Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sometimes, SM + IRL = FAIL

Friday night, I had the opportunity to meet up with a host of folks from my Chicago-area Twitter circle.

Teresa Basich and I were both in town, and Sonny Gill and Jess Miller just moved to Chicago (and I was staying with Jess), so it was the perfect time for a not-so-little gathering at a Windy City bar and grill.

By all accounts, the night started out great. Came in, introduced ourselves to the people who were already there, ordered up a pint of the beer on special, since it was a craft brew rather than run-of-the-mill swill, which I mention primarily because this is exciting to an unemployed beer snob on a budget.

As the evening wore on, more and more people showed up; there probably were 50 people there at one point. Unfortunately, I didn't get to chat with a number of them -- partly my own fault, and partly a function of the size of the crowd and partly a function of my self-admitted claustrophobia -- but I did get to finally connect face-to-face with folks who've become friends and trusted colleagues through Twitter and Facebook, like Gini Dietrich and Dave Van de Walle. And that part of the night was fantastic!

So, you're probably wondering where the title of this blog post came from.

Flash forward to around 11 p.m., when Jess and I were ready to head back to her place. We asked the server for our check. What she brought us was shocking.

Instead of the reasonable bill for two gals on a budget -- we had two beers apiece -- the check included 10 beers. TEN! When we questioned the clearly incorrect bill, the server indicated that several people who'd been sitting at the large table earlier in the night hadn't paid for their drinks.

"But they're right over there..." I started to say before realizing that several folks had left without saying a word -- and, apparently, without paying their bill.

We were livid. And panicked. Neither of us had ever had anyone do this to us before, so we didn't really know the protocol -- nor did we have the cash or the desire to pay a bill that wasn't ours. So we argued with the server, who clearly knew that the bill was not ours.

"When I walked in here tonight, there was one person in this room who I'd met before," I said to her, gesturing at Jess. "You're not going to stick us with a bill for strangers because you didn't keep track of your customers."

And I don't know if she realized that we were right or what, but she took the cash for our real bill (which actually included a relatively generous tip) and walked away. Still fuming, we warned the nearest people about what was going on and then headed out before the server changed her mind.

Saturday morning, after I'd had a chance to sleep on the situation, I tweeted this, hoping for resolution:

And guess what? No replies. No "mea culpa." Nothing. So I can only assume that means no one stepped up and took care of the bill they left behind. And, unfortunately, I am left to assume -- based on what the server said, what was on the bill and how the situation played out -- just who it was who skipped out on the check ... and that it wasn't an accident.

While we didn't end up having to pay the tab that was abandoned by some Chicago social media types, we certainly learned a lesson. If you're going to a tweetup, quasi-tweetup or any other event organized via social media and you're not paying a set fee at the door (or in advance) to cover the evening's food and drinks, watch your back.

No matter how cool, bright and community-minded someone might come off via social media, it doesn't mean that translates to the 3D world.

And that's when SM + IRL = FAIL

(NOTE: No one named in this post is believed to have been among the check-skippers. Finger-pointing is not my style.)


  1. Ah, the good ol' skip-out-while-there-are-enough-people-around-to-cover-the-bill trick. Sadly, I've had this happen a few times -- at one event I remember coughing up $200 because it was my best friend's birthday and some of her people had skipped out on her.

    At the end of the day, I choose not to trust that things will be taken care of and I make sure to keep my eye on the server and my bill closed out as quickly as possible.

    I'm sorry you had to fight the battle when it was someone else's responsibility. You stood your ground and that's the best you can do. The worst part? We may never be able to show our faces at Northside again.

  2. I was sitting there when that bill came and I though you did the right thing...I still think you did the right thing.

    My advice? Always open your own tab at the bar and give strict orders to the bartender to only put drinks you order on that credit card. It's also an easy way to make a quick getaway if the event sucks (you don't have to wait for a server to appear, ask for your check, wait for it to arrive, pay it, wait for your receipt...meanwhile have everyone ask you why you're leaving early). I mean. Not that I've ever done that.

  3. Arrrgh! I'm so bummed that this happened...

    I think you handled it EXTREMELY well. And we can actually give a shout-out to the restaurant for NOT forcing you to pay for the rest of the bill; I've heard stories that were much worse.

    Hang in there...this will be sorted out...

  4. Lindsay,

    Wow! This is unbelievable! Well, not completely - some people are like that, unfortunately. It's a great lesson for others regarding social media and meeting up IRL. Sounds like you did the right thing, and kudos to you for tweeting the next day.


  5. My grandpa used to say "He who steals only sins once... but the victim sins a 100 times". It's an awful situation to be in, more because you will never be able to figure out who did it.
    The worst thing is that sometimes you might even think the waitress deliberately charged a couple extra beers in the tab... I know that has happened to me.

    Too bad it happened but I hope you that doesn't stop you from attending / organizing another Tweeter group reunion.

    Anyway, wanted to say the usual "long time follower first time poster" thing. Keep writing! I'll keep reading. =)


  6. There really is a simple answer to this dilemma. Nominate a treasurer for the evening (or if trustworthy enough the barman) everyone attending an meet up like this pays £££ up front and then assuming everyone is drinking an average and equitable amount you get your change at the end of the evening. So if you want to skip out early you have to find someone else to collect your change for you.

    Foolproof no?!?

  7. I always pay cash per drink or have a restricted tab as described above - this isn't just a Tweetup problem but a regular issue at networking events.

    Unfortunately, as the organizer, many times you're liable; and remember the waitress did cut you a deal as SHE is the one who probably ended up paying for their beers out of her check - or at least that's how it works in most places.

    Make the tab rules very clear when organizing any event. As tweetups get bigger, they start acting like regular functions, skippers and all. After all, although we're connected via Twitter and tech tools, some things never change.


  8. @Jeremiah: I completely agree, but your comment makes me realize I need to clarify: I wasn't the organizer. I was simply an attendee. :)

  9. It happens. I was just at a meetup recently and the organizer of the event thought he had cleared the tab, so he and most of the others left. Me and a few friends had paid our tabs (we asked the server to start us a separate tab each) and left that area of the bar for a couple hours.

    Later that night we returned to an empty table with beers in our hands (paid for) and sat down only to have the server approach us with an unpaid check.

    It could have easily turned into a situation like yours, but we talked about it and rather than making the poor waitress cover the check I paid it and just let the organizer of the event know afterwards. He happily covered the check a few days later via PayPal.

    The easiest way to avoid this suation is to tell the server when you walk in to start you a tab and that ONLY you are on that tab. With 50+ people at a meetup, it can be difficult to know who's check to put what on. Sometimes I just pay cash for one drink at a time... it keeps me paid up and the servers usually remember you since it's rare now.

    Still, I'm sorry for your situation... those people that skipped out on the check (and know it) deserve to be called out on it if only you knew who they were.