Split vs. Share: 5 Top Tips for Dividing Up a Restaurant Meal

Dividing Up a Restaurant Meal

There’s been plenty written about splitting the check at restaurants. But what are the rules for splitting the meal among your dining companions? The tapas boom, the revival of family-style dining, and the large-format renaissance may find you asking these questions while you’re around digging into dishes along with your tablemates. Whether it’s a festive Sunday dinner with your folks or a celebration with colleagues on a big work win, here are tips for dividing up a restaurant meal at a spot on OpenTable that leaves everyone feeling satisfied. Check them out and then find your table.

Understand splitting vs. sharing

Just so we’re on the same page: splitting a meal is when you order one dish and have it separated into two plates, while sharing is more like family-style, where there’s one dish on the table that everyone takes a bit from. Why is this important? Because it can affect everything from what you order to how you’re charged. Some restaurants will charge a fee for splitting a meal (you should see that indicated on the menu), but not necessarily if they see you sharing. Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli, owner of Alcove in Boston, notes, “Knowing the difference between ‘split’ and ‘share’ is helpful as it allows us to actually try to get guests what they want.” Dishes he recommends at Alcove that good for sharing include the roasted half chicken and whole roasted branzino. Items ideal for splitting, he says, are the cheeseburger and squid ink creste di gallo.

How to order the right amount

Ordering two appetizers or small plates and then splitting one full entrée for a party of two is ideal, according to Laurence Noguier, French etiquette expert and co-owner Bistronomic in Chicago. And, she says, if you do decide to split an appetizer and an entree, consider ordering one or two sides, as well. “This allows you to experience more of the restaurant’s style. Sides are now very well prepared and have a real personality and sophistication — not like in the past.” Also, “Get plenty of variety but make sure that the meal makes sense; choose dishes with flavors that complement each other,” notes Matthew King, vice president of culinary at Smith & Wollensky (with locations nationwide).

Ask for what you want + engage staff

Communication is key when it comes to sharing and splitting. At The Teahouse in Vancouver, general manager Andy Crimp advises engaging the staff. “If you are hoping to sample a few menu items, you can always ask which entrees can be split by the kitchen which will leave more room to share many appetizers so that you have the opportunity to try more items on the menu.” “Growing up, when worrying about how to ask my parents for something, my mom would always say to us, ‘Well you can always ask, dear.’ While my mom was frequently in the business of saying ‘no,’ good restaurants are generally in the business of saying ‘yes’,” notes Michael Seznec, Himmel Hospitality Group senior vice president of operations, whose group operates Bistro du Midi restaurant, among others.

Know not everything is meant to be split

There are certain things that simply aren’t optimal for sharing or splitting at a restaurant. For example, while it’s fine to trade sips of your drinks, Seznec advises, “Don’t share a cocktail. Get your own,” he says. Large-format libations are an exception.

The same consideration should be given when it comes to a juicy porterhouse or a New York Strip. ”Never share a steak with someone who likes it well done if you don’t. Be sure to agree on your temperature beforehand. The quality will never be the same when you want half rare and half well done, says King.

When it comes to lobster, “Splitting one is done infrequently, mainly because people like to devour it themselves, according to executive chef Richard Vellante, who oversees all culinary operations at Legal Sea Foods around the country. “ But typically with a behemoth lobster, whether it’s steamed or stuffed, that’s served family-style. Each person can then take what they want.”

Be polite

Mind your manners when engaging in a split or shared dish. Don’t take more than your fair share. To ensure you stay on your best behavior, “Always let the other person have the first and last bite,” says Wayne Sych, executive chef at Joe Fortes Seafood and Chop House in Vancouver.

Chris Coombs, chef-owner of Deuxave in Boston, where the truffled chicken for two is meant to be shared, likes to take it a step further. “I always prefer to have my own plate. However, when forced to share, I think it is a nice touch to serve each other instead of serving yourself since most restaurants don’t take the time to do so. It is a nice gesture. There is always something special about someone else serving you food.”

What are your tips for dividing up a restaurant meal? Tell us here or over on FacebookInstagramPinterest, or Twitter. And, remember to snap + share your #dishpics with us on Instagram for a chance to win in our weekly giveaway.

Laurie Bain Wilson is a Boston-based journalist, author, and essayist who writes often about travel, food, and baseball. Find her on Twitter @laurieheather.

Photo credit: Marnie Hawson.