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Your Take: How do you deal with “Splitting the check?”

by J. Money on Monday, June 7, 2010

splitting the checkOh yeah – the ol’ splitting of the check discussion, it never gets old ;) Probably because it often means someone stealing our hard earned money and we’re pissed! Haha…You know what I’m talking about right?  You eat $20 worth of food but Bob the Spendthrift convinces everyone to just “split it,” now leaving you on the hook for $40? It’s not fun. And I often complain about it myself.

Got this email from a long-time reader and thought we could help her out, what do you say? Here’s what she wrote:

Last night, my husband and I went out to dinner with his boss and coworkers to celebrate a work-related event.  If it hadn’t been work-related, I might have turned down the invitation in this case.  We are quite comfortable financially, generally speaking, but this month we had to spend $2600 on medical bills and tuition expenses.  I am trying to save on our discretionary spending this month so I can pull as little out of our savings as possible to pay the bills.  (These kinds of months really suck.)  I knew we would be going to a rather expensive restaurant.

Anyway, my husband and I each got a $16 dinner and he got one drink.  (I don’t drink much so stuck with water)  Everyone else got 2, 3 or 4 drinks apiece.  When the bill came, someone suggested just splitting it.  One of my husband’s coworkers realized I hadn’t had anything to drink, so they “kindly” knocked $20 off of our bill as a rough estimate of the difference.  Our total tab for the evening?  $80.  Even assuming my husband’s beer cost $10, I can’t imagine that our total bill should have been more than $60.

I would just shrug and move on, but this happens a lot to us in social situations, and I never know quite how to respond.  I don’t want to avoid social events because of this, or speak up and risk coming across as a miser (particularly when out with co-workers) — I can actually be a very generous person, I promise! — but it burns me to have to ALWAYS subsidize my friends’/coworkers’ drinking, and, as my husband and I are very cautious with what we spend at restaurants, I know it will never “even out in the long run.”  Moreover, on the rare occasions when we have spent more at dinner than others, we are cognizant of this and sure to pay our fair share.

What do/would you do?  Is this just the curse of being one of those 1 in 1000 people who actually keeps track of money?

Grrrrrr.

- Frustrated and frugal

PS: I haven’t even brought this up with my husband, because I think he thinks I worry too much about money, and might perceive it as complaining about what was otherwise a lovely night out.

Ouch!  $20-$40 right out the window, all for being financially conscious. So what do you do when everyone wants to just “split it?”  Speak up and risk the evil eyes?  Never go out again w/ these people? (Hah!) I haven’t mastered this myself, but there IS one thing I’ve been doing more of that’s certainly been helping:  asking for separate checks right from the start.

I’ll admit it’s not always easy to do, esp if you’re a forgetful one like yours truly and/or shy, but if you can get into the habit of this it REALLY makes all the difference in the world. And you know what?  No one cares when you do it! Big groups, small groups, whatever – if you can ask for separate checks from the beginning (and I only mean for you, or you & your gf/wife/etc, not the entire group of friends) you’ll never have to worry about it again.  You pay for what you order!  And can tip whatever you want too. The rest of the group will be fine without you :)  And plus, most times they’ll do the same once they see you doing it.

And if they give you a hard time? Well, just tell them you may have to cut out early and you don’t want to hold up the gang ;)  This works 100% of the time – I have yet to see anyone get mad at me for pulling this one (and it’s not totally a lie – you never really DO know if something will come up, right? haha…)

Okay, so that’s my advice.  What do you guys have?  Do you get stuck in these situations too?  Do you just suck it up? Let’s help Frustrated & Frugal out.


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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anthony June 7, 2010 at 8:16 am

It seems odd that these people are not willing to separate their checks. Personally, I would go talk with the waiter and have our check split from everyone else’s. If everyone else wants to split their remaining check, then that’s up to them.

If you want to be sneaky about it even, pull the waiter to the side and tell him/her quietly. You don’t have to do it at the table. They’ll be more than glad to do this for you.

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2 michelle June 7, 2010 at 8:22 am

thank god my friends are as “broke” as i am. we never split checks evenly unless we know that everyone’s costs were within a few dollars of each other. plus the majority of us (no matter who i go out with) pay with credit, and some places won’t/can’t split bills evenly. since they have to put specific items on each card, we identify what items go where. i’m notorious for whipping out my pen to organize charges on the back of the check. we’ve actually been thanked by our servers on numerous occasions for doing it, too…
i know people are concerned with looking like a jerk, but i absolutely refuse to pay for something i didn’t consume. should this situation arise for me, i would absolutely speak up. i purposely set a spend limit (including tip) on myself, and i won’t let friends or coworkers derail me because they aren’t being as budget conscious. it sucks feeling like that guy, but it’s your money on the line
another idea is to rotate who pays for dinner. if you tend to go out with the same people each month, you could agree that a different couple treats everyone to dinner at a restaurant of their choosing each time… then you can be that jerk who takes everyone to olive garden for couple’s night ;)

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3 Aury (Thunderdrake) June 7, 2010 at 8:29 am

I prefer the term ‘going dutch.’ Which is a lot more financially responsible for dinner tabs. Whatever one buys should be what one pays. Makes more sense to me!

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4 Kams June 7, 2010 at 8:45 am

My husband and I always get separate cheques.. and if there is a shared appetizer or something that isn’t on our bill, then we toss some money to the person whose bill it is on. We pay for what we eat, but don’t get stuck footing the bill for other’s habits (drinking or eating).

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5 Jane June 7, 2010 at 9:09 am

This makes me so grateful for my group of friends – they are pros at splitting checks so that no one pays for more than what they ordered. (And there’s usually someone willing to split an entree so that I can save a little $$ on dinner – don’t worry waiters; we still tip as though we’d bought individual meals.)

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6 James June 7, 2010 at 9:20 am

The problem is waiting until the end of the meal. It’s simple for a waiter to split the checks at the beginning of the meal, and then there are no problems! :D

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7 Molly On Money June 7, 2010 at 9:45 am

I say speak up or say no to the invitation. When you speak up it’s awkward and you may not be the most popular person in the room for the moment but chances are you are not the only one in the group paying more than their share (there’s always that one person that had 5 expensive drinks that throws the whole check off!).
I have a group of friends that we use to go out and ‘split the check’. I stopped going out with them because it was so expensive to include into my frugal lifestyle. I’ve had to make a huge effort to see them under different circumstances (like asking them out to coffee).
Don’t get too caught up in this- it happened and it’s passed. Focus on what you would do differently next time.

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8 Everyday Tips June 7, 2010 at 9:45 am

In this situation, I don’t know that you had a choice. You went to dinner with the boss and coworkers. That is a lot different than going out with friends.

In my opinion, when going out with the boss, you gotta just suck it up, as much as you may hate it. Professional respect cannot be risked over twenty bucks. Dinners with coworkers are bound to be a drink-fest, so I think that maybe you just need to accept you are going to be forced to overpay before you even go. I just don’t think that is the time to be nitpicky and ask for separate bills. Too much at risk. You never know how petty people would be, and you don’t want that to be the thing the boss remembers come performance review time. By the way, I am shocked they knocked 20 bucks off the bill. I would be thrilled with that.

Now, going out with friends is a different story. Many times the server asks ‘separate checks or together’. However, if that does not happen, then mentally calculate what your cost would be before the bill arrives. If it shows up and they want to divide it in some way that has you paying too much, try to pin it on someone else (if you are not comfortable with just speaking up). Say ‘well Susie didn’t have any appetizer so we can’t ask her to share in that cost’ when really you are thinking ‘there is no way I am subsidize all these people that are drinking like fish’.

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9 MG June 7, 2010 at 12:49 pm

At my friend’s bachelorette party, we were out to dinner and I ordered a decent $14 salad in this fancy restaurant in Las Vegas. I had no drinks while everyone ordered lots of drinks totaling the bill to approximately $400. The resolution? Split the bill. I got stuck with a $63 bill for my $14 meal, while attempting to keep my mouth shut to avoid making it uncomfortable on my friend’s special day.

Total BS.

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10 Kim June 7, 2010 at 1:16 pm

I agree with Everyday Tips. Since it was work related it is probably not worth risking the fall out.

For other circumstances, I love the idea of separate checks. I always feel bad for the server though. I am sure to tip extra for their extra work but still feel like I’m inconveniencing them.

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11 Money Obedience June 7, 2010 at 1:48 pm

I think it is a good general rule to decide on splitting the check right away, but you probably can’t apply it all the time. I usually play it by ear and this has worked out well when I go out with my friends. I have one advantage though. I don’t have a problem speaking up when it comes time to pay and people in the group did not order more or less evenly. I would bring this up even if it benefits somebody else, since this person may be on a budget and more conscientious of her spending. She may not be willing to bring it up herself. If I am out with my friends, I should be able to speak my mind, right? If I can’t speak my mind, they should not be my friends.

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12 Miss Jane June 7, 2010 at 1:54 pm

The only time I have ever split anything was if we were drinking pitchers of beer with our friends, food has always been separate. I’m lucky to have most generous friends and most of the time, one will cover it for the evening and we get each other the next time around – a financial karma of sorts.

In that situation, I would speak up and say I’m only paying for what we had ate/drank. It sucks paying more than you should. :(

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13 finallygettingtoeven.com June 7, 2010 at 2:48 pm

I go through this it seems like practically every time we go out with friends.

I am a vegan so you can imagine my meals don’t cost much when everyone else is getting steak and i get salad. I always drink water while the rest of them down mixed drinks & beer. Hubby does eat and drink like the rest, but when my portion comes to $6 i don’t feel like i should have to subsidize everyone else.

I will always tell the waiters when they come to the table who is with who so that we end up with separate checks and i don’t get screwed.

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14 Lindsay June 7, 2010 at 4:31 pm

I’ve never split a bill with my friends – It’s always separate checks, or we look at the bill and each person pays their fair share. Although, I’m in college so I’m surrounded by some of the most money conscious people out there. I don’t know what I would do in a work situation (probably be happy that I had a job) but I suppose I would just suck it up to not make a mountain out of a molehill (well $40) and not create tension with my boss.

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15 Young Mogul June 7, 2010 at 5:09 pm

I agree that this is a different situation because it was business. I think you should have just ordered drinks so that you were not paying for food/drink you didn’t consume.

I NEVER split checks and, luckily, I have friends who feel the same. BUT, for those worried about asking to split checks, this usually works….when placing your order, always request a seperate check because you don’t have cash and will be paying with debit/cc card. Usually, people understand this. J. Money’s suggestion about needing seperate checks because you may be leaving early is a good one also.

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16 Neil June 7, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Hi

I think when it involves the boss you just have to put up with it (or not go).

With friends I would split the bill if everyone had had roughly the same. If not it is simple rudenes to expect someone to pay massively more than their share. If people won’t play fair I’ll not go out to dinner with them again!

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17 Lulu June 7, 2010 at 6:29 pm

I always say separate checks to my comrades when we sit and again when I place my order to make sure the service staff know that I need at least mine separate. If others choose to share then that is their business, not mine. Of course this means that I do not eat from the ‘shared’ appetizers that everyone seems so fond of ordering but that works for me since I cannot eat a lot in one sitting anyway.

If the checks come and the server has not separated it I make a point that I wanted mine separate and get them to do it. Yes it has earned me a few rolled eyes…but I don’t drink and I refuse to split the bill with those who do AND order the most expensive things they can find.

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18 MyFinancialObjectives June 7, 2010 at 6:50 pm

Oh man I hate when this happens!!

One thing we always do is write the last 4 of our credit card down with the amount we want to be paid on it. That usually works for me..

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19 J. Money June 7, 2010 at 11:08 pm

This is great guys!!! I’m sure Frustrated and Frugal is getting a lot from these :) And I’ll have to agree that dining out w/ the boss is def. diff. than w/ friends – good call. I might be sucking this up myself later this week ;)

Thanks guys!

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20 JDW June 7, 2010 at 11:56 pm

I agree with EverydayTips. I must say though that make sure you actually make it clear what you are doing. We used dine with a large group of friends and although we always agreed to just split the bill we would end up $20 short and 1 or 2 of us would be the ones to cover it because a particular person always put in less than the split. This was annoying because if they wanted to put in less they should have made it clear and then we could have just split the rest. We fixed the problem by taking notice when their money was thrown into the pile and politely noting that they must have heard incorrectly. As a side this was a group of work people that had been sent to a foreign country by our company and all our rent, cars, fuel and travel was covered so we knew that people should have had a few extra bucks to cover the meal. When I go out now I am more cognizant of peoples situations and generally request separate checks.

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21 Evan June 8, 2010 at 10:22 am

My Wife would 1000% Agree with F&F, but I look at it a little differently. I really believe that it all evens out, and if I spend an extra $20 or $40 it won’t kill me and I’d rather not go out the fight over a bill.

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22 Khaleef @ KNS Financial June 8, 2010 at 11:36 am

The good thing with us is that we don’t drink and neither do our friends, so we can split the check evenly and be assured that we will be within a few dollars of our true cost anyway. Now, when we know that we are going to do extra – appetizer/salad/soup or dessert – then we will ask for separate checks from the beginning.

I think it’s best to have this conversation before you order just to be clear about everything.

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23 Heidi Proebstel June 8, 2010 at 3:34 pm

I used to wait tables in college. Let me just say, your server prefers that you get seperate checks (better tips usually).

My solution is when the server come around to take my order I say, “My husband and I are on a seperate ticket.” And proceed. That is all it takes.

I find in life, that if you have a few phrases already worked out in your head for these situations it makes it a LOT easier. If you wait until after the fact, you’ll end up feeling punked.

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24 J. Money June 9, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Interesting…they probably DO get tipped more when separated out like that. Although it’s still more of a pain I’d imagine.

Def. agree that having pre-determined phrases helps out in life :) I’m getting really good at “No thanks, but good luck!” to all the save-the-whales/animals/planet people here in D.C. They hit me up every damn time I walk by them – even when they know very well who I am by now!

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25 Frustrated and Frugal June 10, 2010 at 5:27 am

Frustrated and frugal here. Thank you all for your helpful advice. My husband and I will probably have to start asking for separate checks more often when out with friends. So far, I’ve tried to avoid doing this because I do not like to burden the waiter/waitress and because I already have a bit of a reputation among my close friends as the one who worries about every penny. They’ll know why we are asking for separate checks!
In employment-related situations like the one I have detailed, I think our plan is to just keep our mouths shut and pay whatever we have to pay. (The “I might have to cut out early” excuse is a good one, JMoney, but it wouldn’t have worked in this case because we drove three of our five dining companions to the restaurant!)
One of my friends suggested I similarly chalk it up as the cost of entertainment for the evening. I think if I assume I will pay a surcharge going in, it will be a little less infuriating. More than anything, I really needed to blow off some steam with the like-minded, and you gave me that chance, so thank you.

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26 J. Money June 11, 2010 at 10:36 am

I think that’s great Frustrated & Frugal, glad you got something out of all this :) Have a most blessed weekend!

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27 The Best Money Blog June 15, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Those are two awesome tactics, both of which are seemingly innocent and would work perfectly.

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28 logan June 17, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Great article.. I am usually lucky, and the check comes out quite close. People who drink a lot usually will open a separate tab for their drinks.. but what happens a lot to me is when people just start throwing in their share, but forgetting about taxes/tip… it happened to me a few times where certain people would be paying a lot more for other peoples taxes/tips.

ugh.. i ask for a separate check all the time these days, unless it is with really good friends.

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29 J. Money June 17, 2010 at 3:43 pm

I hear ya man – gotta change up the game depending on who’s sitting at that table with ya :) Love your icon there too – funny!

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30 Valerie June 25, 2010 at 1:11 pm

I have to say, from my experience as a server if you say ‘we’d like separate checks please’ from the beginning, it isn’t a hassle at all. I would just write each order separated by a line. It gets more confusing if you wait until the end, but if you’re patient with your server, it shouldn’t be a big deal there either. Also, in the places I’ve worked, if you split an appetizer, the computer system usually allows you to split the item into fractions (“1/4 Mozzarella Sticks” for example). I know every place isn’t like this, but many are.

Also, almost every time I go out with a group, the first thing the server asks is “Will this be on one bill or separate?” so the idea that it would be a problem is confusing to me.

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31 J. Money June 25, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Wow, had nooooo idea some places can divide up appetizers! That’s hot. Although I’d feel like a jack-ass bringing it up, haha…. Thx for sharing w/ us Valerie! Have a great weekend :)

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32 BJ November 9, 2014 at 1:44 pm

So wait…..you went out with boss and co-workers and so you most likely had to subsidize drinks, appetizers, that the boss consumed? Sorry, but higher-ups should not expect that others will subsidize their expensive choices.

It would be awkward in this lame work situation, so if I didn’t want to bring up splitting the check, then I would def. order extra things….even if I just took a few bites and then had to get doggy bags. Just don’t be overly obvious about it. I know this only increases the total bill overall, thus you’re still paying even more. But at least you will feel you received closer to what you paid for and can enjoy an extra leftover meal/take home dessert out of it.

I think most people who want to split the bill have no consideration for others’ financial situation or they are fully aware other people are subsidizing their meal. Anyone notice that the person who orders an appetizer and water is NEVER the one who suggests to split the bill? Why would someone offer to spend an extra $25 on everyone else? I can buy a nice large bottle of vodka for that price to enjoy for myself.

It’s always the guy who ordered all courses and drinks who wants to split the check. To me, it shows they have a shady character and that would be the end of my friendship.

I think it is ridiculous for other people at the table to be offended and roll eyes just because someone is paying only for what they ordered. I also don’t do the “I’ve got the tab this time crap.” Yeah, you picked up the lunch tab and the next time it’s dinner and drinks…so it’s my turn….I don’t think so. I’ll pay for my stuff, you pay for your stuff

And no, splitting the check doesn’t always eventually even out over time. Most likely the same people get subsidized over and over again. It defeats the whole purpose of trying to go out to eat on a budget. If I am on a budget I may just bring a few mini bottles of liquor I can sneak off and drink for a $1 a piece. Why would I then turn around and help pay for $8 Margaritas someone else drank? And why in the world does the Margarita drinker actually feel like it’s okay to ask me to pay for it??

The only time the check should be split is if everyone at the table is indulging and sharing apps/desserts, same bottles of wine, etc. And if all of the entrees are in a reasonably close price range of each other.

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33 J. Money November 10, 2014 at 2:09 pm

You found an oldie but goodie article here, thanks for chiming in :)

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