"It's the guy two chairs…

"It's the guy two chairs down who ordered the foie gras appetizer, Dover sole entree, side of truffled mashed potatoes and three martinis made with designer gin" that pisses people off when going out to a birthday dinner and splitting the check amongst a big party. Even if you make modest choices, you end of paying a lot at these gatherings because someone else takes advantage. Early in our relationship, my husband didn't drink. So we'd end up at these dinners where everyone would enjoy several bottles of wine and he'd have a Coke. It stunk when it came time to pay. I like to think the best way to handle this is that each person looks at the bill, calculates his/her share, and puts in. But that never seems to work out right. Are there any other options aside from skipping the group dinner or sucking it up?

70 thoughts on “"It's the guy two chairs…

  1. Whenever my husband and I go out with a large group of friends (10 or more), we usually tell the server beforehand that we all want separate checks. It does make it more work for the server so we ad a little check unto the tip. We had the same problem of paying for others expensive food and I just can’t afford to do that.

  2. these group dinners only work out if one of the people who was responsible for ordering the numerous bottles of wine, speaks up for the teetotaler, and says something like, ‘hey, joe actually only had a coke. so everyone else chip in an extra $10.’

  3. Never seems to work. Whenever I end up at a big table, I make sure I order and drink different from everyone else and then pay accordingly. It will make you look bad sometimes, but, oh well.

  4. I usually just pay what my meal cost (I usually order more expensively than others), add $10 extra and tell people to deduct my amount from the bill and split up the rest any way they want. Then I go to the bathroom and let them figure it out, knowing that I gave more than my fair share.

  5. In general, I figure it all comes out in the wash and am a fan of splitting the check evenly–sometimes I order more, sometimes I order less. However, I rarely go out in big groups that aren’t my close friends, so I know and trust most of them and don’t worry about it–I know they’ll get me coffee or ice cream sometime in the future and vice versa.
    I find if you don’t split it evenly, and everyone pays “what they owe” many people will pay much less than they owe, forgetting tax and tip. Then they avert their eyes while the generous ones pony up the extra bucks. This especially happens when I eat out with people from work and it drives me nuts.

  6. As the former Coke-at-dinner drinker mentioned above, I was always pretty relaxed about splitting the check when with friends (and they often wouldn’t let me) but less so with coworkers or people I didn’t know very well. For me, splitting the check evenly has so many advantages that outweigh the disadvantages, the greatest of which is the tax/tip ignoring and subsequent screwing of your dining partners that Erin mentioned.
    Income level also factors in. My personal philosophy is also “it all comes out in the wash” but that’s an attitude that’s not always affordable. It probably also depends on what you think you’re buying when you’re out to eat with friends. If you think you’re purchasing food and beverages, that’s one thing, but if you go out with the purpose of having a good experience, what you pay for a certain amount of food is largely irrelevant.

  7. What the hell is up with American restaurants not splitting checks? Why is this so hard? Before you order you specify how the bill is being split and that keeps it all nice and simple.
    The side effect of the “no split bill” policy is that it encourages you to order the expensive items in order to make other people subsidise your food. Hmm, maybe that’s why the policy exists.

  8. Because I have such misanthropic tendencies, I typically avoid participating in group dining experiences.
    The few times I actually have forced myself to be social, all of our groups have gone the separate checks route. It’s pretty handy when going out with some of the undergrads I would hang out with from time to time.

  9. I refuse to pay for alcohol for other people, regardless of whether they’re going to get me back with coffee or a sandwich at some point in the future. It’s a pretty hard stance, but I just don’t feel comfortable paying for something like that. If it was just a case of food cost disparity, it’d be fine and I’d split the bill evenly, but alcohol is where I draw the line. In any case, I always just make sure that the person pays for their drink, or the people pay for the bottle of wine or whatnot.
    It’s fairly easy to tell them the cost of the bottle(s) and then leave them to figure it out. It’s only fair, if I’m only drinking diet Cokes. And actually, my boyfriend doesn’t drink either, so we take a huge hit if we’re out with a group and everyone is drinking but us. We’re hard about it out of necessity.

  10. A similar thing happens with vegetarians, as the pasta dish can be half the price of the imported meat special.
    You really don’t want to be the un-cool person that goes “uh I didn’t drink that much.” The other person gets to be cool because they had four drinks and are too buzzed to pay attention. Sober on Coke, taking out a few extra twenties, you sure as hell notice.

  11. We all have to become the person who speaks up for the non-drinkers and says add the extra $5, 10, 25, whatever, to the drinkers tab. I love to drink! And I always do 🙂 But you can’t expect non-drinkers to pay for that. So if you know at the start of the dinner your friend or colleague is a non-drinker say it right out at the beginning. It is hard to say so if it’s YOU, I guess. So somebody else, step up to the plate.
    Or tell them to order appetizer and a dessert and everybody who drinks sit one of those out.

  12. My husband and I often dine with large groups of friends, and here’s how we’ve solved it: Appoint a secretary before you ever order a thing. (Unless the restaurant will give separate checks, but so many act like that’s a HUGE hassle.)
    The job of the secretary is to take the bill, figure out what each person owes, and go around the table and collect it. Over time, we’ve each had to be “the secretary” and it’s actually kind of fun. It makes sure that everyone pays for what he or she ordered, and it ensures that both the tax AND tip are covered.

  13. As a general rule, in parties of more than 6, I try to always determine what everyone owes, based on their food and drink orders. I’m good at math and am overly detail-oriented, so I’m always the “Secretary”, as Deanne has dubbed that role. Honestly, good math means no hard feelings at the end of the day!
    Although, if I’m out with my best friends and it’s just the four of us, we split it evenly because we usually eat/drink approximately the same amounts, and we do figure it’ll even out over time.

  14. Seems like the key point here is size of group and how well you know everyone. Small group, close friends, and it works out. Large group that’s a mixed bag of associates sounds like it would lead to more hard feelings.
    I like the secretary idea, but it seems like people get irritated when checks are divvied up like this. Some people’s idea of fair seems to be another’s idea of being cheap.

  15. Since I usually just run into a potential splitting the bill situation around friends, I will take the bill when it comes and ask “Is anyone against me splitting the bill X number of ways?” This gives someone, who feels like they ate/drank less, the opportunity to speak up.
    If a person does speak up, I hand the bill to them & let them take care of the math for everyone or determine what they should contribute. If they contribute what they owe, and hand the bill back to me, I always ask if they included tax and tip. Then I just divide the remainder up among the people at the table. This seems to work out.

  16. I was seriously ill and unable to eat, so I ordered a glass 7-Up. Someone else at the table ordered a bottle of great wine, lobster and a dessert. Of course, he was the person who suggested we just split the bill evenly among the ten of us and could not understand why I didn’t think that was such a good idea…
    I suggested we subtract the cost of my beverage from the bill and devide it nine ways. Someone else then developed the courage to suggest that we ask the waiter for a calculator.
    Considering these were computer consultants, it was fairly amazing they didn’t all rush the manager to suggest rewriting the restaurant’s software!

  17. If you can’t afford to pick up the check for everyone, you shouldn’t be dining out at all.
    No, I am not joking.
    Also, if you find yourself dining with people for whom you would not want to buy a bottle of wine, then the problem is your selection of dining partners, not money.

  18. As the lone diet coke drinker and mba among a posse of drunken creative types, I always took the bill and split it myself. Then you just pass word along that if you drank, it was $X, and if you didn’t, it was $0.75X or whatever. It usually works out alright.
    The real problem turns out to be the premeditated freeloaders: latecomers who would announce that they just had a salad, so they only owed $20, when in fact they’d had a salad and three wines by the glass. Or the young ditzy chick who apparently expected not to pay for herself, just have some i-banker somewhere just pick up everything, so she only left the house with cab money.
    You just let stuff like that slide and mock and/or ostracize them later. that usually works out alright too.

  19. I always just split the bill. I go into the meal in advance assuming so regardless of what I or others may have. If I think people are going to make a big deal about the splitting the check, or are going to use the occasion to weasel out of paying, or that I cannot afford it, I just skip the meal. I think a group dinner is about having an enjoyable experience not about maximizing the food to dollar ration.

  20. I haven’t waited tables for many years, but it used to be a pretty gigantic hassle to split checks for 10 people. Restaurants use ordering and billing systems like Squirrel that allow you to assign all food to one table while billing each guest separately, but you had to create 10 tickets instead of 1 (hopefully this is easier now). All 10 tickets are assigned to the same table, so the head chef now has 10 tickets to look at instead of one, and it’s a good idea to remind him or here that they all need to come up at the same time–“all ten one table, chef!”
    So there is a lot of extra work in splitting a check.
    It’s especially irritating because the request usually comes from a group that is unable or unwilling to simply work it out amongst themselves. So it’s more work for the server because of suspicion and unscrupulousness at the table.
    Worst of all, after all that extra work to it usually lowers your total tip on the table, unless you split up the automatic gratuity reserved for parties of a certain number and add to each ticket–which always freaks everyone out.
    It’s a bum deal for the hardworking server, all because the guests are stingy, don’t trust each other, and can’t be honest about what is owed even with those they break bread with.

  21. Along the same lines as the drinker/non-drinker problem, vegetarians almost always get shafted.
    Generally I don’t sweat money stuff, but sometimes it irks me a little when I find myself subsidizing a bunch of $20 meat meals plus multiple meat appetizers, when all I’ve had is a $10 salad.

  22. Yikes.
    I had forgotten all this for so long. In my recent experience, everyone I eat with has been fair and pleasant, but in the past I always chose to “suck it up” rather than speaking up.

  23. I’ve found that everyone writes what they paid in on the back of the receipt, the amounts all the sudden start to work out. This also gives a handy spot for all the credit card people to keep it straight for the server. You add up the list, circle the CC payers so the server can match the cards, and that’s that.

  24. eh sorry but vegetarians and non-drinkers only shaft themselves. Its your choice people.

  25. I try to never let money get in the way of friendships… which is particularly difficult when you dine out with friends. If it’s a few bucks one way or the other, I don’t let it bother me. If it’s an excess difference of $20, I’ll say something polite but funny about it.
    I also belong to a dining MeetUp group and there are sometimes up to 30 of us, each with separate bills. We each tally up our bill without tax, then add 30% — that usually is more than enough for tip and tax… however, that’s for the DC area. I’m sure food tax is higher in NYC. We then stick a post-it note on our credit card with the full amount and we’re good to go. It’s a good system when there’s a lot of people dining out together, but everyone wants a separate bill. The wait staff ~usually~ doesn’t mind because they get a decent tip.

  26. I go out with a large group of friends regularly and there are a few who never drink. One thing we’ve done is to ask the waiter for two bills: one for food and one for alcohol. All the food gets split evenly and then the drinkers are left to figure out what they owe. (Non-alcoholic drinks typically get included on the food bill, since we figure we go out enough that $2 for a Coke here and there all comes out in the wash in the long run.)
    This has the nice benefit of not making the non-drinkers feel like they are subsidizing other people’s booze and wine and also helps avoid situations where people forget to factor in tax and tip.

  27. I used to be a waitress and I found that if you split the bill you got a smaller tip. It isn’t that people can’t do math, it’s that they are rounding differently. Nobody tips to the nickel, really, and they round their bill up and the percentage result down, which means I would get paid a little bit less.
    And that adds up over time.

  28. If you can’t trust people to pay what they owe or split the tab reasonably it’s time to find new friends! We usually go for the simple division with anyone who ordered excessively throwing in the extra money.

  29. Re: not trusting friends…
    Sometimes you don’t have a choice when it comes to your dining companions. Most of the time when you have no choice, someone is picking up the entire tab, but not always.
    It amazes me when there is a large party and a restaurant will create 8 or more separate checks. If I was the server, I would refuse.
    The answer is to stand up for yourself. If you had a pepsi and a side salad and you don’t want to split evenly, get the check in your hand and announce your intentions. Why be embarrassed?
    I usually dine with friends in smaller groups so the even split works fine.

  30. I order based on how much money I have and pay the bill accordingly.
    Expecting the ‘poorer’ at the table to pay for those who order as if they’re wealthy (and may in fact be so) is not only counter-intuitive, but downright mean-spirited.

  31. i always carry a pen with me in my purse, so when it comes to splitting the bill, usually we’ll have everyone look at the bill, cross out their items, and write down how much they are paying at the back of the bill (e.g. Amex Blue card – $53, red mastercard – $34 and etc.). we split the taxes evenly.
    so after everyone’s written down their amount, we’ll have a total $ that we can check against the bill to ensure that we aren’t under.
    the waiter/waitress will come get the bill and run the credit cards. how much to put down for tips is up to each individual.

  32. I’m all about the separate checks, if at all possible. It’s becoming more and more common for friends to pay with a debit/credit card anyway; splitting the bill up front with the server makes that much easier. It also seems like most modern “table management” software does this fairly easily as well.

  33. Software can’t help you with running 10 credit cards, waiting for processing, distributing the bills…don’t kid yourself. Splitting bills is a headache for the server, whose most valuable asset is time.

  34. My method for big groups is just subdividing into Tab Zones when you order, with a max of 3-4ppl per zone. Usually servers haven’t minded if you let them know up front as it ends up being a few tabs for one group, but not, like, 15. Pros are (i) easier math per Zone, (ii) less ‘cover’ for freeloaders to hide behind, (iii) less embarassing for the non-drinkers/vegetarians to speak up. Oeno’s can sit together and order up as much wine as they want and then just deal with it amongst themselves, etc…

  35. My sympathy for the server is limited here. If the customers are taking up too much of the server’s time, the restaurant is simply going to have to hire more servers. Making sure our food is ok and our water glasses are full takes time too, but you wouldn’t expect customers to give up that headache for the server.

  36. Wow, what a bunch of party-poopers on this thread. Figure it out already or get new friends.

  37. Doug’s comment about separate checks for food and alcohol is the best thing I’ve heard all day. Seems like that would solve 90% of the problems (except for the veggies, but they’re just cranky from the iron deficiency).

  38. I third the splitting food and drinks into two tabs idea (although I don’t know if that is a pain for the server)–I am a general believer in letting the little things go, in terms of splitting food tabs evenly, but I don’t like to subsidize other people’s overpriced drinks (nor would I want a non-drinker to subsidize mine).
    Of course, when there’s a significant disparity, someone besides the outlying person ought to take note of it and take it into account–nobody wants to complain about getting shafted on a bill.

  39. Man, you’re gonna drink a diet coke AND complain about the bill! t1 is right… Eating out is a luxury. If you can’t afford the maybe $30 over/under you shouldn’t be doing it. Splitting evenly is fair and gets a silly situation done. Complainers might not know it, but when you make a fuss over $10, you’re really embarrassing yourself.

  40. The other night a bunch of drinks got added to my check (I showed up late and they started a second tab). When the voluntary offers to pony up were over, I simply asked a buddy if I could have five bucks.
    “My drinks aren’t on that tab!” he said.
    “Ok … can I have five bucks?”
    He gave me five bucks. See, that’s a friend

  41. Alternatively … I have heard a story, notorious among my circle of acquaintances, that involved a premeditated eat-n-run, leaving the rest of the diners to pay the check. Now that is low

  42. Years ago, I ate at a very ordinary restaurant in Japan. What was out of the ordinary was that the waitress took the orders on a hand-held electronic gadget, and the check came back with a little map of the seats around the table, showing items ordered and subtotal for each seat. Nobody had asked for a separate check—this was just how they did it there. Very logical, and I’m a little surprised this kind of thing isn’t more common.
    Payment is almost always by cash in Japan (or at least it was when I was there) so the added hassle of running multiple credit cards didn’t exist.

  43. When I lived in Japan the check wasn’t split automatically but when the time came to get the check you could always request it “betsu-betsu” – split apart. This resulted in individual checks as described by the previous Adam. And with no grumping from the waitstaff.
    When I worked in theatre the worst thing you could do was offer to be the bank and have everyone chip in what they owed. Not that theatre rats are inherently dishonest just poor as church mice…

  44. It’s consensus around my friends that everyone pays what they owe. Everyone simply rounds up each of their food items to the next highest dollar, then adds them all up. Here in Maryland tax is 5%, and since tip is about 15%, everyone adds 20% to their bill. Since everyone rounded up to begin with, this usually balances everything out and everyone pays their fair share. For groups of 6 or so where gratuity is included, everyone just adds 25% to their portion. It hasn’t been difficult to calculate 1/5th of a person’s bill.
    Plus when we go out in really big groups, like 20+, usually 2-3 people bust out the calculators on their cell phones and work it out 😉

  45. It’s all a wash eh? So YOU are the people that have been causing the trouble! : )

  46. A lot of people like to be told what to do. You just got to grab the check and figure out what each person owes. Clive you owe $45.56 for the meal and 6 beers. Lisa owes $12.75 for the salad and Perrier. It is a hassle, but most people will pony up the bucks when a solid figure is given them. Just count the money carefully from the especially buzzed diners.

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