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Another splitting the bill question

I may regret starting this thread, but I am truly curious about how you all handle this situation, i.e. what's your tipping point (tipping as in tipping over to the other side, not compensation for providing service)? I start with the premise that when a group of friends dines together, there is a certain point where the disparity among how much various guests ate and drank makes splitting the bill evenly unfair. The question is, where is that point?

Exhibit A: Last week I dined with a group of 10 at a casual, not very expensive restaurant. We ordered a number of dishes to share plus individual entrees. Multiple bottles of wine were also consumed; usually I can drink wine with the best of them but on this night I chose not to indulge. One other friend wasn't drinking either. Bill came, and someone added the tip and then divided by 10 and said it was $66 each. I did some quick math and figured my share, including my relatively low-priced entree and a generous allocation for the shared dishes plus tax and tip was more like $40. I waited a moment to see if the other non-drinker would say something, or if someone else would say "you know, maybe the two who didn't have any wine should pay a little less" [a role I have taken more than once in the past], and when neither of those things happened, I paid my $66 and moved on with the evening. Thinking about it later, on the one hand, it was only $26, which hardly broke my budget. On the other hand, I did pay about 60% more than my "fair share."

Exhibit B: A few weeks earlier, at a more upscale restaurant with a large and interesting wine list, dining with two other friends. I wanted white wine, so I had two glasses in the $10 range. Other two ordered a bottle of red that I wasn't familiar with plus a couple extra glasses after the bottle was gone. Apps and entrees ordered all around. Bill came and I saw that the bottle of wine was $160. Friend then divided the bill by 3, but I objected since I hadn't had any more than a small taste of the expensive wine, and he quickly agreed and recalculated our shares. I felt of twinge of "ugh, am I being a cheapskate?" but I recovered pretty quickly, figuring that paying for wine I didn't order or drink would have added about $60 to my tab, and that was more than I was willing to swallow, so to speak, in the name of not making waves.

So after those very long winded stories, back to my original question - what's your tipping point? Assuming you're not from the school of "life is too short - I split the bill evenly no matter what," at one point do you feel compelled to say something?

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    1. In short, I would object to paying for anything I didn't consume. I've luckily never been in the situation where anyone I've dined with have tried to split the bill so unfairly. The most I ever come across is if maybe I'm dining with one other person and their entree is a few bucks more than mine. I will in that case split the bill evenly, as half of that is practically nothing, but never as much as what the 2 scenarios you presented were. I do find that very unfair, but like I said, so would everyone else in my circle that I dine with, so it's never really been a problem for me.

      1. There is no simple answer, much less a right one, in these situations.

        Personally. I've been on both ends of the bargain - i.e., paying more than my fair share of food/drink and paying less than my fair share.

        But as time has passed I've just come to accept the fact that when dining out with friends in a group setting and the bill is going to be split "evenly" (that's an ironic term, isn't it?) I'm paying as much for the food that I've consumed as I am for the company that I am consuming that food in.

        In other words, whatever premium I might pay I just consider it the price of sharing a good meal with good company.

        Food is always better among friends and I guess I'm ok paying extra for that.

        5 Replies
        1. re: ipsedixit

          I really like your point about paying in part for the company. Otherwise we'd all just dine out alone, right?

          1. re: cookie monster

            Right.

            Or just eat take-out.

            You'd probably never be on the short-end of a split bill, but then your life would probably be infinitely less interesting and fulfilling.

          2. re: ipsedixit

            Excellent answer and I agree completely.

            1. re: ipsedixit

              For the most part, I completely agree with what you are saying.

              However... your response also begs the question: Are you not good company, as well? Why should you have to "pay" for good company if you are, in return, good company for your friends? There does come a point where a person may feel that they are being taken advantage of in order to pad the bill for those that indulged. Paying equally does not have to mean each person pays the same (yes, ironic). Still, I see your point. A very good point, I might add. I'd not be inclined to dine out with those that did this repeatedly, though. They would no longer be good company nor good friends.

              If it all evens out in the end, though, over the years... the more the merrier! And avoiding the headache of multiple checks or doing math in one's head would make the whole thing all the more enjoyable. Unfortunately, you often have that one person that seems to always come out ahead in these group situations.

              1. re: ipsedixit

                I'm totally with you ipse. Fortunately with my circle of friends, none of us add up what the other orders, but I think we're all sort of respectful not to ridiculously over order when the bill is obviously being split (unless I were hosting, I wouldn't think of ordering foie gras with a glass of Chateau Yquem or Beluga caviar with a vintage champagne). We just split the bill and figure that all will balance out in the end. Now we do have some friends who do not drink. When we dine with them, I always ask for the alcohol to be put on a separate check and pay for that separately.

              2. The crowd I run with shares and splits everything equally all the time. Sometimes you come out ahead, sometimes you don't. No on takes advantage, so there's no problem. If you feel there is inequity in your group, either make it known or don't go out. When someone is in the mood to splurge, make the ground rules to request a separate check for the expensive bottle of wine or liquor.

                3 Replies
                1. re: fourunder

                  That's a good suggestion about the separate check for alcohol. I truly don't think anyone in my group takes advantage of these situations - I'd be shocked if that was the case. More like they're just not paying attention, especially as the wine and cocktails start flowing. . .

                  1. re: fourunder

                    The friends/family we very occasionally go out to dinner with all seem to understand intuitively that 'complicating' things by some one wanting to order say an expensive bottle of wine is going to end up being a pain in the butt later trying to sit there and debate who owes what.
                    We all keep it simple.
                    We'll all agree that everyone chip in thirty bucks each for instance. Everyone has a brain and can figure out how not to personally go over that amount. when ordering the meal and drinks. Always seems to work out.

                    1. re: Puffin3

                      Maybe not, but to me deciding upfront how much each person is chipping in, seems like a recipe for letting any "shortage" result in undertipping.

                  2. I don't think there is any specific point. It depends on your personal disposition plus how generous you can afford to be plus your friends' tendency to reciprocate in terms of generosity. And those things can change as you go through life. When you are a poor grad student, you might care a lot more about a $20 "unfairness" than the first year you make $1M in income.