"The bad news” is a jocular name for the restaurant or bar bill. “When you come to the end of your meal and the waiter brings in the bad news” was cited in print in 1918.
“What’s the damage?” is another expression for the check.
1918, The Hotel Monthly, pg. 37, col. 2:
EVERYTHING CUT BUT THE CHECK
On the editorial page of the Chicago Herald-Examiner of Oct. 26 there was printed some verse by James J. Montague under the head of “More Truth than Poetry,” which we reproduce in black letter type, interlined with some HOTEL MONTHLY comment in italics:
But a thrill of revulsion you feel,
You suddenly cease to enthuse
When you come to the end of your meal
And the waiter brings in the bad news.
3 December 1918, The Evening Repository (Canton, OH), “French at a Glance,” pg. 4, col. 6:
Maitre de hotel—Boy who hands you the bad news on the cafe check.
28 June 1919, Kansas City (MO) Star, “Diners and the Demon” by James J. Montague, pg. 16, col. 3:
“No in the ‘dear dead days of long ago,’ as the song says, when we began pilin’ up the chairs to make gangway for the scrub woman, the giver of a dinner party would call me and say:
“‘Garcon, the bad news.’
“When I give him the check he would look at it and remark:
“What, $75.25 for all that food for three whole people?’”
24 March 1927, The Daily Messenger (St. Albans, VT), pg. 4, col. 3:
The New Yorker who dines out has gotten past the high cost of living, but one Greenich Village restaurant has a reminder in a check labeled ‘The Bad News,” and adorned with a cartoon of a swooning man.
I protested since my friends swore they didn’t as much as see any bill. I looked around the restaurant for a possible friend who might have picked up the “bad news.” None!
Words on Words:
A Dictionary for Writers and Others Who Care about Words
By John B. Bremner
New York, NY: Columbia University Press
A story under a no-subject head is like a restaurant check: to get the bad news, as A. J. Liebling said in The Press, you have to read from the bottom up.
New York City • Restaurants/Bars/Bakeries/Food Stores • Tuesday, August 25, 2015 • Permalink