How did "keeping a tab" become a part of bar culture?
I got thinking about that while hanging out at the Bagdad Theater and Pub last night, several hours ahead of The Big Lebowski. I realized I didn't get it: How did it start? What's the economic benefit? How long is it acceptable to wait before settling up? Did Norm on Cheers ever pay his?
The one time I can remember sort-of-kind-of waiting to pay was, coincidentally, the first time I ever attended the Bagdad. This was spring 2000, less than a year before I moved into Portland about 15 blocks from the Bagdad. I was visiting from Hermiston, Oregon, having a committed movie weekend: I saw one film in Portland Friday, FOUR films on Saturday, and one more on Sunday before driving home. The Bagdad was where I saw the last film on Saturday, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, after seeing three other films earlier in downtown a couple of miles west. I was in the front part of the Bagdad, the pub part, where I'd ordered dinner and added the price of the ticket to my meal.
When I opened my wallet to pay, my credit card wasn't there.
My intended way of paying.
No cash. And, if I remember correctly, at the time the pub accepted credit but not debit. Which meant my two debit cards could not be a back-up.
Turned out (jumping ahead to relieve some suspense) my credit card was sitting in the shadows on the front passenger seat of my car, as I'd put it there after paying at the downtown parking garage where I'd parked much of the day, and there it stayed unmolested until I got back to my car and saw it and thought THAT'S where it was! So it wasn't lost, but there was me, unable to pay.
My waitress looked at me levelly. She then said "There's a bank ATM across the street. Go there. If you don't come back, I'd suggest not coming back at all." Meaning You'll be on our bar's shit list. I don't like being on shit lists. (Some people do. More power to you, I guess.) Relievedly, the bank was mine, but had it not been, I'd've bit the bullet and paid an ATM fee (which I HATE to pay) anyway to make the withdrawal to have the money to give to the bar and put me back in their good graces. I did all this quickly. FEAR OF GOD, PEOPLE. Or at least fear of putting off and annoying people running a nice joint.
I settled up. The incident may have put me off ever asking for a tab EVER. It never occurs to me to ask. Seems like chutzpah to ask.