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how to split the check?

All the talk of expensive eating, stealing meals and tipping got me thinking about group dining when some diners are clearly consuming much more than others. I eat out with colleagues when we're at meetings so I confront this problem fairly often. I don't drink alcohol (it gives me headaches) and I'm not a big eater. It's rare than I have more than a small appetizer and main course, and I'm not the only one eating lightly. But some of my companions will have three or more courses with wine, liqueurs and cocktails all of which make for an impressive bill at the end of an evening.

In most cases someone will just divide up the bill equally and no-one objects. On occasion when I expect a very lopsided bill, I'll ask for a separate check when we're seated. Is this being petty? How do other people deal with this situtation?

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  1. I don't think it's petty. I wish my husband would do it when we go out with friends. Everyone drinks about the same amount but one friend gets the expensive after dinner drink, the most expensive wine, the most expensive entree, lots of appetizers,etc. and we end up paying much more than our share. It irks me much more than my husband and since he's the one paying the bill, that's his issue.

    In your position, I would do the same.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Janet from Richmond

      I'll guess that we all face this situation from time to time, while only some face extreme versions. Personally, I do not like to dine with anyone who takes advantage when the check comes. I am generous by nature and would never notice a small difference. I also would never be the one to suggest a variation on the usual split unless I am the person who has consumed more.

      My expectation is that dining companions make an effort to keep expenditures equivalent or the couple responsible for the greater portion of the check proactively contributes more. We find it very simple to keep our order on par with our companions. On an evening when I am going to have just an appetizer we'll choose expensive wine or my husband will chose an extravagant entree. If we're dining with friends who are ordering less than we might have chosen we take note and order in kind. You never know when someone may be working to pull in their dining expenditures while trying to preserve the chance for an evening out.

      I was raised to place an order that keeps with what my companions have ordered. If they're all having an extravagant special, go ahead. If they're choosing moderate entrees and foregoing wine, do the same.

    2. Not petty at all. The alternative is to make clear when accepting an invitation that you assume that the check will not be split equally but that each tub will rest on its own bottom, as the saying goes, plus [ (local tax) + (15-20%) %] for tax and tip on top thereof.

      Checks may only be split by unanimous consent of the group, which can be inferred from prior practice of the same group and in which case those objecting should pipe up as I note above earlier rather than later. It is *never* correct to assume the check will be split equally if there is someone in the group who has not dined with the group before and is expected to pay. I realize people do this, but it is very rude nevertheless.

      If someone feels offended by this, that's a clue not to dine with them in the future until they get over it.

      17 Replies
      1. re: Karl S

        Call me silly but negotiating with friends on going out for dinner is petty. And I am always on the short end of the bill because my DW and I do not drink. Normally we arrive late, and the others are well into their first round, then during dinner, another couple of glasses of wine or even a bottle of wine for some. When the bill comes i am always upside down for $30-40. I never feel uncomfortable about foie gras appetizer or dessert and still am the short straw. My feeling is c'est la vie. i spent a wonderful evening with friends, had a good meal, went home with my wonderful DW. My total loss is a lousy $40 bucks. Do i bring up the subject with friends, no way baby. Price of life and glad to pay.

        1. re: jfood

          Friends vs. colleagues. Does that make it different?

          1. re: danna

            Business meals go on somebody's expense account.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              True, but it seems to matter to the OP...so perhaps these colleagues are self-employed. Doctors, etc?

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Not all business meals are charged. And there are limits. The example I gave of the Colorado meal would have cost roughly twice the daily amount. In some cases we have students not on expense accounts in the group. I've seen them go pale when the person with the check announces the total. You know who's going to live off doughnuts the rest of the meeting.

                I'm not so much concerned with the cost to me. As I said, I usually wimp out and pay up without objecting. But is it fair?

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  - I am way too old for my friends to get trashed at events, so these would be colleagues; even if these were friends, once the table gets to that drunken state I pull a Snagglepuss and "exit stage left"
                  - Employees have responsbilities not to go hog-wild on expense accounts. in my comany that is grounds for dismissal with cause. i still need to sleep at night with myself

                  1. re: jfood

                    jfood said "- Employees have responsbilities not to go hog-wild on expense accounts. in my comany that is grounds for dismissal with cause. i still need to sleep at night with myself"

                    I always liked your posts jfood. I couldn't agree more. If I were a CEO, people who abuse the expense account get fired after one warning. To a certain degree, I understand that it's the price of doing business (although I doubt that it's really efficient). However, when they invite their friends (who have no part in the deal) to a $300/person expense account dinner--that's theft.

                  2. re: danna

                    No - people should be prepared to pay for what they order and pay their share which includes tax and tip on their portion, be it business or pleasure. It's actually often easier to assert one's share when paying on business as many have to work within company accounting guidelines (I can't expense a major meal without scrutiny).

                    Likewise, with friends, each person should own up to what they order. I've got some friends who've got great incomes and also great tastes in wine, etc. They'll not hesitate to order tequila at $20/shot or a $200 bottle of wine. Thankfully they assert themselves and insist on covering what they order for the table. I've also got friends who are kindergarten teachers and cash starved students. And one of my best friends stopped drinking after a DUI. I want them at the same table as they are all great people.

                    But even if all things were equal, some nights you're happy with just some soup. On others, you can eat 5 courses. The bottom line: Each person should cover their portion of the tab.

                  3. re: jfood

                    While I can appreciate your generosity, please try to remmeber that not all of us have the financial means to be as as nonchalant about consistantly spending $30-40 extra per meal with friends. Having everyone pay their share allows those with extravagant tastes (and can afford it) to comfortably dine with those who have less extravagant tastes (and/or can't afford it).

                    1. re: Melanie

                      Exactly! If you know that you're not gonna drink and are a vegetarian or salad eater, then you're not gonna go and share a meal with people who invariably order the filet mignon and an expensive wine. Why SHOULD you in effect "subsidize" someone else's meal? Maybe it's a male/ female thing: Are women less willing to bear the cost, and are men just too proud to look cheap (or even worse) too lazy to do the math?

                      TT

                      1. re: Melanie

                        You are absolutely right Melanie (apology extended) and fortunately i am in that point of my life that i can be generous (a long and winding road to get here so i understand the other side as well).

                        I keep reading all the additions to this thread to learn different points of view and i think this thread has many sub-plots. The yutz at lunch who orders the extra appetizer, the cocktail, the "this and that" is pissing off more than just you, he is pissing off everyone and if the efficient market theory works will eventually be uninvited. I agree he also normally gets the check and declares the evenly-divided amount due. At some point someone will say, "Hey Johnnie, throw in an extra ten for all the extras you had before dividing." Next time he's drinking tap water and a regular sandwich like everyone else.

                        I think that friends will understand economic situations of friends and not impose their extravagant tastes. If certain friends are asking to uneconomically split checks, mention something to them. Just because they have more economic means doesn't mean they have economic sense. "I love going out with you guys but can we split the tab a little more in line we what we ordered?" If they are pissed at that suggestion, reconsider if they are truly a friend.

                        1. re: Melanie

                          YES! I am not at a point in my life where I can afford to spend tons of money on a night out with friends. As it is I have to turn down lots of invitations because I cannot afford it.

                          I recently dated a guy who was financially much better off than I was. I always expect to pay my own way, but he would always order much higher-priced items than I would and expect us to split the bill down the center. Then he'd tell me I had "issues with money" when I got annoyed. Needless to say that relationship didn't last long.

                          1. re: queencru

                            Uhh, wouldn't most guys usually insist on paying for the whole bill on a date? It seems a bit crazy that he would do something like that, especially considering he's much better off financially. What a loser.

                            I also think people should pay for their share and calculate their own tip and tax. Sometimes I've found that people will pay for their dishes, then split the tip and tax, but the people who've ordered substantially more pricey dinners should be paying a proper proportion of tax and tip, no?

                        2. re: jfood

                          Not everyone can afford this. Hopefully one's friends or colleagues would take this into consideration.

                          1. re: jfood

                            Friends, by definition, will Always understand splitting accurately. Why did we learn math if not for situations like splitting bills?

                            1. re: jfood

                              If it's someone I dine with regularly I'm usually comfortable with splitting the check evenly, because I know that if I pay a bit more than my share this time, they might pay a bit more next time. It all evens out.

                          2. There's no better way to end a fun dinner on a sour note than with a long discussion about who owes exactly what.

                            "Never trust a man who doesn't drink."--W. C. Fields

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              I'm with you, but frankly many are not. Some would say "There's no better way to end a fun dinner than to pay for half of your cheapskate friend's dinner". Different people have different preferences and beliefs on this (duh!) and that's why Karl's point above (like most of his posts) is right on: you have to know your dinner companions.

                              1. re: Darren72

                                I haven't had this problem dining with friends, this problem arises (for me) when I'm dining with colleagues so there's not much choice of companions involved. The problem is most acute if there's a fair amount of alcohol since this can really raise the cost of dining.

                                One example: we were about 10 dining out in Colorado during a conference. One end of the table was doing all the drinking and most of the eating. When the check came it was delivered to them. They announced that each diner owed about $60. My colleague across from me indignantly said he was paying for what he had consumed which came to about $25. My dinner consisted of a single dish, grilled trout, costing under $20. Neither of us had any wine which was the biggest part of the bill. A couple of others also opted out of the "equal shares" deal. This meant that the lavish diners paid for what they had eaten, around $75 or so.

                                I frequently encounter this level of disparity and I'm usually too much of a coward to do much about it. Even when I ask for a separate check, I use the excuse that I don't have enough cash and need to charge my share.

                                1. re: cheryl_h

                                  I didn't mean to imply that one should *choose* their companions on the basis of how the bill would be split.

                                  1. re: cheryl_h

                                    this really irks me sometimes. i don't mind swallowing a $7 difference, but when we get into multiples of my original bill... there's no need to be nice.

                                    they didn't choose to be considerate of your choices so why should you of theirs? i refuse to let people do things like this because my general rule of thumb is that if you let them get away with it once, they're bound to do it again.

                                    1. re: cheryl_h

                                      I take the following approach since i do not drink. When things are getting to that drunken state by many, I place my napkin on the table, explain that i've had a long day and am going back to the hotel. I take the appropriate amount out of my wallet and leave with the most sober at the table and excuse myself. Let the drunks fight it out when the bill arrives.

                                      1. re: jfood

                                        I like your thinking! I might try this some day.

                                2. I have never, in all the time I've eaten out with friends or colleagues, split the bills equally. Someone who's good in math takes the check and tells everyone what they owe, and everyone chips in extra on top of that for tax and tip. At the end that math whiz counts it all up, and if we're short one or two people will kick in a few bucks more. No one ever saw it as "ruining the mood," because no one wants to pay more (or less! these people aren't cheap either!) than they should.

                                  I understand the concept, but not the practice, of trying to match what your companions are ordering. What if you're asked by the server first? What if they're waiting to see what YOU order?

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