Behind the Bar

How These Bars and Restaurants are Creatively Sliding the Guest Check Over

A paper boat with a check and saltwater taffy in it on a bar.
Sink | Swim goes above and beyond the call of duty with their origami boat check presenters, filled with complimentary saltwater taffy. Photo by Dan Segar.

When the folks behind Paley Vitaly’s Imperial in Portland were planning the details of the restaurant and bar, they didn’t leave a single linen, fork or garnish out of the discussion. That meant when it came to designating how the check would be presented to guests, one thing was for sure: it had to be memorable.

As they crossed the last details from their opening to-do list, the restaurateurs realized the unused wine barrel staves used for planking fish and other dishes in the wood fire oven would be the perfect vehicle for delivering bills across the bar and to the table.

Wooden check presenters that say "Imperial." Your check presenters should also reflect your bar's theme and aesthetic coherence, like the presenters made from a wine barrel at Imperial. Photo by Rebekah Hubbard.

After mastering the art of small talk, preparing a fantastic cocktail and providing attentive service all night, we want our last encounter with patrons to be memorable. More often than not we end placing the guest’s check in a puddle of condensation on the bar. It’s worth considering how your checks are delivered at the end of the night as many bars and restaurants have proven.

“It’s the last step of excellent service — check drop and recovery,” says Garrett Peck, general manager of Imperial. The staves at Imperial bring the entire dining experience full circle by incorporating the preparation and tools used in preparing the food back around for the last interaction.

Another restaurant and bar, Sink | Swim in Chicago ensures guests experiences the establishment’s modern coastal vibes up until they leave their Visa with the server or bartender. Checks at Sink | Swim are delivered in Origami-style paper boats with complimentary salt water taffy. It occurred to the restaurant while having the logo designed, the same Origami boat design brought to life with paper would be an original way to hand over the check.

An origami boat filled with saltwater taffy next to a nautical rope. Your check presenters are one last way to make your guests feel considered and appreciated — why not fill them with candy? Photo by Dan Segar.

There’s an instructional how-to poster on the way back to the kitchen and on its website, should guests should want to try their hand at folding the iconic boat. Mostly, though, the “ship constructing” is left up to the staff. Mike Boschert, general Manager of Sink | Swim says the front of house staff all helps fold the boats. Boschert says they joke that it’s “the last day of training,” but that the staff is receptive to the extra task for the sake of elevating details within the restaurant.

Not only do the paper boats incorporate the brand into the dining experience, guests often post photos of the experience on social media. “Our Instagram handle is a lot of fun. You see a lot of guests really getting interactive with their experience. With that you see a lot of photos tagged with our location,” says Boschert.

Many establishments come up with a solid guest check tray system and incorporate it into the brand when the doors open, but if that can’t happen from day one there are other ways to make paying a bit more fun for the guest. It’s never too late to round out the service with additional touches.

Bufalina, a Neapolitan-style pizza joint in Austin, uses vintage paperbacks. “A buddy of mine collects vintage paperbacks, so when we opened the restaurant, we thought it'd be fun to use them, instead of the usual branded check presenters,” says owner Steven Dilley.

Checks placed in paperback books. Bufalina uses vintage books as check presenters for an option that's as fun and interesting as it is cheap. Photo by Steven Dilley.

Maison Publique in Montréal, Quebec hands out custom playing card business cards along with their checks.

A bar's custom playing cards. Custom playing cards are another memorable option for check presenters. Photo by Marie H V via Yelp.

The Mermaid Inn, New York City’s seafood restaurant with top-notch branding and menu design uses sardine cans — cracked slightly open to store the receipt for safe keeping until it’s time to pay.

A check in a sardine can.

In keeping with their stellar branding and theme, The Mermaid Inn sends checks in custom sardine cans. Photo by Louise Fili.


Dad jokes are in full force at The Brickhouse Kitchen and Bar in Charlotte, Prince Edward Island, Canada. The standard guest check folder is still in play but Brickhouse makes it a bit more fun with specially produced presenters printed with the word, “Damage.”

A check presenter that says "Damage" in large font. At The Brickhouse Kitchen and Bar, the check presentation makes light of money dropped with a classic dad joke. Photo by Marilyn Kelly.

In the end, it can take extra time out of the day to make a memorable check drop. Many of these restaurants and bars have found the additional step impresses customers and creates added attention around their business.

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