There is a disturbing new trend in food writing, one which subverts the prevailing logic of the hospitality industry by embedding deeply personal insults within a highly public medium of transmission: the restaurant receipt. The offending textual inscriptions, whether penned by hand or typed in to blend in with the rest of the computer generated corporate template, the check has now become a potentially sinister vehicle for somewhat anonymous venom directed at the specific server or diner involved within the financial transaction that culminates a purchased meal.
The invective’s relationship to the act of eating is at most circumstantial, in that it is typically composed within the confines of an eating establishment or aimed directly at the purveyor of one’s repast. However, the content of the insult itself goes beyond food and attacks the appearance, behavior, identity (racial, ethnicity, gender), national origin, or marital status of the victim. However, as befits the times, the revenge wreaked upon the offender exposes the scribbler’s ignorance and prejudices for all the world to see and, presumably, to condemn by “publishing” such vitriol via social media. The end result, unsurprisingly, leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
A few recent cases in point illustrate the nadir of this trend, which l contend constitutes its own kind of food poisoning. Take the anti-Mexican comment typed within the body of a customer’s order at a Mexican restaurant in Denver. The receipt itself was written in Spanglish, and both the customers at whom this was aimed and the restaurant owner are Mexican American. Or, the apparent hoax at a Red Lobster restaurant in Tennessee, in which the waitress claimed a customer wrote the n-word in a receipt, and the non-tipping patron in question sued her in court for slander. A waitress who wrote a homophobic slur on a bar tab brushed it off by saying it was meant in jest, without apologizing. These disputes simultaneously serve as testaments to the age–in which protests against institutionalized racism and the urgent need for immigration reform have prompted the activism of Black Lives Matter, the Dreamers, and those working towards Marriage Equality, but also sparked reactionary xenophobia and homophobia among petty vandals who think nothing of defacing a public document as a means of venting their ignorant views.
Sadly, the real debate a lot of these receipts should give rise to is whether the practice of tipping within the U. S. restaurant industry should continue, a topic newly relevant given the prominence of the Fight for Fifteen movement nationally, which calls for paying restaurant employees of all stripes a living wage.
Even when the comments written on receipts are positive, such as when an anonymous Olive Garden diner paid for a Muslim family’s meal on Christmas and expressed his/her admiration for the “beautiful family,” or a restaurant owner who gave a 15% discount to a family for praying before eating their meal and then was pressured into stopping such a “discriminatory” practice, the use of a receipt to convey such sentiments seems to violate our long-held gastronomic social contract of avoiding certain topics, such as politics or religion, during meals to ensure a peaceful and pleasant experience at the table. Other recent examples of receipt writing that have gone viral include efforts to reward breastfeeding in public, fat shame a female customer, and protest the hiring of foreign nationals or just mere humans.
In closing, this post is a call for diners and wait-staff to refrain from treating receipts like the comments section on an online publication. Let’s all strive to enjoy our meals and leave one another to digest in peace. And, let the food writing to those Yelpers or Urban Spooners who actually have something to say about the attributes of the food on order, rather than those who eat it or bring it to them.