Divvying Up the Check


Don’t turn a pleasant evening into an accounting nightmare.

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One of the most embarrassing customs we have in this country is fighting over the bill at a restaurant. It’s one thing for someone to pick up the check in its entirety, quite another when we start to fight over who should pay what. When someone picks up the whole check, it’s usually done for business purposes, a date, a celebration, or as a term of endearment (meaning, “I enjoy your company and it would be an honor if you would allow me to pay the bill”). Under this scenario, the other party will inevitably reciprocate the next time you go out. If they do not, it’s time to find another friend.

Aside from this, the real problem comes when we try to split hairs over the check. The bill should, of course, be reviewed for accuracy, but I have been with people who like to put everything under a microscope and fight with the waiter or waitress over every nickel, thereby turning a pleasant evening into an uncomfortable inquisition. It’s one thing to be frugal, quite another to be cheap (Jack Benny preferred the word “penurious”).

I never understood the logic of having one bill for a large group of people who are going to pay separately. Inevitably, someone appoints him/herself as the head bookkeeper and instructs everyone what they owe, rather loudly I might add. Everybody at the table then knows who the big spenders are, as well as the tightwads. Why not have separate checks and save everyone the embarrassment? It might be a headache for the waiter or waitress, but no more than having someone run a P & L statement on you over the PA system.

Most of the time, people will simply split the bill evenly, which is easy for the waiter to do, and provides an equitable solution for all of the parties involved, unless one of the parties is keeping a scorecard on who ate and drank what, thereby feeling cheated by a 50/50 split. In this situation, have the waiter split the check accordingly and avoid creating any ill-will.

The last thing that could potentially turn ugly when multiple parties are involved is calculating the tip. Under a 50/50 split, both parties should theoretically give the same amount (assuming they are both satisfied with the service provided). If one person gives more than another, than the waiter will most likely think one person is cheaper than the other (or more generous than the other depending on your perspective).

When we share a meal with others, the general idea is to relax and have a good time. Consequently, paying the bill should be handled with finesse and grace, not embarrassment. Perhaps the best way to develop indigestion is to fight over a lousy bill which would certainly defeat the purpose of going out together.

Keep the Faith!