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ground rules for dining out?

  • j

A group of six couples will be going out to dinner together for the first time. Some are big drinkers; some don't drink at all. Some are wealthy; some of more modest means. Some big eaters; others are dieters.

Are there some ground rules we can establish ahead of time to avoid the awkwardness of bill splitting? Separate alcohol tab? I don't want anyone to feel they were taken advantage of. Let me know what has worked for you.

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  1. What worked for me is avoiding dining out with five other couples.

    Good luck.

    1. Separate cheques.

      Otherwise it is a mess and someone ALWAYS gets hurt feelings for exactly the reasons you cite.

      13 Replies
      1. re: Sherri

        Many restaurants won't do that. I am a big believer in split the bill equally. In the end / over the years it all evens out. If it will upset you that much you shouldn't be going out with this group. Nothing worse than "well I only had..."

        1. re: chowgal

          I cannot say it any better than you, Chowgal. EXACTLY how I have always felt.

          1. re: dave g
            Janet from Richmond

            Hubby and I eat out with friends often and most are big drinkers/eaters but some are not. We split the bill by the number of couples. It's something of an investment in friendship.

            1. re: Janet from Richmond

              Just make a big impression and cover the whole tab.
              Now that's a big investment in friendship!

              1. re: Pablo

                I have a circle of friends I dine with once a month, and we just take turns paying the tab and picking the restaurant. That way we get to pick what we can afford, and look forward to five free meals before our next turn!

            2. re: dave g

              Thank you. I now realize how blessed I am to have such generous, never petty, fun-loving friends!

              1. re: chowgal

                I am with you. I have no patience for pettiness.

            3. re: chowgal

              I've never found these things even out in any appreciable way. The big eaters and drinkers are always the big eaters and drinkers, and the people who just order a salad, always just order a salad.

              If you can't get separate bills by couple (and if you ask at the beginning of the meal, there's no really good reason why a restaurant shouldn't be able to do this, though if you ask at the end, well, I dunno, you should probably be shot), I recommend splitting the bill by who actually had what - unless the salad only people all agree to the even split, without pressure from the other couples.

              Another method I've seen work fairly effectively is a split by course thing based on the average price of entrees. Everyone who had appetizers puts in $X, everyone who had a main throws in $Y, everyone who had dessert adds $Z, the drinkers toss in for their own drinks. That way, the only had a salad person pays either X or Y, depending on whether their salad was an app or a main, and the people who ate all three courses are carrying their share, but you're not calculating down to individual dishes and pennies.

              1. re: chowgal

                >>Many restaurants won't do that. I am a big believer in split the bill equally. In the end / over the years it all evens out.>>

                You don't know my brother-in-law. This guy always orders twice as much as everyone else and then says grandly, "Let's be adults and split the bill evenly." He and my sister can't get anyone to go out with them any more.

                1. re: bibi rose

                  I wouldn't go out with your bil either. What kind of person does that to their supposed friends?

                2. re: chowgal

                  HAving done this for many years, I have to disagree; it rarely evens out over the years, and can corrode friendships by the quiet resentments it creates. Which is not worth the convenience.

                  There can be no equal splitting without express prior consent of all (I am normally quite happy to do that, btw, and I often don't partake of cocktails et cet.) The default rule is each pays what he or she consumed. That's what's fair. And what's fair trumps what's convenient.

                  1. re: chowgal

                    I'm with you on that one. For the most part my friends and I always split the bill evenly, or one person offers to pay. I have one friend who always wants to split things by how much each person ordered. It always feels very crass and uncomfortable to most of us, so after several attempts to get him to agree to splitting evenly, we've stopped inviting him. Especially since he always gladly accepts the offer of being treated and has never been the group treater.

                    If a few bucks is going to cause resentment in friendships, I'd have to agree on questioning whether those are people you'd really want to be friends with.

                  2. re: Sherri

                    Call ahead to the place of your choice and ask if they will split checks - then when placing your reservation ask them to place a note by your resv stating your preference.

                  3. You have it figured out already - get a separate bill for alcohol. That's the single biggest factor in driving up the cost of the check. It's not fair for the non drinkers to pay a share of a $150 liquor bill.

                    All of the other methods of trying to parse the final bill to individual people are overly fussy and not the type of thing you want to handle at the end of the evening.

                    1. We can all tell you what we do.....

                      Amongst my group of friends we split evenly and know we've been friends long enough and will be friends long enough that in the end it'll even out. We try to be fair about alcohol and it works out (I don't drink at all but my husband is a big drinker, so that evens out with the moderate drinking couple).

                      .however, it MAJORLY depends on your particular group of friends. Are some cheap and picky and going to get all freaked out? If so, then perhaps call ahead for seperate checks. If not, then sort it out at the table. But don't forget TAX. We always forget tax and end up having to refigure.

                      Or go to a place with a fixed price? That might solve the entire issue.

                      As a side note: I disagree with the poster that said the person that is the big eater is always the big eater, and the salad eater is always the salad eater: sometimes I eat a late lunch and want a small salad, sometimes I haven't eaten all day and want a huge plate of SOMETHINg. But again, that's how I am and most of my friends are.....everyone is different.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: krissywats
                        Morton the Mousse

                        An easy way to do the tricky tax and tip calculations is to add 25%. Depending on your state's sales tax, 25% will include a gratuity between 15 and 20%. Adding a quarter to the cost of each dish is much easier than figuring 17% + 8%.

                      2. I don't have any good advice for you... at work we always split evenly (unless someone was clearly eating less -- a $4 bowl of soup amongst $12 entrees, for example). By unspoken agreement, those of us with bigger appetites pick up a cheque for the ones who don't eat as much now and then so that we ensure it works out.

                        Our friends at dinner, though... if the bill works out pretty evenly, we're likely to split it, but if it didn't, or if we have a huge group, we resort to parsing the cheque and writing names down on the back of it -- in university days we had more than one person try to skip out and leave the group $30 or $40 or $100 short (depending on how many people went). One infamous person, when told her dinner, with tax and tip, came to $24, handed over a $20 and then tried to get change back. Her latest trick is to say, "But you always overtip! I don't want to tip that much."

                        We have a hard and fast rule about calculating tax and tip -- you add 25% (8¼% tax and 16.75% tip) and round UP to the nearest $2 so the waitstaff, who had to deal with a group of 12 or whatever, don't get stiffed. A lot of places add the gratuity in for us.

                        It's not a good thing. I do have to say that I love my LG cell phone -- it has a tip calculator on it (MENU+8+3) that allows you to specify a percentage of tip and then split it amongst N people.

                        1. I do it on the honor system...everyone puts in what they think they owe...I never like splitting bills evenly because I'm a big drinker and that ends up being more in the end...usually, in my group of diners, it works out well.

                          Thing I can't stand is when the nerds break out the calculator to figure it out.

                          1. If the friends are really friends, they know who has money and who doesn't. They know who drinks and who doesn't. That means if someone is rich and drinks a lot they will quickly step up and tell the person that is poor and doesn't not drink "hej, I'll put in 20 dollars more than you since I had 4 drinks and you only had a coke".

                            Thats what being a friend is all about, consideration for others. In my experience with friends after everyone has thrown in the money they think they should be paying there is usually about 20% more in the pot than necessary at which point the well established ones quickly hand the extra money over to those who are less financially well off.

                            In other words, try to do a quick honor system split, based on the total amount plus tip, not everyone taking their turn with the check and adding up what they bought.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: mdibiaso

                              I agree. I just throw some money in, usually don't even look at the bill and ask the person organizing it all if I put in enough....I can usually guestimate in my head how much I owe, and I throw some more down..rounding it up to the nearest 5, 10 or 20 dollar denomination.

                              If someone isn't carrying their bill, well....then in the future you remember that the NEXT time you are asking people over for a get together..chances are the ones who stiff you at the bill on purpose or whine about splitting the money are also the lamest people to go to dinner with anyway.

                              1. re: mdibiaso

                                This has been my experience as well. We have one person who slams down at least 3 cognacs after dinner and that really runs up the bar bill so he puts in extra.

                                Now I do dine with a group of men where the bill is always split evenly but everybody knows that going in so we always order liberally.

                              2. Luckily i know no "just salad" people. We split it all and it works out. ( mood can also dictate a seperate booze tab though)

                                1. Shortly after I started working at my first job after college, I was invited by a group of co-workers out for someone's birthday lunch. There must have been about 15 people. Somebody that was sitting near me ordered a "side salad" and somebody else said to her "you might as well order more than that because we split the bill evenly and you'll end up paying the same whether you order a full meal or a side salad". For some reason, that always stuck with me (15 years later!).

                                  But I agree with that policy. My husband and I are not huge drinkers. But when we go out with other people, regardless of how much anyone eats or drinks, we split the bill evenly. We know that we pay for more than our share, and we're totally fine with it. Luckily we can afford it, and it's not like it happens every night of the week.

                                  When people start in with "well I only had the side salad", I just want to scream. I understand that people have financial limitations, but my suggestion would be to go to a less expensive place, or, as another poster mentioned, go to a place with a prix fixe.

                                  7 Replies
                                  1. re: valerie

                                    Just split it evenly. Take the total add 20% and let everyone know what they owe.

                                    Anyone who cries "I only had". - Get over it, we are splitting the check. I have no patience for anything else.

                                    I am having dinner tonight with a party of eight that really does not know each other. At the start, it is understood we just divide the check by eight. No one will be ordering $100 bottles, one glass of wine maybe. It all works out and the goal is to have a good time.

                                    1. re: hm

                                      As one of the aforementioned "heavy orderers" in any gathering with friends, I simply do not feel comfortable with simply splitting the bill evenly (unless we had dimsum or any other collective meal). My order always comes to the greatest cost and can sometimes triple or quadruple the cost of the other orders.

                                      1. re: Curtis

                                        I completely agree. I don't quite understand the "I have no patience with people who want to want to pay for what they ordered" attitude displayed here. Maybe it's the age group of the people I go out with, but I'd never dream of requiring my friends to subsidize my meal (which some probably cannot afford to do) just for the privilege of eating out with me. Maybe splitting it works when you all are relatively financially comfortable, but it seems callous to me.

                                        1. re: ryan

                                          I don't understand the no-patience attitude either, especially in light of the original post, which clearly said these people were all going out together for the first time, and stated, "Some are big drinkers; some don't drink at all."

                                          If you have never been out with a heavy drinker who--consciously or not; habitually or not-- sticks the rest of the table with a large part of his/her bar bill, then you're very lucky. I'm not speaking as a teetotaler or a cheapskate, either; it's just that it's not fair to ask *anyone* else to pay for the bottle of wine that one guy ordered drank all by himself. I can say fine for my own part, but I don't want to be exerting that kind of peer pressure on the others in the party. It's fine to say you have no trouble paying for Mr. Magoo's bar tab, but don't heap scorn on someone who doesn't want to.

                                          1. re: bibi rose

                                            I'm with the last two posts here. Some times when I eat out with friends, we all order pretty much the same combination of dishes and drinks, in which case we're all fine splitting it evenly. It's pointless to figure out who owes $42 and who owes $44 because an entree was $2 more.

                                            But I'm usually the guy who orders an after dinner drink, a dessert when nobody else does, or a few oysters before the meal, etc. In that case I insist upon paying more to cover my meal. I wouldn't dream of expecting my friends to subsidize my extras. I can scan a check and within 30 seconds know how much I owe: round each item up to the nearest dollar, sum, add 25%, and again round up to the nearest dollar. Sometimes it takes 5 seconds: two couples, total with t&t is $100, everyone ordered pretty much the same except I ordered an $8 glass of port = we pay $55, they pay $45.


                                            1. re: nja

                                              Don't get me wrong. I guess I'm just pretty lucky in that most of our friends are on the same wavelength as us and when we go out (which we rarely do now since we have a baby!) it's usually a scenario of everything being relatively even without actually splitting the bill dollar for dollar. None of my friends are HUGE drinkers and nobody would order the surf & turf expecting anyone else to subsidize them.

                                              Having said that, if we were going out with people who we didn't really know that well, I would still opt for splitting the bill. If, at the end of the night, these people fell into the category of "expecting to be subsidized" in any way, I would make it my business not to have dinner with them in the future.

                                              1. re: valerie

                                                I am with you. The dinner I was at tonight, had eight people. Not everyone ordered the same thing, but everyone was pretty much in the same place tab wise.

                                                One person ordered an app, one no app but an extra cocktail you get the idea. So yes we can divide by 8 and everyone is happy.

                                                What I have seen and have no patience for is the following - pull out the calculator and said my dish was 12.95 plus a 10% tip and said "I owe $15".

                                                That ruins it for everyone.

                                                I don't think anyone is talking about splitting even when one person orders a $100 bottle and downs it by himself, but if someone orders an extra $5 desert, who cares. Common sense needs to apply.

                                  2. with friends, we split the total by the number of couples (we're at that point where we don't have any single friends - the apportioning would be adjusted if it were to occur). those who drink more generally pick up the tip. we usually choose the place based on the financial means of the least well-to-do attendees. this is an unspoken decision as we are all familiar with one another's financial status and spending preferences, and we share a fondness for a variety of restaraunts in a variety of price ranges.

                                    with acquaintances, i ask for separate checks up front.

                                    1. This is an interesting thread (man, we NEVER have any of those! : )

                                      Honestly, I think that, chances are, you aren't going to please everyone. As you can see by the vast array of opinions already given in this thread, people have been brought up differently and hold different values. If you go through the hassle of having everyone pay for what they order, someone will be irritated that you are chosing total 'fairness' over convenience. If you opt to simply split everything evenly, someone will be irritated that you chose convenience over fairness.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: MM

                                        In this day and age, is it really that hard on the server to ask for separate checks as long as you ask first? That seems like an obvious approach with people you don't know that well, and sometimes people you do.

                                        1. re: bibi rose

                                          Totally depends on the restaurant. In this day and age, even in NYC, a lot of restaurants still do tickets by hand or have old systems that don't make it easy to do seperate checks. And yes, that is a BIG inconvenience, and nothing worse than being asked for seperate checks and then get totally in the weeds while you print out or write out all the tickets - and then the table that asked for the seperate checks gets pissed while they have to wait...blah blah blah.....

                                          I'd call ahead and ask if that is the plan. Some places flat won't do it over a certain number of people.

                                          1. re: krissywats

                                            This spring when a group of us were at a meeting in Austin, we all met up at our hotel and decided to go to dinner that evening together. When we got to the restaurant and were seated we asked the waiter if seperate checks were going to be a problem, some of us were couples and some singles and were on different accounts. He said no problem. It was a huge problem it took over 45 mnutes to get our checks after dinner and they were not right. The waiter got very petulant and really brough the mood down. We were sorry, but we did ask. When we had to speak to the manager he said he should never agreed to do that and that they were not set up to do it. That became more than obvious.

                                      2. I think if you read through just these posts you'll see that there's a spectrum of opinion on how the splitting should be done-- if that's true here, it may also be true among your friends.

                                        I'd suggest that you work something out at the start and then go with that plan, whether that's a separate check for alcohol (good idea, I think), or separate checks for all diners, or just working on the "look at the bill and determine what you owe" premise (which often works well, especially among friends).

                                        Link: http://nycnosh.com

                                        1. Just got back from a vacation with family where this issue came up. My husband and I are generally of the "split the check" evenly between couples camp, and if he goes out with three women he will insist on paying the whole check. I can't stand dealing with the scene of the after dinner reckoning.

                                          But, in our family, my father and stepmother are both light eaters, my father doesn't drink and they are retired and on somewhat of a budget. We would rather go to more expensive places with good food, than cheaper places with mediocre or bad food (those were the choices available). So, when eight of us went out (other family couples), my father paid the bill, but we agree before hand that we would all write him a check when we got home for what we thought we owed. When my husband and I ordered, I just did a mental addition of the costs of items, added on 20% and later wrote the check. In this instance, we had a drink each before dinner, apps, main courses, one dessert and a bottle of wine. In contrast, they had a side salad each to sort, apps each for main course, one class of wine and split a dessert.

                                          This worked well for us - don't know how it would work with any particular group of friends, and may not work with acquaintences.

                                          Have fun!

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: MMRuth
                                            Janet from Richmond

                                            That is so nice. Whenever we go out with my in-laws, it is always assumed that my husband will be paying and my MIL takes full advantage of that.

                                            1. re: MMRuth

                                              On the flip side - my in-laws pretty much insist on always paying when they are in NY, and were v. pleasantly surprised when we once arranged for the check to be paid by us - I think they aren't used to "children" (in their 40s - most of whom can afford it more than we can) paying.

                                              And, on the father front - we stocked up at WF and with wine before heading up to their cottage and cooked several tasty meals - thereby avoiding having to eat out at some of the v. middle of the road places they like to go to

                                              1. re: MMRuth

                                                Actually, that is my favored solution to the problem. In a nod to convenience, one of the group pays the entire bill (and tip -- we make sure never to entrust this job to the one or two members of the group we know have a history of undertipping) and tells people they are on their honor to pay what they ate plus 25% to cover tax and tip. It usually works out over time and those who tend to underestimate their rightful amount (who curiously tend to be the same people who undertip...hmmm) are told what to pay.

                                                This has cured much resentment from the baleful effects of the split-the-bill approach. We do sometimes split the bill, btw, but many times there are people who are eating/drinking light (often the same people, so it does not even out over time) where that does not make sense.

                                                It does help to have people in the group who don't run balances on their credit cards (ie, pay it off in full each month) so that the task of paying a table's bill does not create an extra financial burden in the form of interest....

                                              2. Lots of great anecdotes here, but the one I live by? Don't trust ANYBODY. Some of my best friends can be the stingiest bastards when dining out. And on the other side of it, I've seen much ugliness.

                                                A seperate alcohol bill is the besT. Many people are in denial about what they drink.

                                                I would also send out an email, seriously. Just put it out there. Say that you'll agree to split the food evenly. (Many people eat less thinking this will effect their input at the end of the meal, only to feel bitter when everyone says, "let's just split it!") And say that everyone will be responsible for keeping track of their own alcohol. If you partake in a bottle of wine, you put in on it. As the BOOZE bill gets passed around, the truth of it will be sorted out.

                                                This is the best way. AND If some people still feel uncomfortable....well, screw 'em. If you can't handle sharing a bit, stay home. It's impossible to make meals like this 100% fair.

                                                Link: http://www.thewineoffensive.com

                                                1. I am reading ALL of these posts. Most restos don't like the separate check deal. Friends...no problems. It's usually relatives. What do you do with a couple who always orders appys and dessert, and the most expensive item on the menu, then expects to split equally, even though we've only had an entree. Beats me. I'll keep on reading.

                                                  1. We usually find that going out in a larger group with people who are not close friends can present problems.
                                                    The best solution, IMO, is to e-mail everyone with the restaurant location and the method of payment. Letting people know in advance that separate checks will be requested, makes the situation less tense.
                                                    Any other solutions?

                                                    1. I'm in the restaurant business and I must say that if a group of 10 or 12 people come in our restaurant and asked for separate checks the waiters would absolutely be livid and the guest somehow sadly suffers from the need to have separate checks.

                                                      "FYI" It is kind of rare for large groups to want separate checks actually, but it happens.

                                                      I must say that when guests ask for separate checks it totally "weeds" the server and if he/she must ring them in separately you and your guests will suffer" WE WILL HOWEVER reluctantly offer separate checks with a hint of utter BITTERNESS, When it comes to service issues, One person will get soup and another will get his salad and everyone’s orders will come out separately.
                                                      I will tell you for sure that the chef's will be highly annoyed and ask the server who are these idiots asking for separate checks?
                                                      Most restaurant computers are not really set up to split checks by what people had. If the order is rang in all-together then the food will all come in together...
                                                      Take my advice...... DONT ASK FOR SEPERATE CHECKS IF YOU WANT GOOD SERVICE, OR IF YOU WANT TO BE LIKED BY YOUR SERVER.
                                                      Also I will say this- Waiters are absolutely fine with everyone on the table throwing credit cards down and saying please split this equally 5 ways! but it also annoys waiters when 4 people pay credit cards and one person pays cash... also believe it or not most waiters and restaurants prefer guests to pay with credit cards, my waiters get sooo mad when guests pays with cash ! paying cash causes more paperwork at my restaurant...

                                                      Just some food for thought....

                                                      JUST SOME ADVISE.....Don’t go out with friends who want to split check according to what each person ordered, it would horrify me if that happened to me.
                                                      when i dine with friends eather I pay or they pay and after a year it evens out or we will simply throw credit cards in and split it evenly.

                                                      Also some more food for thought! Make sure your friends tip at least 20 % for spliting the check it really is an annoying thing.....

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: eddie

                                                        "also believe it or not most waiters and restaurants prefer guests to pay with credit cards, my waiters get sooo mad when guests pays with cash"

                                                        Ah yes, god forbid I should want to pay you with cash. How thoughtless and insensitive of me.

                                                        1. re: eddie

                                                          Please tell me your restaurant so I can be sure to avoid it. Are you also annoyed by only two people dining at your restaurant? Can your register handle that? What is the difference splitting a large party into units of 2? Lot's of restaurants are putting in communal dining tables and they seem to handle things just fine.

                                                          IMO, your restaurant is there to serve ME, not for me to accomodate you according to your wishes. Also, as you mentioned, it doesn't happen all that often. Please do mention that restuarant name. I want to make sure never to darken your door either by myself or as part of a group. I'm just thinking of YOU after all. Don't want to inconvenience you by having to actually serve me food and go through the trouble of writing a check.

                                                          1. re: eddie

                                                            What a crock! (or is that crook?). My god, man, you are in a service business. Show some respect for good service.
                                                            And why does cash cause you EXTRA paperwork? That is completely absurd. You'd rather fork over 7% to Amex than handle cash?
                                                            If I'm out in a group and I spend a lot more (or a lot less) than the others, I wouldn't expect to split the bill. Not that I would need a separate check, but that should be an option, and i should receive the same level of service.
                                                            So, lets say my team goes out after a game and there's 15 people, coming and going, some eating meals, some not, some drinking a little, some drinking alot. One check huh? From experience, the last person at the table always gets stuck paying more than their share.