Dining out with a group of friends, going on a date, or having dinner with a few out-of-town relatives should be a joyful occasion. But these memorable meals can descend into a mess of confusion, disproportionate payouts, and hurt feelings when it comes time to split the check. Save the table that collective pain and be thoughtful to your server by following these seven tips for gracefully dividing the bill.
When Someone Treats
If one contingent of the party insists on paying for the meal either upfront or when the check is presented, it’s still good form to offer to cover the tip. Consider it a gesture of thanks and goodwill. The host may turn you down, but at least you’ve made the offer.
Asking the server to split up the bill at the end of the meal is an inconsiderate, messy move. If you’d like separate checks, request them before anyone has ordered. It will still require the server to do more work, but it will make it easier for them to keep everyone’s various charges separate. Remember, many restaurants cap the maximum number of check splits and some won’t do separate checks at all. (They usually note this one the menu, but, if they don’t, you should ask about their policy at the start of the meal). Call ahead if you’re going to ask to split a check more than four ways to make sure they can accommodate your group.
Elect a Foreman
Someone needs to take control of divvying up the check. Allowing everyone to eyeball the receipt and guestimate what they owe often doesn’t end well. If people under pay and there’s still enough to cover the check, no one will fight to put more money in to ensure the server is tipped appropriately (FYI: if you have a large party that is taking up a lot of your server’s time, you should tip 20 percent or more). So nominate the math major in the party or take on the job yourself to ensure the check splitting goes as smoothly and speedily as possible.
Equality is Easy
The easiest way to split the check is to simply divide it evenly amongst the diners and agree on the percentage tip you’ll each leave. If you’re dining with a group of longtime friends who ate and drank approximately the same meal – everyone had two cocktails and shared a series of small plates – then this is an easy route.
Steak and Wine Vs. Salad and Water
Don’t split the bill equally if one dining companion pointedly ordered a side salad and water, while the rest of you split three bottles of wine and each ordered steaks. Your friend may be on a tight budget but still wanted to see you all, so don’t punish them for coming out. If you’re the diner with a limited budget, make sure you request a separate check at the beginning of the meal so you don’t need to explain your circumstances to the group.
Your Phone Doesn’t Just Take Pictures — It Also Has a Calculator
In the case you decide to figure out exactly what each person owes, don’t attempt this oftentimes-complicated math on the back of a cocktail napkin. Use the calculator function on your phone, silly. Even if your fellow diners don’t trust your addition and subtraction skills – “Weren’t you an English major, dude?” – they will trust the ghost of Steve Jobs. Once you’ve figured out the total for the dishes and drinks each person consumed, don’t forget to calculate the tax. After everyone has agreed to their sum, write out the last four digits of each card and then the amount next to them on the check to make the split easier for the server. When they come back with the individual bills, remind everyone to tip at a uniform rate.
Try Not to Do Any of the Following
Never pay the tip in coins, never under tip because you assume someone else in your party will over tip, and never try to convince the server to accept more credit cards than the stated policy. In varying ways, these actions will do a great disservice to the hospitality of the restaurant you just enjoyed.
Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell.