The $20 Bill

My out of town friend was shocked to find that I knew of a good place to eat for under $15 in Manhattan. Not that it’s an endangered species – there are plenty of places to find cheap food. But somewhere that has a sense of ambiance to make you want to stay longer than the length of your meal, is a dying breed. Keeping it cheap once you get there becomes an art form, requiring some restraint with no alcohol, no appetizer, no dessert. At Frank’s, the quasi-old school grandma Italian restaurant in the East Village, my favorite rigatoni al ragu is only $12, a hefty portion of pasta with mini meatballs and sausage. That’s all I had, so I laid down $20, even though the bill was $160 for five.

Is this fair to my fellow diners? In these group situations, I always wonder about the etiquette, having been on both sides of the fence. I think that much of the fairness issue lies in the consent of others, letting everyone know that you’re keeping it on the DL and having them acknowledge that when the bill comes. Also, no poaching. A bite or two from someone else’s plate is okay, but finishing their meal when all you’ve had was an appetizer is not. I guess my friends are good with this arrangement; they want to dine with me again tomorrow.

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