Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >
Jan 6, 2010 04:33 AM

Another "birthday dinner out with friends" predicament

Since the other thread (about who pays when friends go out to celebrate a friend's birthday) got locked, I'm starting this one to ask how this situation should have been handled.

The birthday boy's friend invited a bunch of the birthday boy's friends to a restaurant to celebrate. The friends came from 2 different circles. One circle was used to everyone paying their own way, and splitting the birthday boy's dinner. The other circle was used to everyone (minus the birthday boy) spliting the total bill. The difference between the circles was not noted until the check arrived and everyone threw down cash per their expectations. Since the second circle had ordered significantly more extravagantly, the cash came up quite a bit short.

It was the inviter's mistake not to state the conditions of payment upfront to all invitees. But once the deficit situation presented itself, how should it have been handled ? (I'm afraid to say it was handled badly by most - some from both circles defiantly or passive-agressively refused to pay more, others grudgingly paid more - although a few graciously paid more. Basically, a mess, and an unpleasant end to the celebration. After this, I never attended another of these.)

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I think whenever there is a conflict of spliting the total bill vs. paying for what you ordered (and in this case plus your part of the birthday boy's dinner), paying for what you actually consumed (plus appropriate tip) should always win out. But when it's a group that doesn't normally dine together, someone should take the lead and discuss this upfront with the party and the server.

    Which group was the inviter in?

    2 Replies
    1. re: Janet from Richmond

      yes, it's kind of hard to see the rationale for continuing to argue that it isn't right for you to "have to" pay for what you consumed, other than the rather weak argument that it's somehow "simpler".

      1. re: DGresh

        The inviter was in the pay-your-own-way group.

        I cut the inviter some slack, because he was young, had socialized only in pay-your-own-way circles (from what I knew about him), and probably didn't realize the potential for such a situation. It was too bad he never mentioned beforehand that both circles would be present, because someone would surely have given him a heads-up.

        The argument given by one of the split-the-total-bill members was that all the nitpicking about money at a birthday party was gauche. However, this person also did not offer to contribute any additional money.

      1. All this can be avoided by everyone just paying for their own food & drinks and kicking in for the birthday boy's order. Case's how we do it in my circle of friends & family unless the inviter states that they are paying for everything.

        11 Replies
        1. re: Cherylptw

          Or it could have been avoided by everyone just splitting the bill equally. Both groups had different expectations based on their past experiences with the host. It wasn't really fair of him to put them in the this situation. Once the check came he should have spoken up.

          1. re: viperlush

            I hate it when the bill gets split evenly-- when I was a broke student, I would go to social events with friends, and to stay within my budget, I'd order an app or inexpensive entree and a beer. Other folks (who either had more money, or were counting on the bill being split evenly) would order extravagantly (app, expensive entree, dessert and a handful of drinks). Before I grew the (guts) to speak up for myself, I subsidized a lot of expensive dinners and bottles of wine.

            I think everyone should just pony up for what they consumed. Shared items (appetizers, bottles of wine) can be divided up evenly among the people that partook. Most people are smart enough to do their own addition if they are inclined to do so. Fortunately, my current group of dining buddies and I always end up with too much cash on the table (which we always pass along to the server) and paying the check is a much more pleasent experience these days.

            1. re: chococat

              I have never had a good experience with people being responsible for olny what they consume. Inevitably there is always a shortage of cash.

              1. re: KTinNYC

                I understand both chococat's and KTinNYC's points. In one pay-your-own-way circle I travelled in, we actually had a person designated to do all the arithmetic, and tell everyone what to pay based on what they ordered. Since this person was good with numbers, it almost always worked out perfectly.

                1. re: dump123456789

                  All would have been averted had they just asked for separate checks AND then everyone chipped in to cover the birthday boy's dinner. Frankly, I don't think "splitting the check" ever is the way to go, as some people eat like birds and some others drink like fishes.

                  1. re: Beckyleach

                    'All would have been averted had they just asked for separate checks'

                    Sorry, I've never understood that. The OP clearly states there is a 'bunch' of people attending this party. Why would anyone want to put the wait person through that kind of hassle?

                  2. re: dump123456789

                    I would be appalled and refuse to participate in an equal sharing of the bill unless with a small group of friends where it was pretty clear that adding up the costs of our individual orders would be similar to an equal split. Often, I'm one of the ones ordering more than other people, and I do not want people subsidizing the cost of my meal when they ordered substantially less than I did. Certainly, too, on occasions where I ordered significantly less than others (usually because at times like those, finances are tight), I do not want to pay their share of the bill.

                    That being said, I've taken on the role of doing all the arithmetic and letting people know exactly what they owe with tax, and what they should be paying with tip.

                    Even in the "pay what you order" model, I've had cheapskate friends just throw a $20 down when their share of the bill came to $22-$25 prior to taxes and tip and declare that that's all the money they have. Should have thought of that before you ordered! Now I do the addition before they even have a chance for such selfish nonsense, so they just end up looking like an imbecile and cheapskate if they pull a stunt like that.

                2. re: chococat

                  Most people are smart enough to do their own addition if they are inclined to do so.
                  Yeah, but after a few bottles of wine or several rounds of beers, that "smart enough" usually flies right out the window.

                  I do agree, however, that in this situation, everyone paying for what they consumed plus chipping in for the birthday boy's dinner/drinks would have been the easiest way to go.

                  And quite frankly, it was gauche of the person who said it was gauche that people pay for what they consumed instead of splitting the bill evenly. Obviously, he ate a LOT more than an even bill-split would have been, and didn't want to pay for it.

                  1. re: LindaWhit

                    "Yeah, but after a few bottles of wine or several rounds of beers, that "smart enough" usually flies right out the window."

                    Right, then there is always the case of the people who forget *exactly* what they ordered. "I had, what? Three beers?" No actually they had 4 but it's an honest mistake. Then there is the, "oh, Linda and I split an appetizer, she ordered it and she ate most of it so I won't have to chip in." Add in the people who forget to calculate tax and tip and this is always a recipe for disaster.

                    If you designate one person to be the accountant then fine but if you leave it up to all the individuals you will be short, at least in my experience.

                    1. re: KTinNYC

                      sometimes the 'accountant' overcharges everyone else and manages to pay less! I have seen that one happen. Same for 'I'll take the cash and put the bill on my credit card'. Seen that one too when Mr Credit Card makes a profit.

                      There will never be a perfect solution for any group of people who rarely go out together or who barely know each other except for separate checks. When I go out with friends in a large group we do separate checks and buy drinks at the bar or on the separate check.

                      1. re: smartie

                        When our "accountant" came up with all the numbers, everyone was still free to look at the bill and confirm their own share. My share was always right.

                        And I don't think our Mr Credit Card ever made a profit (except from the rewards points - but whatever). Once again, everything was done in the open, and could be (and sometimes was) double checked, so it would have been really embarassing if he tried. And that circle had a lot of engineers and finance guys, so double checking was rather easy.

                        I really couldn't see single-check pay-your-own-way working unless everyone felt comfortable talking about money openly.

            2. Everyone should pay for what they ordered would be the fairest and solution.

              However if you driving a car and one group is telling you the speed limit is 75 while another group is saying it is 55, so you decide to split the difference and go 65, WHO gets the ticket if you are speeding and who is responsible?

              Ultimately it was the host’s faux pas in not designating payment on the invitations so he should step up and pay for his error, just like the driver of the vehicle is ultimately responsible for the speed of the car.

              1 Reply
              1. re: RetiredChef

                "Ultimately it was the host's faux pas in not designating payment on the invitations so he should step up and pay for his error..."

                This is exactly right.

              2. To me a simpler and more fair solution would have been for the second group to equally split the difference among themselves. This way the first group is satisfied because they only paid for themselves and the second group is satisfied because they equally split the bill of the second group.

                Frankly, for second group to argue about paying more is silly.

                1 Reply
                1. re: lerkin

                  Love your answer ! Now I'll know for next time, which there won't be anyway. Ever since that incident, I no longer go to these types of dinners unless I arrange them myself, and I'm completely upfront about how the bill will be handled.