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?
That’s an interesting dilemma. In the days before Wes and I got “more frugal”, we would have insisted on paying the full check. These days, we would have paid the $45 .. but wouldn’t have been happy about it. I think you did the right thing by taking the middle ground. Too bad that one person absorbed the cost though. Everyone should have paid what they owed, not the even split.
I’ve never quite understood the “split the check evenly” mentality, possibly because I’ve never run into it – I’ve been splitting checks with friends for years, and at the end of the meal, we all look at the tab and throw in for our share to cover our food, beverages, and tip.
I’d peg it as regional, but you’re not that far from me (I’m in Eastern PA). Is it laziness that drives this sort of check-splitting? I’m just not clear on why it would ever be considered necessary or appropriate.
Kudos to you for standing your ground!
Clever Dude says
@Dani, I don’t think it was laziness in this case as we had the guest of honor right there was I don’t think anyone (including ourselves) wanted to openly haggle about the costs and make him feel bad (although he had no reason to).
If it was just a large group where everyone was paying, then I would have been more vocal and said “this is what we owe and you all can subtract it from the total and divide THAT amongst yourselves).
And yeah, I do feel bad for the guy who picked up the remainder (probably an extra $15), but on the other hand, he was 45 minutes late with bringing the guest of honor to dinner. We were hungry! (didn’t mention that in the article).
I think you’re quite generous! You can go out to eat with us ANYTIME!
Ben @ Trees Full of Money says
These situatios are always difficult for us as well!
To be honest, there are times when I would rather just pay for the entire tab ourselves than watching people play the oh gee, how much do I owe again game!
Bottom line is it’s difficult enough being frugal while dining out, it makes it even more difficult to be frugal when dining out with “unfrugal” friends!
I probably would of paid whatever the collector said and chaulked it up as a lesson learned!
Luckily that situation has only happened to me once and I just put in what I spent and said that was my share. I would mostly feel bad for the guy who got stuck with the extra, but otherwise, you did a good job sticking up for yourself!
Luckily our friends tend to always pay for themselves, or I’d stop going out with them. I do ask for separate checks sometimes because other odd things happen to us.
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.
We also run into problems with a certain group where they do total up what they owe, but “miscalculate” or “forget” tax and tip, so the final amount is always short and we’re not sure who is the culprit. With those we’re never sure if it’s intentional or a true mistake…
We tend to not dine out as much anyway, and invite people over to the house to grill, etc. It’s so much easier that way!
J. Money says
Looks like you did better than i did! I stood my ground, at first, but then gave in the the evil stares to avoid any more awkwardness 😉
It looks like it cost us, and you guys, a few extra dollars – but at least everyone’s still friendly!
Yeah that was awkward. I decided with my friends before we order about making mine separate. I don’t eat a lot of things at restaurants so it works for me that way.
I don’t eat meat so if they are going to order a meat appetizer to share I don’t see why I should have to pay for it when I won’t even touch it.
But hey it works out for my friends and everyone decides who gets a split and who gets their own check before we order and we make sure to tell the waitstaff…we have not had any problems yet.
Amazing. I had a very similar situation one a few days ago and I received the check and oddly enough, once the tip was added, if we divided the bill or paid for what we ate, it was the same! That was easy!!
But whenever we go to an expensive establishment, ego goes out the window and what I honestly feel is fairness takes over. I am not ashamed to request that I pay for what I eat and drink.
Good going Clever Dude!!
First, I’m not crazy about the “split the bill evenly” method, as those who (a) don’t eat meat, (b) don’t eat appetizers, and (c) don’t drink [or don’t drink much] usually end up helping to bankroll other peoples’ meat, appetizers, and alcohol.
Among people of basically even financial ability, or among people who dine out together a lot and generally eat/drink pretty evenly, this probably isn’t much of an issue–you pay a little more this time, maybe someone else pays a little more next time, etc.
But if you’ve got a mixture of friends where some of them make six figures, some of them are struggling to support kids on a single income, some of them are scraping by at $9.75 an hour, some of them are freelancers with irregular income, etc., I think it becomes a much greater issue.
No one wants to be the one at the meal to say, “Um, I kind of can’t afford the four rounds of drinks, five appetizers, and sampler platter of desserts… can we tone it down?” But as (s)he’s sitting there watching his/her grocery budget for the next week go down the friends’ gullets, the scraping-by-guy or single-income-mom is probably thinking, “Great. Either I’m a cheapskate to my friends, or I don’t eat for the remainder of the week.”
Part of it is how sensitive the group is to that kind of situation. I don’t think it’s courteous to expect others to kick in for your own indulgences, if it’s obvious that they aren’t indulging along with you, or if they had no idea that would be expected of them prior to the bill arriving.
If it is a planned get-together, like a going away party or birthday party, then all parties should be notified ahead of time that it’s a “split the bill evenly” situation–never assume everyone “already knows” or “should know” that. That can affect whether someone accepts or declines the invitation, and it will put everyone on notice to have cash on hand. (A LOT of people carry only debit cards, and rarely have cash at the ready, making an unexpected split-it-evenly situation very difficult.)
If it’s a more impromptu get-together, then I think common sense and common courtesy go a long way. E.g., if you’re on your fifth round of daiquiris, and the rest of the group is still lingering over their first or second beer, don’t you dare expect them to “split the bill evenly” at the end of the evening. Similarly, if you decide to order the lobster/steak special along with the house dessert specialty, and the majority of the group is ordering the burger-salad combo, be decent and cough up the extra cash without being asked at the end of the meal.
The difference between being sensitive about this topic and not caring is, for many people, the difference between being financially able to socialize with their friends on their special occasions and having to send their regrets.
Finally, if you’re the “organizer” of the event, I think you have to be prepared to kick in the extra if everyone else’s contributions don’t cover it. It’s not pleasant, and it’s not preferable, and it’s not fair, but I’ve been in situations where the event organizer insisted on going around to each person individually and collected the extra $0.75 owed, rather than just paying it and letting it go. That’s tacky, and that’s uncomfortable. (Guess how many of us were excited to go to the next event he planned?) If you organize a group event where it’s a split-it-evenly situation (either because of convenience or because the restaurant you chose won’t allow it other ways), then you kind of take the risk of absorbing your friends’ miscalculations.
Be courteous. Have common sense. And never be the one at the table with the largest bill at the end of the evening. And there you go.
I don’t know, it sounds like you knew the bill was going to be split at the beginning, at least you knew when appetizers were ordered. Even though you weren’t super hungry when it came time to order entrees, you both could have ordered one and taken the leftovers home for another meal. Then you wouldn’t have looked so cheap, and the guy collecting the money wouldn’t have had to put more in. Nor would he tell his coworkers what a tightwad you were behind your back.
Clever Dude says
1) No, we didn’t know it would be split evenly at the beginning. Why would you think that by ordering appetizers that it would? Yes, splitting appetizers evenly makes sense, but not when you get to the entrees.
2) Why would I want to spend another $11-14 on a second meal when I didn’t want it? That’s just dumb.
3) I don’t care what he tells his coworkers because I don’t work with any of these people any longer. Actually only a few of us even work at the original company (that we met each other at) anymore.
We have some friends where splitting the check evenly works out well for us.
But, I’m reminded of one time I was with a group of friends. We went to a pricey Cajun restaurant.
My wife and I had a late lunch, so we decided to just split an entree. We also only had water with our meal.
Well, there were 2 people at the table who ordered very expensive meals and wine. Then, after dinner, they started getting after dinner drinks. When the bill came, they tried to get us to subsidize their expensive meals and drinks.
Luckily, we weren’t the only ones at the table who didn’t like that idea too much. My wife and I paid our $25, and 2 other couples paid their fair share, but the other two were left to pay the remaining $250 bill.
Needless to say, we haven’t been out to dinner with those 2 since.
In a large group like that, I would just go along with the even split if that is what everyone has agreed to- even if it means I pay more than I should. In a smaller group, I would get split checks or do a little more math to get fair totals for everyone.
Maybe It’s just me but I always insist on separate checks. I’d rather pay my own share of the bill, so it’s harder on the restaurant? If it’s too big a deal, then I just won’t eat there. I’ve been burned too many times. For example, went out to eat with a group and one person who was a complete stranger, a “friend of a friend” suddenly got an “emergency call” left without paying his portion (he’d had drinks and expensive appetizers) and everyone else was stuck paying for him. Needless to say, some people don’t have any shame!
Why is the individual who covered your share “meek” and perhaps not just generous?
Clever Dude says
@Sam, why do you have to question me? I’ve known the guy for 7 years and know when he’s being generous and when he’s afraid to speak up. Remember, I’M the Clever Dude, not you 😉
Stuff like this makes me kind of glad I don’t have any friends, so I don’t get into this kind of situation.
Honestly I think you are extremely cheap and extremely boring. Let’s not even get into the fact that you rarely go out for dinner and when you do you split a cheap meal and just drink water. But the fact that you were so cheap about paying an extra $12-$15 for a celebratory group meal is baffling. Regardless of how you feel about yourself, I can assure you the others at the table think you’re a cheapskate and that is how you’ll be perceived by people. I go out with my friends to eat most nights. I’m glad we don’t have these issues, friendships are more important. The least you could have done is to ask that the bill be split 11 ways instead of 12 (where you end up paying 2/12ths of it). That would have been proper etiquette when everyone was fine with splitting the bill (because frankly most people aren’t that cheap) but you shared 1 meal so splitting by 11 makes sense. I like how you doubled up on your cheap fleabag behavior by taking advantage of a guy you know as “meek” to save a few bucks. You must have some great friendships, if you ever fall overboard on a ship you better hope your friends will try to save you. Because from the sound of it, you sound like someone not really worth the effort.
I wrote about it here. http://www.livingalmostlarge.com/2008/02/10/splitting-meals/
It pisses me off because they expect to share when they shouldn’t. Plus I have no hesistation speaking up and yet they still do it!
What is wrong with people?
It sounds like you were the “meek” one. Although, I don’t feel you should have had to “cough up” the difference, I feel it was “your responsibility” to “make good” on your portion of debt that was ear-marked for you. If you felt so strongly in only paying your fair share, you should have made this known to the entire dinner party. (They would, then, all be aware of their additional responsibility, whether they pay it or not is up to them.) Was that too awkward for you? Instead, you chose to avoid that situation and “weasel” your way out the door. Your sound too proud to have done so, this could be construed as “cheap.”
Hey Clever dude!!! I know I work pretty hard for my money and in these days of $4.00 a gallon we should all be careful. Carefree attitudes about spending money is merely the begining of some nasty financial situations. I would never expect someone else to pay for my share in that situation. Nor would I just pay without question, I think you did good, a wise thinker, without hurting anyone.
T Enderle says
Wow, JD and Dee, you must be flush with cash. 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? A group goes to Vegas for the weekend. Do you pay the entire room expense even though friends shared the room with you? No to those? Why should a meal be any different? It’s not that difficult to figure out what each person owes, but if the actual numbers are too confusing, people can round up to the nearest dollar. That might help with the tax/tip dilemma, too.
As for not addressing the entire group, this was a party situation, and it might have put a damper on the festivities. Instead of meek, I would call that considerate. While it’s a great idea to find out ahead of time how the check will be handled, often planenrs just don’t know or choose not to address that beforehand.
Why does all of this make CleverDude boring? Is drinking soda or tea or a beer that much more interesting than drinking water? Is stuffing yourself or ordering more than you want more interesting than splitting a meal?
How on earth does all this lead to the conclusion that CleverDude isn’t worth saving if he falls overboard on a ship??? Good God, a life judgement based on a restaurant bill.
T Jones says
I would have more than likely picked up the check for the table as I do most of the time.
Well, in a large group of acquaintances, not good friends, I would have paid the $45, because I am new to the frugal living thing and still worry about looking cheap. I know that’s a bit weak, but it’s where I’m at. If it were close friends who understood me better, I’d pay for only what I ate. And I always insist that the restaurant split the check. If they give me any crap about it, AFTER I’ve eaten, I’ll speak to the manager, then never return. There are too many good restaurants to put up with that lousy attitude.