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Splitting cost of check evenly with big eaters/drinkers

  • t

Hi, I'm new to this great board and have this "problem" that I feel pretty sure other hounds may have had. I'd like to know hear of your solutions to my dilemma. Here goes:

I eat out a lot on weekends and usually have dinner with 5 or 6 other friends. They're great people but many of them drink more or order more expensive dishes than I do. For example, the last meal I ordered was a $15 chicken dish and a $6 house wine. I figured with tax and tip, my share should be about $28.00 or so. My other friends had several $10 martinis or cosmopolitans, one ordered an expensive steak, another didn't drink but had several expensive appetizers as a main course. The upshot is when the check came, everybody-including me-paid $46.00. So what do I do? I don't want to come off looking cheap ("You had four wines and I only had two...") but this is getting expensive.

One of my friends suggested that I order more food and drink but I don't want to do this just to balance it out. I just don't want to subsidize other people's splurges. Most restaurants won't do separate checks because it's inconvenient. All suggestions are appreciated.

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  1. Well if I were eating with you I'd feel guilty about ordering/drinking twice as much, then splitting the tab evenly. Are you not "close" enough to any of these people to say something subtle like, "my God, you folks are killing me with these martinis" or something?

    5 Replies
    1. re: John Tracey

      Well, I have tried to hint in the past that the bills are disproportionate but I don't think saying 'their martinis are killing me' is that subtle. Thanks anyway.

      1. re: TommyT

        Maybe it's time to move beyond subtle. This is costing you real money. You have to either be frank with them or continue to grin and bear it.

        1. re: John Tracey

          I don't understand what the big deal is. I never expect anyone to pay for what they didn't eat or drink, and I think most reasonable people think that way. If these people you're eating with are any kind of friends at all, you just tell them how much you owe and pay it. That's it. I'm a nondrinker, so my part of the bill is frequently less than most of the others in my group. I pay my part, they pay their part, and everyone's happy. No big deal.

          1. re: Ira Kaplan

            If your pals don't voluntarily offer to pay more for their splurg, they are not your pals. Find other friends.

            1. re: Ron

              We used to have this problem when a work group would get together socially. My husband and I were more flush than the others and would usually do something for the group like order an extra appetizer to share or a bottle of wine, but inevitably someone would drink more than the others, or order the most expensive entree and the bill would become an issue. We solved this by chosing restaurants where the entrees were evenly priced, or there was a pre-fixe, then we would get up and get our own drinks at the bar. I know this wasn't fair to the waitress, so we would tip her on the high end to compensate.

              Just an idea it worked with our group we could just split evenly at the end of the night.

    2. My starving artist/student friends and I use this method. Grab check off table. Glance at it, doing lightning quick math (figuring out tip. Proclaim, okay, that's $25 for me, or my share's $33, or whatever. Really, the state of my wallet these days, I care more about paying a fair amount than whether somebody thinks I'm a cheapskate or something. Maybe it's because everyone's in the same financial boat as me.

      Personally, I really hate it when people toss too little money onto the table at the end of the meal. This one girl I knew did it constantly, even running to the bathroom to wait it out until the check had been paid by the rest of us...this ended when we started waiting for her to emerge, then informed her that, "We're $7 short. Did you put in enough?" That forced her to 'fess up.

      1. I eat out in groups a lot and encounter this problem frequently on both ends. I discreetly mention to friends before that evening, or to the table prior to ordering, that I'm on a budget/between assignments (I work freelance, so this might not fly for you but perhaps there's some applicable variation?) and thus need to order sparingly. That way when the bill comes I can plunk down my, say, $28 and sit back. If anyone asks me for more money - and this rarely, if ever, happens - I say, "Oh, I only had $30 to spend on dinner tonight so I ordered accordingly" and if I have it will kick in another buck or two.

        I don't know if this is a particularly classy way to handle it, but when I'm on the other end I understand completely. (Unless, of course, this is indicative of complete cheapskate-ness and said dinner companion always tries to weasel out of paying their fair share.) If your friends don't like it you can find other, cheaper things to do with them...or find some new friends.

        1. I too have been on both sides of the split, so to speak. Right now I'm in the chips (relatively) so I'm one of the people you're complaining about. And I have to confess I get a little annoyed when friends get all niggling about the bill. (How quickly he forgets what it was like to be broke! Never mind that that was only last month...) But what annoys me more is feeling that I can't order a martini because my friend can't or doesn't want to pay for one for himself. Thus I'll happily pay the bigger share of the bill if asked -- leaving me drunk and guilt-free. I guess that means I agree with advice from the poster who told you to jump for the bill. Say what you owe before somebody has a chance to split the bill evenly...Of course, in an ideal world, your richer friends would be treating you, and this whole problem would never come up!

          A related problem: birthday dinners. Has anyone else had the experience of being invited to bday dinner /drinks and then being expected to chip in to help pay for the bday boy or girl? This happens to me all the time. In fact, I'm sure I've been that bad bday boy myself... I don't usually mind, but if you're broke, it can be a drag.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Rafi

            As far as being 'expected to chip in to help pay for the bday girl or boy' - it was my impression that all persons at the table are expected to buy the bday person dinner/drinks. It doesn't amount to that much more if every person kicks in - unless you're celebrating multiple birthdays.

            I have a friend who just stops by for a drink after dinner and buys a drink for bday girl/boy. That's one way to keep costs down without and still have fun.

          2. b

            it's not being cheap, it's paying what you eat/drink. if they're your friends, they'll understand. if they're drunk, maybe they'll give the ole' drunken' salute - "your a cheap bastard, but your the greatest. another round for the greatest guy on earth"

            1. I think it's reasonable to split checks when either:

              (A) Those present shared the dishes more or less evenly or would otherwise owe approximately the same amount of money for what they ordered, OR
              (B) People who would owe less feel inclined to disregard the cost of an extra drink someone had, perhaps because the cost divided x-number of ways is negligible.

              Neither of these situations applies to you. You should explain that you are finding you can't afford to subsidize others' drinks. If the people you're hanging out with are really friends, they will unhesitatingly accept their responsibility to pay for their own drinks. If they don't, find real friends who will.

              1. b
                Brandon Nelson

                Good Rule to follow

                Even split's are for family style and shared dishes. In other circumstances get the check first. Pay your total and take in the cash for the rest of the bill. You are then in the drivers seat if someone tries to skate on a cocktail. Simply mention someone "forgot" their bar tab (mention the drink, not the person). If the person had indeed overlooked a charge (I know I have once or twice) they will dive right in and pay it. If not they get to explain to the rest of the group (you aren't the only one who's annoyed) how they feel it is the responsibility of the group to subsidize their meal or drinks. I had a friend who played this game. You will be amazed how soon it stops when their cover is blown.


                1. m

                  complaining or feeling taken advantage of is one sure way to ruin an otherwise great chowhoundish experience.

                  if you are eating out with the same group of friends pretty much a more delicate aproach may be taken.
                  tell your friends that you are tired of haggeling over the bill and that as civilized diners they should take turns paying the bill.
                  you will probably have to cover the first dinner when this is mentioned. then its just a matter to decide whos next.
                  now you get say 5 dinners out without having to pay. then when its your turn always tell them your doing something special.
                  contact the restaurant and have them create a special menu for your "special" party ( most places will be happy to do this) that meets your budget.
                  this will be the only menu present at the table.
                  also if you are so gracious to have taken the time to preselect the wines, etc. for the meal you will make them feel ever so happy. and you will find that your overall dinning expenses have fallen to well within your budget.
                  and you have 5 weeks to find another place for a special evening.
                  Ive done this and its great.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: mrranchcuisine

                    oh, iam not cheap. i enjoy food and will spend to get it. i was simply giving an idea that can prevent having to deal with the situation presented. i also detest those who fail to pay for their food. this is just one way where you can average out your expenses, fully paying for your food and controlling the degree you have to pay for others. it also allows you to avoid any irritation over the bill and allows the end of the dinner to be what it should be for, digestion and pleasant conversation,

                  2. I do have to say that this is a dilemma I've also encountered. My share of the bill is usually smaller than others because I don't have drinks with dinner. I think the reason why people split the bill evenly is not because they're trying to get away with paying less -- it's just that they're lazy to figure out who ordered what, splitting tax and tip, etc. It is much more convenient to just split it by the number of people in the party.

                    While you don't want to split hairs (I've got a friend who has to divide bills to the last penny), there is a big difference between $28 and $46. If you've been eating out with the same group of people, it's probably going to be difficult to suddenly take the bill and just pay your share. I also don't agree with the arrangement of one person pays the bill one time, etc, and having the restaurant arrange a special menu -- feel that it's kind of tacky.

                    There is always the honesty route -- easier said than done.

                    If this is the same group of people you eat with all the time, perhaps you can order much more than everybody else is having (maybe you can treat yourself to some caviar or whatever). When the bill comes and everybody starts to talk about dividing the bill, you can chime in and say that you've ordered something pretty expensive -- therefore your share of the bill should be more. Your friends should get the hint.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Jay

                      Perhaps you can also tip your friends on a great website you've discovered, chowhound.com.

                      1. re: Jay

                        what a brilliant idea!!!

                    2. t
                      Tatyana Gourov

                      I go out to eat with the same group of people (about 8 of us). Some of us have bigger appetites than others and some like to have more drinks. So, when the bill comes each of us pays for what he or she ordered. Yes, it takes more time since everyone has to look at the bill and figure out their share but at least nooone pays for food they didn't have. None of my friends have any problem with this system and all of us believe it's only fair. You should be able to discuss this frankly with your friends. After all, if they are real friends they'll understand and not judge you. Good luck!

                      1. Just to chime in....

                        I've spent a lot of time in Spain, and that's where I earned my doctorate in general conviviality....especially with regard to eating and drinking out.

                        In Spain, you evenly divide the check. If I had cinnamon toast and you had filet mignon, so be it. This tradition naturally leads to everyone throwing caution to the wind and ordering whatever their hearts desire (since they'll have to pay anyway), which is, of course, exactly what the Spanish are trying to encourage in the first place! If you're going to come hang with a group of friends, it's not the time to "hold back". Order what you want, have fun, blow out, or stay home and don't poop the party.

                        Of course, there are times when one MUST hold back due to financial constraints, and a Spaniard in that position would take one of three routes (in increasing order of acceptability) in replying to an invite:

                        1. beg out and cook at home (hey, if you're so poor that you'd need to put a damper on proceedings, then you're too poor to eat out, period)

                        2. control the agenda (that is, push for a cheaper restaurant)

                        3. spend beyond your means and scrimp for the rest of the week (but have no regrets because you had a good time with your friends)

                        I believe in all the above. I sometimes spend more than I probably should when hanging out with friends; I buy drinks for buddies when I'm nearly broke. On the other hand, that's the only aspect of my life in which I'm profligate. I don't buy cigarettes or fancy clothes, I drive a beat-up old chowmobile, I don't have cable tv, etc etc. So I'm no ne'er-do-well.

                        BUT....this is America, and while I generally prefer to hang out with people who want to at least somewhat throw caution to the wind when they go out to have a good time, it's another culture here. So when I set up meals with friends (and when I'm not eating professionally, with meals paid by editors), I split evenly and do a quick adjustment. As in "ok, that's $25 each" or "that's $23 each and Fred, why don't you put in a few extra bucks for your kid" or "that's $20 each, and everybody who ordered beers, please pay extra accordingly", etc. I do NOT try to micro-calibrate, because it seems niggling, and niggling is counter to the spirit of eating out in my opinion. Eating and friendship are about magnanimity.

                        I had one friend who would always, at meal's end, plunk down on the table exactly the price of all his dishes plus 8.25% tax and 15% tip. I no longer invite this person to anything (over the years, I found myself constantly subsidizing: when waiters got 20% tips, when he forgot to add in a dish, when there was a small math error on the check, etc). When I'm along at a meal spearheaded by others, I ALWAYS pay a bit more just to avoid paying too little. And if the "banker" at meals end gets that tell-tale frustrated look after counting greenbacks, I ALWAYS throw over a bit more, even if I"ve already paid my fair share. I don't like weird nervous situations or complex mathematical discussions at meals end. I like fun and good feeling. And if I can't afford to be this way (bear in mind I've chosen the two worst-paying professions in the world, so I probably know more about scrimping than you do), I don't go out. Going out is a luxury, and I never forget it.

                        Again, I'm not proposing this as "the right way to do it". It's just the way I see it.

                        1. I believe in stepping up or stepping out. I view the time out with friends, time to splurge. I get the second app. for everyone to share and will pass around a glass of port we'd all like to taste.
                          However, sometimes I can't afford it, so I pass.

                          But, I never feel comfortable disecting the check based on what who ate. I'd rather eat at home.