Splitting the bar tab with strangers

Splitting the bar tab is hardly uncommon. Doing it with random strangers, well, that’s more like something so ridiculous only Seth would do it. Oops.

Waiting for the early flight from JFK to London I did what I normally do: Pre-flight dining at Bobby Van’s in the terminal. The flight is too short to want to have the meal on board. Plus Bobby Van’s is way better than airline food. And so I was mostly minding my own business, enjoying a sliced steak sandwich and a glass of vodka to steel myself for the upcoming 6 hour jaunt across the Atlantic. The two guests next to me at the bar were wrapping up a trip to the USA as one typically does, enjoying a bottle of Budweiser before the flight. And when it came time to pay they offered up the last US cash they had – a $5 bill – plus a credit card to make up the difference. The bartender was not amused. “You want me to run a $2.56 charge on the credit card???” was his response. They tried to explain that they intended to make it a full $5 on the card, leaving a reasonably generous $2+ tip on a bottle of beer but he wanted nothing to do with it.

By this point I was no longer pretending to ignore the situation. I took the $5 bill and had the beer transferred to my tab. The couple was appreciative and left for the gate. The bartender was somewhere between befuddled and bemused. He cracked a joke about how one of the pair must have been hung over; how else to explain only drinking water at the bar?? Or perhaps they were desperate with only $5 left. Never mind that they had a credit card and were willing to pay for the drink but wanted to leave without taking the US dollars home. And this is a guy who is supposed to be in the customer service industry. A most bizarre interaction, to be sure.

So, yeah, I split the tab with them, paying an extra $3 and wondering why the bartender played the games he did. I suppose I’ll never know.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. It irks me that in a world where there are plenty of payment processors that will not charge a flat transaction fee, making small transactions disproportionately expensive to merchants, they do not use them or realize that the size of the transaction does no longer matters.

  2. Of course if he hadn’t been expecting a tip for popping the lid off a bottle of beer there wouldn’t have been an issue 🙂

  3. It’s common for airport shops and cafes to accept payment in most major currencies – though the rates may not be attractive, and the change provided is in local currency only. Do they not do that at American airports for international terminals?

  4. Using up the last of a currency at the airport and topping off the bill with a CC has been SOP with us forever and has never raised so much as an eyebrow anytime we have done it. This bartender truly is a lout. However. your good move left an impression with at least one couple That all Americans are not louts.
    BTW, my “early” flight to LHR is the VS that leaves JFK at 8AM, somewhat before I would be ready for a steak sandwich and at a time that I would want my vodka in the form of a Bloody Mary. ☺

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