Service of Splitting the Check

July 5th, 2012

Categories: Friendship, Restaurant


A friend’s story has happened to me in a variety of ways, countless times. This is what she wrote: “We had breakfast on Sunday with my friend Tad” [I’ve changed his name]. “The bill was for $60 for 4 of us and he put down 15 bucks and continued talking.

“His part cost $20 before the tip.” [The fourth person was a young child.]

creditcardatrestaurant“After a while, I took out my credit card because I wanted to leave. I thought it was odd that he’d look at the bill and throw down a $10 and $5-er and not follow up with so much as a, ‘was that enough?’  It obviously wouldn’t be worth mentioning, ‘I think we need another $15,’ but seriously???” 

teaShe continued, “This has happened to me before with another friend after we shared a traditional tea with her and her daughters. She put down the bare minimum and I found it awkward to announce, ‘Actually you need to put in more…,’ so I didn’t.”

Back to me: I may order an appetizer and an ice tea for lunch, because I’m not hungry and rarely have a yen for wine midday. Once the bill is evenly divided, I’m asked for $50.

The obvious solution is to say, “You owe $7 or more,” or, “For an $8 appetizer and $4 tea, tax and tip, here’s $20,” but there are times it doesn’t feel right to do that. What do you do or suggest in these instances?


15 Responses to “Service of Splitting the Check”

  1. Donna Boyle Schwartz Said:

    We often request separate checks when dining out with a group; that way no one has to feel that they put in too much or too little. It may seem a little ackward, but it really is a better way to avoid hurt feelings and/or resentment.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    That is the cleanest way with a few couples or people, for certain, but if you are in a group of eight individuals, the restaurant won’t take eight cards.

  3. Paula C Said:

    Oh this is a topic that gets discussed amongst SOME of my friends here and there. I have a few thoughts on this topic so here goes:

    1. If dining with a group you typically dine with, I think it’s OK to split the bill evenly. Sometimes one might order a more expensive dish, sometimes a less expensive dish. Unless there’s someone who typically always orders less, or doesn’t drink, I think it’s a wash in the end.

    2. In regards to the person who orders less, it’s the obligation of the rest of the party to suggest he/she pay less. This goes for dining with your usual crowd or if with a new group of people.It’s about being cognizant of what others should (or shouldn’t) chip in and being fair. (Yes, hopefully, you are dining with like-minded people.)

    3. If there is a person who always pays less than their fair share, gently point out what each person’s share should be or ask to pay with separate bills. Or stop dining with the cheap-o.

    In the end, I’d rather pay a little more, so if the total amount thrown in is less than it should be, I’ll put in extra money. We can’t take our money to the grave right? 😉

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Paula C,

    I love your attitude and approach which, no doubt, is why you are a person with a zillion friends.

    And I bet that you’d be the one in the group to notice that one of your friends is eating much less than others for any number of reasons–one might be that the person can’t afford to spend in this economy and yet he/she is hungry for the companionship of friends.

    And your advice to stop dining with the cheap-o’s is also a good one unless you decide you can ask for their credit card or for more money. Some of the cheap-o’s may be innocent and terrible at math. I admit to handing the grocery cashier a $20 expecting change when she says, “it’s $23.54.”

    When I don’t speak up with a chronic cheap-o, I am as angry at myself for being chicken as at the cheap-o.

  5. EAM Said:

    Here’s an episode that I’d like to recount for you.

    Several years ago, I was joining a dinner out to celebrate someone’s birthday in an upper-East side restaurant. I already paid for a garage to park my car and planned to pay my own way. So, when the bill came, I was ordered by one of the attendees that we should all just split the bill (including drinks).

    Since I hadn’t ordered any drinks, I wasn’t prepared to fork over another $15. I pointed this out and was basically told by the person making the payment arrangements that this wasn’t the way she usually handled things but she was then left to recalculate the bill to exlude my additional payment for drinks. I felt ashamed by this but also felt like no one has the right to tell you what to pay unless you agree to it.

  6. Nancy Farrell Said:

    How about telling the person while we are looking at the menu that I only have a little cash with me and therefore will only have enough to pay for a salad?

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Hooray for you! You have my respect for speaking up. You should not be ashamed and someone else at the party should have supported you.

    I attend a yearly holiday event where some 10-20 of us meet for lunch. The menu is decided with the wonderful restaurant ahead of time–with a few choices–and the volunteer who organizes it knows what we will each owe. Then it’s a question of who had wine or not and she’ll tell you how much more you owe. Some have no wine, some one or two glasses. We all know to bring cash. It’s fair and square!

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You will also have to add, “I left my credit card case at home,” and then it would work, as long as you aren’t responsible for three people–as the person who inspired my post was!

  9. Simon Carr Said:

    Great subject! The whole issue of splitting checks, like tipping, is a small nightmare because everyone is taught something different as they grow up.

    Just as in tipping–I am particularly bothered by the two extremes, those who consistently under tip for good service, and over tip for bad–in check splitting, I am bothered by people obsessed with making sure everything comes out even. Over time, I’ve learned that I’m better off not eating with them or even knowing them.

    Usually, I just split the check and forget about it figuring that things will even out over time. However, occasionally I make a casual adjustment, as I did the other day when my co-eater didn’t have a beer and I did. I said I’d take care of the tip. We could have gone through itemizing what we ate, but having to do that takes the fun out of eating, just as having to worry about whether the tip is right also does.

    I go to a restaurant to enjoy myself, not to practice for the SATs.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    This entire discussion is more complicated than it seems at first.

    For the person who has ordered a drink, when his lunch partner hasn’t, to volunteer to pay more or to cover the tip is the correct thing to do. If everyone did that, there wouldn’t be a reason for the post. And, I bet, most would say, “Let’s split this,” if the beer added $2 to their bill. Nobody would feel used.

    Like you, I don’t blink if a friend orders coffee or a second soda or selects a salad or sandwich that’s a few dollars more than the one I wanted: Splitting is easier.

    But something has changed for many: They are on very strict budgets and yet they don’t want to knock out every pleasure, such as sharing a meal with you. Yet it is increasingly hard for them to make ends meet. Rather than pay $8 for a beer or $12-$15 for a glass of wine in a restaurant they would prefer to have a few shirts washed and ironed at a laundry so they look crisp at a job interview or to treat their kids to an ice cream. And if a few people are having the $12 drink, it sure adds up.

    It’s not only come to this, I think the economy has made it much worse than this for many. It puts a whole different spin on splitting a restaurant bill and even ordering when sharing with friends. This is why I like Donna’s suggestion–separate credit cards–or Nancy’s, where you announce ahead that you have cash for only a salad.

    The economy doesn’t give someone the green light to order up a storm and expect the person they think can afford it to pay half the total of their pig-out. That makes them worse than the cheap-o’s that Paula C wrote about. That makes them scoundrels.

  11. JBS Said:

    I split checks unless the others are drinking more than one drink. I can’t drink, because of some medication I’m on, so I refuse to pay for all of theirs.

    One, I don’t mind, but I’ve been with people who have three glasses and then say, “Let’s just split the check.” I don’t feel bad at all about saying, “I’ll split the food,” even if mine was less, “but you pay for your wine.” If that’s in bad taste or rude, too bad.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You are not rude, you are secure! The others at the table, who order three drinks and expect you to pay half of their bar bill when you don’t order any are the rude ones, in my opinion.

  13. Lucrezia Said:

    Long time friendships break up on this issue. A drinking couple offers to split the check equally, conveniently forgetting to absorb liquor costs, along with countless other ways to weasel out of ones responsibilities. I’ve been blessed with businesslike and/or honest friends, so I’m not familiar with such tactics on a first hand basis, but have heard of them often. Varying circumstances dictate a number of approaches. Mine would be to make this a first and last time, regardless of outcome. If this is not possible, demand separate checks on each subsequent occasion. Condoning theft is a poor policy, and if someones feelings appear to be bruised…..Tough!

  14. Jeanne Byington Said:


    After reading your comments and those of JBS, EAM, Paula C and Donna, sounds like separate checks is the best approach, especially if you are dealing with weasels, whether inadvertant or deliberate!

  15. KF Said:

    I enjoyed reading the comments in your blog and agree with all of them.

    Isn’t it strange how much we can find out about people (including friends)when it comes to money. Some people can’t wait to pay what they owe, while others really drag their feet.

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