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Tip your server.
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problem: it can be uncomfortable in some situations to spend the entire meal without knowing who will pay.
Alternative imagined custom which still allows for grace, diplomacy, etc (we could all switch over immediately): if someone is going to pay for the whole meal, arrange it before the dinner.
Then when the waiter arrives to take the drink order, he would say, "ladies and gentlemen, your dinner has been covered this evening." it is customarily anonymous. but the fact is out in the open. If you are the one who wants to pay, but the waiter tells you someone has beat you to it- too bad. The early arranger gets the honor of paying.
the advantages to this over the current system are two: (1) If the waiter doesnt mention that the dinner is covered, it's understood that it's split or whatever. you know from the outset of the meal where you stand.
(2) so do the other parties.
||Once you announce that you are going to pay, that pretty much green lights an overabundance of appetizers and drinks...where if people think they are splitting the check they will order more conservatively and you can still be the hero at the end by paying.
||Why is this half-baked? This is exacty what happens now isn't it? If someone does not announce that they are paying at the begining of the meal then you assume you are splitting it...and you can hope someone announces it at the end of the meal.