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How to Split the Check When Eating Out in a Group

Written by Nickel - 21 Comments

 How to Split the Check When Eating Out in a GroupHow do you handle restaurant bills when eating with a group? This can be a sticky issue, as you don’t want to get stuck paying an unreasonable amount, but you also don’t want to come off as a cheapskate.

While on our recent vacation, we went out for dinner with our extended family. In order to keep things simple and fair, we asked for separate checks for each family. Splitting the check was a bit more work for the waitress, but we tipped well, and everyone was happy.

Depending on the setting, however, I’ve seen the check-splitting ritual handled in multiple ways. In some cases, we’ve simply split the check informally at the table and then had everyone pitch in enough to roughly cover their meal (plus tax and tip).

In other cases, it’s not uncommon for a group to opt to split the check evenly, without regard to what each individual ate and drank. This is particularly common in professional settings where everyone is being reimbursed, but it happens in social settings, as well.

While splitting the check evenly is easy, it can result in hurt feelings and resentment if one or a few people order especially expensive entrees, or extra drinks/dessert to go with their meal. Isn’t it always the guy who orders the filet mignon and a bottle of wine who suggests this method? ;-)

This all begs the question… What’s the best way to split the bill when dining out with friends? Please weigh in below.

What's the best way to split the check when dining out with friends?
Total Votes: 571 Started: July 9, 2010

As always, please also feel free to chime in with a comment to add some context to or otherwise clarify your answer.

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Published on July 9th, 2010
Modified on July 14th, 2010 - 21 Comments
Filed under: Consumer, Polls

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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21 Responses to “How to Split the Check When Eating Out in a Group”

  1. 1
    Sam Says:

    Split evenly!!! You are paying for the company and good times together.

  2. 2
    Pineview Style Says:

    This can be tricky. In most cases of casual dining with friends, I have no problem asking for seperate checks. With all this automated restaurant equipment that is used in restaurants, it shouldn’t be a big deal to get the ticket split.

  3. 3
    Ian Says:

    BILLMONK!

    Have one person pay for the bill, and then when you get home log the receipt in to http://www.billmonk.com

    It’s a great and FUN tool used to split up bills and keep track of who owes what.

    My roommates and I use billmonk a lot for dividing up groceries, utilities, and other expense.

    FYI, I’m not associated with BillMonk. I’m just a HUGE fan of the service.

  4. 4
    Jenn Says:

    Separate checks all the way. I am exactly the type to stew over paying for someone else’s excesses when I chose something cheaper, so for the sake of friendship/family relationships, I will pay for exactly what I ordered, my own tip, and nothing else.

  5. 5
    Amy Says:

    I like separate checks, but am fine with informal division. Usually.

    My least favorite scenario can happen with informal “everyone throws what they think will cover things” into the pot. Usually at that point one person says, “Oh hey, why don’t I put it on my card, I could use the cash.” Then that person pockets the cash, pays the bill with a crappy tip, and calls it good.

    In too many of those situations the person paying with the card ends up with a partially or sometimes, completely subsidized meal because the rest of us round up when throwing money into the pot.

    And they are usually the ones who had 3 alcoholic beverages as well.

  6. 6
    John Says:

    Most of the time when I eat out it’s at a less expensive place where you take your check to the register to pay. In those situations they will usually split the check at the register and then mark off whatever each person ate to make sure all items are paid.

    If it’s a full service restaurant I usually advocate separate checks or informal splitting. I’ve never had any trouble with either of these methods.

  7. 7
    Rosa Rugosa Says:

    I’ll offer an opinion from the other side – my husband and I almost always are the most expensive diners; we like seafood, cocktails, and perhaps a nice brandy after dinner. When someone suggests that we split the bill evenly, I say “No way! I got a lobster and he got a cheeseburger! I owe at least $20 more! So I figure we need to take our cheeseburger friends out to dinner every now and again and pick up the tab, unless you have a better idea? I totally don’t expect my friends to subsidize my dinner, but on the rare occasion that we eat out, I want to order what I want to order.

  8. 8
    Courtney Says:

    We’ve done all of the above, depending on the restaurant and the crowd. If we go to our favorite family-style italian place, we split evenly – or if we share an appetizer and then order similarly-priced meals (I just did this with a friend last night). We’ve been the ones who’ve paid on our rewards card when everyone else has cash, and we tip generously so no one is subsidizing us. We’ve gotten separate checks (sometimes hubs and I will even get separate checks and each pay with our own card, if we go out with a bunch of single friends). We’ve given the waitress several cards and a note on the receipt to charge $X to each card based on who ordered what. I don’t think there’s any hard-and-fast rules.

  9. 9
    Wesley Says:

    Just curious… what is “tipping generously”? And how does it apply to wine, alcohol, etc.

  10. 10
    Ryan Says:

    Credit Card Roulette

    When dining with friends, assuming people’s meals were of vaguely comparable cost, everyone puts their card in a pile and the server is asked to close his or her eyes and pick from the pile. The card he or she picks “wins” and gets to buy the rest dinner.

    It’s fair — if you play it enough, it evens out — and it’s really a lot of fun.

  11. 11
    Tahoe Joe Says:

    Some of President Obama’s friends thought they had solved this dilemma. Every day, ten of them would go
    go out for dinner. The bill for all ten comes to $100. They decided that if they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this…

    The first four men — the poorest — would pay nothing; the fifth would pay $1, the sixth would pay $3, the seventh $7, the eighth $12, the ninth $18,and the tenth man — the richest — would pay $59.

    That’s what they decided to do. The ten men ate dinner in the restaurant every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement — until one day, the owner threw them a curve (in tax language, a tax cut).

    “Since you are all such good customers,” he said, “I’m going to reduce the cost of your daily meal by $20.” So now dinner for the ten only cost $80.00.

    The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes. So the first four men were unaffected. They would still eat for free. But what about the other six — the paying customers? How could they divvy up the
    $20 windfall so that everyone would get his “fair share?”

    The six men realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody’s share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would end up being PAID to eat their meal. So the restaurant owner
    suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man’s bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.

    And so the fifth man paid nothing, the sixth pitched in $2, the seventh paid $5, the eighth paid $9, the ninth paid $12, leaving the tenth man with a bill of $52 instead of his earlier $59. Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to eat for free.

    But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings. “I only got a dollar out of the $20,” declared the sixth man, but he, pointing to the tenth. “But he got $7!”. “Yeah, that’s right,” exclaimed the fifth man, “I only saved a dollar, too, It’s unfair that he got seven times more than me!”.

    That’s true!” shouted the seventh man, why should he get $7 back when I got only $2?” The wealthy get all the breaks! Wait a minute,” yelled the first
    four men in unison, “We didn’t get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!”

    The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up. The next night he didn’t show up for dinner, so the nine sat down and ate without him. But when it
    came time to pay the bill, they discovered, a little late what was very important. They were FIFTY-TWO DOLLARS short of meeting the bill!

  12. 12
    c herie Says:

    Of course separate bills are best for the diners but worst on the waiters . . . so confusing
    When I go out in a group I assume the check will be split evenly – I order what I want and don’t fret about it – sometimes I order more expensive things and/or drinks, sometimes I eat light – I don’t choose based on the bill – if I can’t afford it I don’t go.
    I think that the problems arise when people are purposely ordering frugally and then get whacked with other people’s excesses – but in a group dining scenario if you’re going to stress about it best to ask for separate checks from the get go, or learn to go with the flow

  13. 13
    stephen Says:

    I go out to eat with a small group of friends,three to five, on a regular basis. We take turns to pay the entire bill. At this point we don’t know who ended up paying more than the others over the years. It helps that we’ve been friends for a very long time and none of us is a stingy asshat.

  14. 14
    rs Says:

    There are many people who enjoy the company of others and would like to eat out, but it is a treat for them. So to enjoy the company they go out and purchase food and drink based on what they’re comfortable with. But an insensitive person in the group suggests they split the bill evenly.
    I see this happening more and more with my friends, and it’s disconcerting. As we are settling into out incomes, there’s a gross assumption made that everyone has the same financial status. Just because you’re buckling down a bit doesn’t mean you’re cheap, or stingy. You’re making best of your situation.
    Therefore, I’m a strong advocate of getting your own bills, or splitting informally. I find both to be equally as effective. And it maintains the friendship, since no one is put on the spot.

    I think these days, people assume what works professionally can work in friendship, and that is not the case. Friendship is more personal and it would be nice if we didn’t get lost in our professional selves when going out personally.

  15. 15
    Jslugger Says:

    It helps to go out with people in the same socio-economic group, so that more likely than not u will all order in the same price range.

    A nifty way to avoid a problem is to arrive fashionably late when u know the order process for the group has started. You then order but instruct the waiter to place your order on a separate tab. let the others figure out their bill.

  16. 16
    Rosa Says:

    Usually with friends we split the bill, because everyone’s on a different budget – it’s not really linked to income, some of our friends make less money than us and are way bigger spenders, some make a lot more and are on diets so don’t drink or eat dessert, etc.

    Sometimes one or another person will quietly pay the whole thing – last time we went out with one specific set of friends, they were using up gift cards before moving away and bought everyone booze to use one up. Back before the child, when I went out with the same friends every week, it was a lot more common to take turns treating…but now, we’re paying so much for a sitter if we go out, we can’t afford to spend big on the actual meal even if we wanted to.

  17. 17
    Shoeby Says:

    Ask for separate checks. I went out with friends who ordered steaks, I ordered a side salad (I had eaten not too long before, and just came out to be sociable) The total check for the 3 of us was about 60 bucks, including tip. They tried to indicate that we should each throw in 20 bucks. I was completely outraged at my friends who suggested such a thing. I have vowed to just ask for separate checks at the start of the meal. I used to wait tables, the only time more work is involved is when making change for many people within a large group. For example, 10 separate checks, all paying in cash, all asking for change.

  18. 18
    Val Says:

    “begs the question” -> “raises the question”

  19. 19
    Teresa Says:

    I have a dilemma. I am visiting family 1,000 miles away. We are going out to an expensive restaurant with a group of 6 couples–family and friends. Most of these people dine together every several months or so and they split the check. One person says she’ll make a comment that so and so shouldn’t pay so much cos they didn’t drink for ex. Enter my husband and I: in our social circle, separate checks is the norm, no matter how many in the party. We are being told that we can ask for separate checks if we don’t mind humilating ourselves! We are also not used to eating in expensive restaurants thereby stretching our eating out budget. BTW, we are retired while the others in our party are still working. Thoughts? Should we blow the next 6 months budget and split the check or ask for separate checks?

  20. 20
    Dan Says:

    My favorite method is to add it up, calculate the tax, but not the tip. Then write the amount on the back of the check next to each persons name and make sure it adds up correctly. People then throw in their cash or credit cards and add tip accordingly on the credit card receipt.

  21. 21
    Jacquelyn Says:

    Customers who have never owned or worked at a restaurant do not know how inconsiderate it can be to the other customers waiting to be served while your server is splitting checks for a table of 9. Each customers check was a few dollars up or down from the others. Please that is ridiculous. AS a restaurant owner myself, we always split checks for customers that inform the server of the check splitting as the order was taken.Then it is a simple task. The only negative is that the meals may not all come out at the same time but close enough. Once the order is taken to split the check at the end evenly is no big deal. The BIG DEAL is when the group does not inform the server that they will be requesting individual checks.
    To request it at the end is extremely frustrating and time consuming and frankly disrespectful to your server and to the restaurant establishment. What ends up happening if your table will have to wait longer 15 to 20 minutes to get all the credit cards processed and the servers other custiomers are upset because they are not being attended to as their server is to busy trying to figure out who ate what. Its simply a lack of proper manners and very embarrassing. Who ever waits to the end to request individuals checks is tackless and RUDE!

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