One of the greatest tests of our social skill is when it’s time to pay up after a great dinner. You’re out with friends, co-workers, team members or with family members, and the bill finally arrives. The next step you take can set you to the top amongst your group forever or be a defining negative moment that could haunt you for a lifetime.
Splitting the dinner bill is not about who has more money or who ate or drank more, but rather it falls into the category of general etiquette. Dinner bills are a moment of tension for those who participate in any form of a group dinner. Many thoughts and questions run through your head in a few seconds, as your server looks on nervously. Any way you slice it, there is plenty of seat-shuffling, eye-darting, and general uneasiness when the meal is done.
Do you ask the waiter to split the check? Do you grab the whole tab and hope your friends get the next one? And what if your server brings one bill without you getting the chance to request it be separated?
It’s happened to us all at some point, which is why I wanted to share this post in hopes of creating some clarity for your future group dinners.
4 Outcomes of Dinner Check Splitting
Split The Check Evenly
Sounds pretty simply huh? But if everyone pitches in evenly for instance, at least one person’s going to be left with a sour taste, because they only had one beer or their meal was a few bucks less than what others had for their meal. The other option is for everyone to pitch in with their share. So, for example if your meal was $17, and you had two beers at $5.99, you can throw in $35 or two $20 bills to cover your part (this includes tip and tax).
Take Turns - You Pay This Time, Someone Else Will Grab It Next Time
This scenario works best for people who frequently dine out together. One thing to keep in mind is that in order for this scenario to work flawlessly, the dining has to take place in restaurants with similar price range. There’s a fine line in food and price from eating at ‘The Keg’ vs. “Jack Astors’.
The beauty of this situation is that it’s a great way to stay in touch with friends or acquaintances you don’t see very often. You can be the brave one and pickup the first tab, and when your friends protest, tell them ‘next time is on you’ in order to get them to go out again. I’ll warn you though, this option is a double edged sword. I’ve done this with some people, and it worked flawlessly, and in other scenarios it has left a sour taste with me when the next dinner happens, and others forget about the previous time.
Ask For Separate Checks
Asking for separate checks is the most equitable way to split the tab because each person pays for their share of the bill. Let’s say if someone orders a salad when everyone else orders steak, the salad eater will not be paying for a steak-sized portion of the bill. Sure, the server will likely be more annoyed with having to do multiple transactions, but the upside is that everyone will tip differently, so he or she stand a greater chance at earning more in tips.
One Diner Pays Via Credit – Others Chip In With Cash
You could volunteer to pay the bill, and have your friends pay you in cash. This keeps the bill paying process quick and simple, but it does take trust, and it also requires the buyer to put out some significant cash. In my dining experiences, I’ve seen everyone agree to this scenario, only for someone to reach into their empty wallet, and say ‘I don’t have cash, I’ll grab you next time’, so be prepared for this type of answer if you volunteer.
Sometimes (and it happens more frequently than you think), there is one person in the group who says that they just do not have the money to pay for their portion of the bill. Unfortunately, the burden of that person’s meal is now on his or her friends. Ugly scenario to say the least.
Here are a few suggestions to tackle this awkward situation.
Pay For Them With Future Considerations
Offer to pay for the person, but make it clear that you expect to be paid back the next time you see them. This way, the person knows that he or she is expected to repay the loan. They can repay you in cash or simply cover your end of the check on the next dinner.
Let It Slide
You can be the bigger person and simply let it slide. Rather than making a big deal about it, pay up for the person, and forget about it. Your character will shine, while they suffer in embarrassment. Consider it a gift, with the expectation that it will not become an ongoing occurrence.
Cover The Tip
If someone can’t afford to pay for their entire meal, perhaps they would be willing to pay for the tip. Depending on the number of people who went out to eat, the tip may be significantly less than paying for an entire meal.
If You’re Broke – Don’t Go or Be Honest
If you’re living on a tight budget, you have two options – Don’t attend the event or be honest about your scenario BEFORE. Those living in tighter times should feel OK about saying, “I’m on a budget, so I’m just going to order an entrée.” Bring cash, and when the check comes, grab it and put down the money for your order before anyone suggests splitting the dinner bill.
Large groups of friends going Dutch after a nice dinner is common practice just out of college. If you’re in your thirties, it’s just tacky. By now you’re a grown adult, who’s somewhat established and self supported.
Birthday Dinner Etiquette
Birthday dinner etiquette is simple, yet many birthday dinners become awkward situations. Torontonians (or others in major cities) whose apartments are too small to entertain, but still want to mark the special occasion through a birthday dinner in a pricey steakhouse, should never expect fair contribution from each invitee. If someone offers something, take it, otherwise prepare to fork out for majority of the dinner bill.
Some will argue that “it’s my birthday”, and despite that being someone’s special day, does not mean that they get a free pass. This is no different than having people over for your birthday, and asking invitees to bring booze, cake and snacks. If you get invited (taken out) for your birthday dinner, then the obvious is that your entree and drinks will be covered by the group of friends or the friend who came up with the brilliant idea.
If you’re going to a party at a restaurant, you need to be prepared to split whatever the bill is. Then you can complain about it later to someone who wasn’t there. Being a little bitch about it at any restaurant dinner will only come back to haunt you in the future.
I have no problem stating my boundaries and if someone’s feelings are hurt, well, that is the logical and natural consequence of their behavior. I don’t agree that anyone should ever have to feel pressured into splitting a check or to contributing to a host’s dinner – especially a host who has money. If I’m the invitee, you can be certain that I’ll pickup the tab. Seriously, what kinda loser organizes a dinner, and doesn’t fork out cash for the bill? I’m certain that inhumane people like this exist, thankfully though not in my circle of friends.
They key with dinner parties is being honest, upfront, and know the general etiquette of dinner parties. If the bill is being split by everyone, pay for your portion of what you ate and drank, and don’t forget to throw in a little on top for taxes and tip. For those of you who dine with groups at expensive high end restaurants, I’d highly advise you to ask your server to start separate checks before anything gets ordered. This way nobody steps on anybody’s toes, and it keeps things clean as possible.
Finally, I’d like to share with you a great story from last year.
During FINCON11 last year, there was a night a group of us financial bloggers ended up going for dinner to a very nice restaurant in town with Justin Premick (Aweber’s Director of Education Marketing). There were probably about twelve of us in total, including familiar faces such as Krystal (Give Me Back My Five Bucks), and Avrom (Dividend Ninja). After a very nice meal (and wine), laughs and awesome company, the check arrived, and without much hesitation Justin picked it up and said; “I got this, tonight you’re my guests.” Everyone’s jaws dropped, some tried to offer money, and others accepted the fact that they had a free meal. After some laughs, and nervous moments, Justin said; “I don’t want anyone to worry or feel bad about the check, this is me taking clients (and potential clients) out for a thank-you dinner, and out of this group if one of you signs up with us this dinner paid for it self already.”
Guess who signed up a week later with Aweber? Me! It was October 2011 when I started my mailing list which now has well over 270 e-mail subscribers (not RSS subscribers), and I haven’t looked back since.
Don’t be shy to sign-up at the top of the front page, and support yours truly.
How do you normally split the bill with friends? Have you had any awkward moments when the check arrives?
Have a safe & happy weekend!