Before I could stop him, my Dad got the server's attention.
"Excuse me dude, sorry, I think I signed the wrong check," he told him.
The server in question (at a Mexican restaurant so frequently visited by my parents that they didn't even need to be on a first name basis) looked confused at first, then relieved, then maybe even slightly annoyed.
"Oh, it's OK, you can sign either one," he answered, before walking away, missing my Mom's I-told-you-so eye roll.
For the record, I also told him so.
You're presented with two slips of paper when you pay via card: one labeled "Merchant," and one labeled "Customer." I get it. It can be confusing. You want to follow the rules, right? You don't want the IRS or a mob lawyer or that aggressive hostess who yelled at you for leaning on the podium coming after you, right? You can't in good faith sign the customer copy, and expect to get away with it? Can you?!
My parents aren't the only ones to fall victim to the Merchant/Customer check conundrum. I've been out to more than a few dinners where people scratch their tips and names onto the check labeled "customer," only to realize what they've done, mutter varying degrees of expletives, crumple the paper into frustrated origami, and sign the "merchant" check instead.
I'm here to tell you, once and for all, it does not matter which one you sign.
Everyone just needs to relax. Take a deep breath. And learn to stop worrying, and love having the option to sign either the merchant or customer check, whenever you so desire.
And here's why.