie's does separate checks for large parties, and Benson agreed that he should have done it for us.

What's your opinion on all this? Folks from the restaurant industry -- what's the biggest check-separating nightmare you've ever had to deal with? Diners -- has this kind of thing happened to you?

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