A Dilemma: Out With A Group & They Want To Split That Bill Equally.

What to do, what to do?
We’ve all been there. You know how it goes… you’re out with your friends, you order an inexpensive item on the menu to be your frugal/responsible self, and then the bill comes and someone says, “Let’s just split it equally! That’ll make it easy!” Then, out come the wallets, credit cards, and cash. It’s awkward to pipe up and say, “Uh, but, uh, I only had the $7 thing not the $35 thing, and no wine or dessert or appetizers!”
No one what’s to be the cheap/poor/miser in the group. I’ve been there. Trust me. It’s not a fun place to be. So, how do you deal?
Lucky for us, a reader wrote in with that very question:
“This weekend I went out to a friend’s birthday dinner which was out at a restaurant. We’d recently gone out to eat for this friends’ sisters birthday and everyone in the group paid for themselves. Additionally, during all the other previous times we went out, that I can remember, we all pay for ourselves.
Well this weekend, when the bill came, one of the guests at the table suggested that we all split the bill 6 ways to make things simpler and so that the birthday girl wouldn’t have to pay. This was devastating to me and my wallet! I’d looked at the menu before getting to the restaurant and chose one of the cheapest entrees, which was $15.75. With tax and tip I figured my bill would be no more than about $20. I even brought about that amount of cash. The final bill was $300. Split six ways and its $50!!! I sucked it up and paid $50 because I was too embarrassed to say anything, particularly since I only really knew the birthday girl, her husband and her sister. Any advice on what to do in those situations or what to do before the bill comes to avoid those types of situations?”

We asked the etiquette experts all about the best—and classiest—ways to handle this common money conundrum.

But first things first: “In my opinion, the decision to split the bill should happen before you sit down for dinner and not when the wait staff brings the check,” says Toni Dupree, an etiquette coach with Etiquette & Style by Dupre based in Houston.
Ahead, more experts share what you need to know about when and how that restaurant check should be split—and how to pull it off with ease.

Consider your dining companion’s situation.
The best way to handle dining out with a friend or a group is to be mindful of your companions. Before you default to splitting a check down the middle, realize that not everyone is in the same financial situation. Also, diners may order varying items, indulge in alcohol, or even have more courses.  Experts say it’s perfectly acceptable to ask your companion(s) if they are amenable to dividing the check.
“If, and only if, everyone agreed to split the bill before the meals are ordered, then it is OK to evenly divide that check when the bill arrives,” confirms Karene Putney, CEO of Etiquette Etiquette.

Splitting tip and tax regardless is the norm.
Even if meal and beverage totals are tallied according to each person, Putney explains different standards apply to tax and gratuity for the check.
“It is also proper etiquette to split tax and tip evenly among the table even if the bill is not split down the middle when dining in a group,” Putney says.

Be your own advocate.
If it’s your prerogative to have separate checks based on either your history dining with a certain friend, and/or if you expect to order modestly, it’s fine to ask the server for an individual check. You should also feel comfortable telling your friends your preference.
“As far as friends go, you should be comfortable enough to have an upfront conversation and just put everything on the table in advance without worrying about it,” says Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert with The Protocol School of Texas in San Antonio.
Gottsman insists that speaking up first can clear the air—and will likely be appreciated. “Most people feel the same way and are waiting for the first person to speak up,” she explains. Gottsman adds that good friends should be able to feel “emotionally safe” to broach uncomfortable topics such as their personal finances. “After the conversation, there will be an understanding, and everything will fall into place,” she says.

Pony up to pay for an honoree.
Gottsman says there’s an implied understanding if a group is taking someone out for a birthday or some other occasion that celebrates them.
“When you’re taking someone out for their birthday, the birthday person would not pay, but the friends would split the check evenly and pick up the birthday honoree,” she says. There’s always the likelihood that one person may order more than another, but this should be an accepted consideration if the group is treating one attendee.

For a non-special occasion, it’s OK to calculate—and pay for—your own meal price.
From an etiquette perspective, if you don’t want to bring the subject up at the start of the meal, at the conclusion of the meal it’s acceptable to pay for what your share of the bill is.
“At the end of the meal, you can just contribute what you have calculated that you owe,” affirms Gottsman. “The key is to speak up so you don’t feel taken advantage of.”

Bottom Line
The arrival of the check could be an awkward moment, so Gottsman says it’s best to state your preference early. She says you can announce pre-meal how you’d like the check to be taken care of, being proactive by saying something like, “Please put this on separate checks” to the server, so that everyone can relax and enjoy the conversation. 

Still, there are some friends who just want to split the bill down the middle; for some people, that works, and for others, it’s an annoyance. “Once again, this is the time, before the meal takes place, to establish how you plan to pay,” says Gottsman. “You can say to the group, ‘I’m going to grab my own check’ so they know you’re not going to be part of the final split.”

Ultimately, it’s on you to be communicative. If you always walk away confused or irritated that the bill was not split to your liking, Gottsman says it’s your responsibility to respectfully and kindly correct the situation the next time around.

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No one wants to be the cheap/poor/miser in the group. Most of us have all been there and if you haven’t yet, Trust us it’s not a fun place to be. So, how do you deal?

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