My boyfriend and I were nearing the end of our dinner at a dimly lit, wood-accented, sensibly priced restaurant downtown. After a few drinks, an appetizer and our respective entrees, we were tipsy, stuffed and ready to leave.
From afar, our waiter read our mood, glided over to the table and asked the expected, "Anything else?"
Simultaneously my boyfriend and I replied (in some variation or another): "We'll take the check."
When the waiter reappeared several minutes later, he uttered the courteous "whenever you're ready" line, flashed a smile and placed the black leather booklet containing our bill directly in front of my boyfriend.
Some people reading this will see nothing wrong with the above scenario. But others will empathize with how I felt in that moment: snubbed, insulted and harshly aware that the past 50 years of feminism still aren't enough.
I wanted to stand up and shout, "I'M THE BREADWINNER, THANK YOU!" But I refrained. Instead I rolled my eyes, snatched up the bill and jammed my card into the plastic pouch with such attitude before standing the booklet up directly in front of me. There would be no confusion about who was paying for this meal.
This experience wasn't unique. Countless waiters and waitresses at restaurants of all price points have made the same mistake. Some have even returned the paid bill to my boyfriend, although the credit card used clearly had a girl's name on it.
Chances are most servers assign the check to the guy subconsciously. Maybe they really do see men pay more often and have consequently become conditioned to hand the check to him.
Still, it's no excuse. The male-gets-the-check convention is outmoded. American women are increasingly infiltrating the labor force, which means we can afford to buy dinner too.
A study last month from Pew Research Center showed 40 percent of all households with children under the age of 18 now include mothers who are either the sole or primary income earner for their families. Almost half of the U.S. labor force—47 percent—is composed of women.
While there still are many more glass ceilings to crack, rest assured we will get there. And when we do, we'll pick up the tab at even more dinners enjoyed with our male companions.
So waiters and waitresses, before you slap the bill down in front of the guy out of habit, entertain the thought that the lady might be paying. Just place the check in the middle of the table and walk away.
Jessica Reynolds is an assistant for the Chicago Tribune's editorial board.
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