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Finances & Money Frugality

Dining as a Group. Paying as a Group.

I’m sure many of you have experienced (or forced the experience upon others) of “splitting the check evenly” among all your fellow diners. I know J. Money (formerly J. Savings) did recently. Well last night we were involved in a check-splitting ourselves, and I sort of stood my ground.

We had a going-away party for a former coworker at a moderatly-priced Indian restaurant in Virginia. There were 12 of us, counting the guest-of-honor, and also Stacie (even though she never worked with him). We have a rule against dining out on week nights, but this was a special occasion, so we were allowed. The guy is moving to Budapest, Hungary for an unknown number of years (he’s a British national in the U.S. as an ex-patriot for the last 7 years. Whew, I don’t envy his financial situation of converting currencies and handling pensions!).

Anywho, we split 3 appetizers among all 12 of us ($8 each), and there was so much food that I was almost full before we even ordered our main course. So instead of each ordering a meal, Stacie and I split a meal. The waiter was very pushy that it wouldn’t be enough food, etc etc., but I held firm that we would split the meal. Plus it meant room for dessert if we wanted.

Our meal was about $12, and we each had waters, so the running total is $16 for the two of us. I know our guest’s meal was about $14 (he got water too), so tack on another $3 (rounded off) to make it $19 as we were helping to cover his meal.

If you consider 20% tip and 6% tax, our own bill should have come out to be about $24 total.

Splitting the Check Evenly, but not Fairly

But when the check came and they did the math (wrong at first anyway. They divided by 12, not 11), the total per person was $22.50. Wow, nothing like spending $21 MORE than what we owed. We got a veggie dish while others got meat dishes (a $2-4 difference) and a few got Mango Lasi drinks or other fountain drinks.

So I walked over to the friend collecting the totals and gave him $27. That was the $22 (rounded down) for one person, plus another $5 to help cover our share of the appetizers.

Then I found out he miscalculated and the share per person should have been $24.50. I asked if he wanted more from us, but he declined. He absorbed the extra cost (he’s a meek individual, luckily for our wallets).

What would you have done?

I know a number of you would have shelled out the $45 for two people, while others would have asked for a separate check (yeah, try doing it in a restaurant that hates splitting checks among 2 couples, much less 12), but I went for the middle ground of offering more than our actual share of the cost, but not nearly as much as was being asked. Think I’m cheap? Think I’m a hero? Think I’m an absolutely normal, boring guy?

About the author

Clever Dude

46 Comments

  • I hate when this happens and it’s not easy just for everyone to pitch in an extra two bucks because one or two people are stingy. Some of my friends need to learn math or realize they’re lousy tippers.

  • I cannot stand to go out to dinner and eveyone slerp down those alcholic drinks and the most expensive meal on the menu, run up a tab and expect to split the bill with someone who had free water and a salad. I am glad to hear you stood your ground. The people who are cheap are the ones expecting everyone else to pay for there choice of a expensive meal. When my husband and i go out and we are splitting the bill or it is a party we make sure it established up front if we are splitting. And if we choose the high road dinner and drinks we pay our own tab so noone else has to split our choice’s. I think there is nothing wrong with what you did…

  • I can’t believe how many people are in favor of this annoying habit of nitpicking over money at a shared celebratory dinner. When you go out to the kind of dinner described you should consider it a shared event where everyone will chip in equally and if you can’t afford it then make an excuse about not going and do whatever you want to recognize the going away on your own. This sort of behavior is rude and selfish.

  • I think this is one of those situations where you’re walking the fine line between frugal and cheap. In situations where my eating out budget is low due to an extra “occasion” I’ll discuss with the organizer ahead of time that I plan on getting a separate check or am concerned about splitting the check. Its really awkward for the whole group to sort that out afterward. If the event is at a restaurant where a separate check is not an option or I can’t afford to split the tab, then I won’t go. You could also have just joined the group for dessert or a drink.

  • I would foot the bill and wound not have second thought about that. Yes. I would consider this type of behaviour as cheap. No offense meant here.if you have to nitpick like this, you should not gone to the celebratory dinner in the first place.

  • I for one dislike splitting a meal check of a party where members are not familiar with each other. Stating upfront what the split cost rules are is a must and should be verbalized during the invite. The invited party must be given a chance to object to the rules and then given a chance either to agree to the rules or refrain from showing up. Guests of invities are the responsibility of the invited. I for one have no issues with clear and acceptable rules for payment from those doing the inviting. Individual guests need to carry enough CASH and keep tabs of their meal/drink expenses. Guests should be prepared to have the correct dollar amount available so as not to pull out a $100 and expect resultant confusion to lower his/her tab.

    My2¢ –Erik

  • My experience shows that there are a certain amount of freeloaders who will order the high end drinks, and top of the line food when they are in a group situation, but would never do so when they are by themselves, knowing they will have to pay the entire bill. I am not cheap. I tend to order the high end drinks myself, and I also order whatever I want on the menu regardless of price, but I certainly do not expect others to pay for my choices. Those who are more frugil in their choices should certainly not have to subsidize mine, nor should they have to feel ‘cheap’ because they request to pay for the food and beverages they ordered. As many people get together now days due to common interests, does not mean that they are also on the same playing field finanacially. Pay your own way. There is no problem with that. Unless everyone gets seperate checks, whoever organizes an event should figure the tax added and the appropriate amount of tip for each particpant and give the total owed to that person. captlynhall

  • Wow! I am floored w/ all the responses that suggest you should actually absorb the cost of other people’s meals and kudos to the poster who pointed out “Do you think it’s reasonable to pay a portion of the total for the person in front of you at the grocery store? How about if you and some friends go to a movie: do you pay for more than your ticket and snacks? …”

    Personally, I would have only paid for my portion, plus extra for tip.

    It’s not about being or “looking” cheap, it’s simply about fairness, you should only pay for what you receive. And if you are cheap and pay extra to avoid “looking” cheap in front of people – then you’ve got a bigger problem than finances!

  • First off, I can not begin to understand how this is the same as paying for a total strangers bill at a grocery store. Who would do that? Although, on occasion, I may split the cost of a movie and snacks with friends, having paid a few bucks more in the process. It’s not a big deal when you know your friends will reciprocate at a later date.

    Not being flush with cash; I, too, only want to pay my fair share. I have a big problem, however, taking “great pride” in avoiding embarrassment to oneself or as the cheap ones like to put it…bringing down the party by explaining why I was going to pay my fair share. Would that surprise them coming from someone that just drank water and split a meal at a party? I don’t think so. Would that have started a fight? They were all adults, right? If I were a member of the party and Clever Dude made a fuss over the bill (and again, I agree in paying my fair share) I might think, cheapskate. Or, maybe I might think, I don’t blame him. Either way, that doesn’t put a damper on “my party.” Knowing Clever Dude better in repeated situations would give me a better judge on which way I would have gone with my thoughts.

    Not knowing him personally and only having this situation to go on, I feel that he
    just wished to avoid his awkwardness of the situation. He used the “excuse” that he didn’t want to cause any problems at a party and he had no problem waking out the door knowing that the “meek one” would absorb the cost.

    He is so proud of himself!

  • In that situation it’s walking a fine line between annoying the waiter with a separate check or annoying your coworkers by appearing cheap. So which is the lesser evil? In my opinion you should have asked for a separate check first — it would have saved the entire situation. The waiter, who arguably you might never see again, might have been short with you — but your coworkers, including the person who absorbed the extra costs, would have been more satisfied with your behavior, and you see them every day. Not to mention that you’d have been more satisfied with your own behavior.

    It seems to me you just sat back and hoped that either the problem would not arise, or when it did, that someone else would solve it for you. However, if you feel so strongly about paying your own way, you have to insist strongly on paying it — at the beginning — and not waiting for the problem to solve itself.

  • I’ve gone out with different groups of friends, and the breakdown has always been the same: each of us pays for our own food/drinks, and then splitting tax and tip evenly. In a case like this, someone everyone trusted would do a tally (and probably be double-checked by someone else) and determine that tax, tip, appetizers, and the guest of honor’s share came out to, I don’t know, $6. Then everyone just adds $8 to the price of their food. So if you shared a $10 meal, it would be $22 — $10 for food, plus two $6 shares. It kind of splits the difference between covering yourself and everyonre splitting evenly.

  • Boy, this is a toughie. I don’t think you were rude or boring at all. For me, it depends on the situation. I don’t eat out very often. Sometimes, I eat out with friends, and it’s clear we all order the same thing within a dollar (we all get a tea or coffee, and we all get a burrito, for example). So we split evenly.

    Sometimes, if it’s uneven, we’ll do the math.

    But seriously, I don’t really like splitting evenly. About half the time I am ordering wine and an appetizer (in addition to an entree), and I REALLY don’t want my friends subsidizing my drinks and snacks. Likewise, I don’t want to subsidize someone else’s. I have been in the position of having someone offer $3 for a split check where he had two beers and an appetizer, and the pregnant woman with a soda and $2 fries is trying to put in $10 (I put my foot down).

    OTOH, I have a friend that I do brunch with occasionally (with a large group), and he so sucks at math I just won’t go out anymore. Dh and I routinely get stiffed of about $10-15 each time, because he “forgets” his part, or he doesn’t tip, or he doesn’t add tax, or he collects the money and forgets to leave the tip on the table. I have been out with him in this group where everyone does their own math…and I do my math, add 15-20% for tip plus tax, add a couple of bucks, and THEN get told “everyone needs to add in another $2 (so $4 for us)”. No I don’t THINK so.

  • Although I have a certain amount of sympathy for your position, and do know that people do run up the bill sometimes, I think you messed this one up. If you wanted to pay separately from the group, you should have asked for a check at the beginning. The fact that you and your wife were so stuffed on one entree leads me to believe that you helped yourself to a generous amount of appetizers, perhaps more than your share. And the fact you waited until AFTER the check was divided up means that you stiffed one person, instead of letting the other people in the group split the bill evenly. That’s not holding your ground, that’s screwing the one person who had to pay $15. That seems particularly unfair, since it seems that you were determined to keep your bill cheap from the very beginning (ordering only one entree and waters). It seems that that was your plan all along, but you didn’t want to be honest about it

  • @Sheila (and others): We didn’t split the check in the beginning because no one would get appetizers and we would both get our own entree. But the waiter asked one end of the table if we wanted appetizers (not my end) and they ordered 3 sets ($8 each).

    The appetizers were large sampler trays that had more than enough food to go around, and we even had leftovers from each tray that shows that no one ate their fill. And our tray was shared by myself (220lb) and a 400lb man (and our wives), so don’t say it’s cause we’re light eaters. At least 2 of us weren’t.

    When we decided to share a meal, it wasn’t because we were being cheap. Stacie IS a light eater, but we also knew that the waiters bring out unlimited bread and rice (it was an Indian restaurant), not counting the bread before the meals too. I didn’t see the need to buy another entree when one was good enough. And even if I did, the share would have been MORE per person, not the same, and I would have burdened everyone else for our indulgence.

    As for water, Stacie doesn’t drink anything else (except sometimes tea), and I prefer getting my calories from my food, not my drink, so that’s why I went for water myself (I do so about 80% of the time or more).

    When the check came, it came to the other end of the table and they did all the math without us even knowing the check came. I was ready to pay for our shares of the appetizers and our one meal and our share of the guest’s meal, but not DOUBLE what we owed simply because others wanted the hearty meat dishes and drinks. I still can’t fathom how our check got so high in the first place when most meals are in the $9-14 range, and the final tally was $24 per person (across 11 people). SOMEONE had a very pricey meal or two (perhaps the seafood dishes).

    As a note, I don’t think anyone ordered alcohol. With the mix of people we were in, most are against alcohol for religious reasons or just don’t drink.

    I gave the organizer many opportunities to get more money. At first, I thought the $24 was our share (it was communicated down the table, not directly to us). Once I understood it was per person (after I forked over the initial cash), I asked how much he was short (because often some people just throw in a bunch and don’t want change back) and offered to pay the difference. He kept saying no. I gave him at least 3 chances, but he declined each time.

    After the debacle with my father-in-law saying he didn’t want ANY money, then giving it anyway, I learned to take no for an answer. I did hand over another $5 (as I mentioned in the article), and he wanted to hand it back but I walked away.

    Yes, there are gray areas and you can say “you should have done this” or “I would have done that”, but unless you’re eating with the same exact people I dined with, your situation will always vary. Heck, even from minute to minute, people are generous or stingy, so you can’t assume your group of friends will always decide the same thing, unless you have it in writing.

  • I don’t think I’ve ever been to an Indian restaurant where they give you unlimited bread and rice – at all the ones I’ve ever been to, you have to pay for the bread and rice per portion, sometimes a ridiculous amount, like $4 for a small plate of rice that barely feeds two people and probably cost them less than 50 cents. Would you mind sharing where this place is?

    I can see now why the waiter was unhappy with you for wanting to split one entree between two people. Obviously he wasn’t worried that you wouldn’t have enough food, because with unlimited bread and rice, there’s no such thing as “not enough food” – he was worried that you would fill up on bread and rice and the restaurant wouldn’t make any money off of you. But I don’t think you did anything wrong in this respect – if the restaurant wanted to make sure that each customer orders at least one entree, they would have a stated policy to that effect.

  • Wow, this seems to be a common problem. I have an easy solution, though (no matter which side of the issue you fall on) – don’t hang out with losers. 🙂

  • Look at the bigger picture. If you going to meet these people often, set the ground rules now and agree to splitting checks. If these are strangers, be polite but firm. For a longer term friendship the extra cost is worth it, as long as it does not become a habit.

  • Well, you’d be completely normal in my group and all my friends make a decent salary. We call it paying your own way. I bet the people who complain about this are ones who are used to leaching off their friends.

    “Some acquaintances are horrible tippers and sometimes they look at what they think the total should be with a tiny tip and subtract what we gave them, so they pay less and part of our tip goes toward their meal.”

    This drives me crazy!! I used to know someone who would do this and we eventually stopped going out with her. The kicker was at this dinner where a bunch of us were trying to decide whether to order individual glasses of wine or to split a bottle. A few of us were interested, so we decided on getting at least one bottle. We asked this girl if she’d been planning on ordering a glass, thinking we might get a second bottle. Her response? “No. I’ll just have some of yours.” We all just stared at her.

  • I refuse to eat at restaurants that wont split checks, they already know who ordered what, because they have to bring it to you.If the restaurant refuses I usually make a small fuss (emphasis on small) and then privately call the manager/owner the next day. One of the things I have discovered is where a waiter refused to do it is because he is worried about his tip, If one person tips poorly in a group everyone else absorbs the loss,but in split checks, he may get not get hardly any extra. Even when they tack on the minimum tip for parties of x or more.

  • If I am in a small group 2-5 people, I would generally suggest each paying his/her own share. But I would try to avoid awkwardness by taking charge of the bill myself, calculating my share, and then handing it to the next person to calculate theirs. That way you avoid a situation where someones else calculates the amount for everyone. Once that is done, I think it is too late to just pay your own share, because someone else will have to pay more to make up for the shortfall – which is unfair.

    For a larger group, especially for a special occasion, I think the bill should be split evenly. You can’t think of it as “unfair” – you are not paying for the food, but are sharing equally in the cost of the event.

  • You were wrong to only pay your “share” in this case. Unlike going out with a few friends, this was a group event. Group events like the one you described are assumed to be split by attendees since you are paying for the whole event itself and not just what food you are eating. Think of it this way, what if this group event was catered and there was a room rental fee? Would you pay for only the portion of the catering that you personally used or the square footage of the room or would you just assume a split? Sorry, but not paying your share in this case is a bit tacky. If your “meek” friend didn’t tell you, it’s because they were embarrased for you. Of course had you split the check in the manner you did with friends going out to dinner, it would be fine.

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