After nearly two years of social distancing, we’re all jumping at the chance to meet up for food and drinks with loved ones. But when it comes to divvying up that check at the end, that age-old dilemma of how to split the bill will undoubtedly rise again.
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“Going out for a meal and cocktails with friends, family and colleagues should be a joyous occasion — something you look forward to and not feel like an obligation,” said Tami Claytor, owner of Always Appropriate: Image & Etiquette Consulting. However, once the bill arrives, joy often turns to stress. “The thought of negotiating who pays for what eclipses the fond memories that were created.”
So to ensure that your next group dining experience isn’t soured by disagreements over the bill, these experts shared their best tips for splitting a check.
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Manage Your Expectations
Any time you go out for a meal or drinks as a group, you may have to compromise a bit. Claytor said that if you’re sharing a meal with a group, you should understand that you’re probably going to end up spending a bit more than just your individual meal. “Knowing that ultimately, you will end up paying for items you did not consume, will reduce the likelihood of resentment overshadowing the evening,” she said. “You don’t want haggling over the bill to be your lasting memory of the meal.”
If you’re on a strict budget or can’t accept the possibility of doling out a few extra dollars, it may be better to take a rain check.
Decide On a Game Plan Ahead of Time
“If you want to split the check, decide ahead of time how this will be accomplished,” advised Liz Bryant, an etiquette expert. “And make sure everyone agrees on the split.”
If you can, it’s a good idea to arrange the financials before arriving at the restaurant or at the beginning of the meal, Claytor added. “This way, the meal and the company can be enjoyed and you don’t spend the next two hours worrying about the bill,” she said. If you’re the one arranging the meal and you expect everyone to pay for themselves, make sure that’s clearly stated in the invitation.
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There are a couple of ways you can go about splitting up the check.
For example, if you’re going out with close friends or family members, you might agree to split the check evenly among everyone. So a group of five with a $100 check would each toss in $20. Of course, if you ordered a ribeye and a couple of beers while your friend just had a salad, that strategy might not seem very fair.
In particular, Claytor said that if some people in your party order adult beverages, alcohol costs should be shared among that group exclusively and not shouldered by the non-drinkers. “If you are drinking wine or cocktails, at the beginning of the meal, let the other members of your party know that you fully intend on paying for your beverages,” she said.
You can also choose to split up the entire bill down to the dollar, where everyone pays for just what they ordered. This can be a little more complicated, especially if the table shared appetizers or everyone plans to pay with a credit card. However, it’s the best way to ensure no one feels like they overpaid.
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Give Your Server a Heads Up
However you decide to split the check, it should be communicated to the server before any orders are placed, Bryant said.
“The restaurant may have rules about how checks may be split,” she explained. “By speaking with the server when you arrive, that will avoid any confusion or annoyances when the check is presented.” Plus, your server can track everyone’s individual orders and tally their totals, avoiding that awkward moment at the end of the meal when everyone has to calculate their portion of the bill.
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Don’t Forget Tax and Tip
Splitting the order total is one thing, but there may be other line items to account for that aren’t obvious. For instance, if your state charges a sales tax, that’s an additional cost that needs to be included in your total.
Tipping is also important. Don’t be that person who only pays for their base meal costs and leaves everyone else to come up with the tip.
“To figure out tax or gratuity when everyone spends a different amount of money, calculate the tax after adding up each person’s total order,” said money-saving expert Andrea Woroch. “You can do the same with the tip once you determine the percentage you’re planning to leave (make sure everyone is on board with 18% or 20%, for instance).”
Claytor added that you should plan to over-tip the wait staff for excellent service at lower price-point restaurants. “They make less money than those who work at high-end restaurants.” Cash tips are always appreciated, but you can also easily add one to a credit card transaction, which also gives you the freedom to tip whatever percentage you feel is appropriate for your portion of the bill.
There’s an App for That
To save some time at the end of the meal and ensure you don’t make any math mistakes, use technology to your advantage. Claytor suggested using the calculator on your phone or even bill-splitting apps to assist with divvying the total.
If you don’t mind being the point-person for collecting everyone’s funds and paying the bill, you can take advantage of the opportunity.
“Offer to cover the entire bill and have friends pay you through Venmo or Zelle,” Woroch suggested. “This way, you benefit from earning all the rewards on your credit card.” Just ask everyone if they’re OK with this option at the beginning. And be sure to pay off your balance by the end of the billing cycle so interest charges don’t eat up (pun intended) all the points you earned.
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