Splitting the Check Shouldn’t Feel Like Rocket Science

Dividing the bill at the end of a meal can be a very contentious issue—especially among friends. When you’re young, supported by your parents, and probably shouldn’t be eating out in the first place, it becomes that much trickier. As an undergraduate student at a university where dining money is used at restaurants, I’ve picked up three few painless methods that work for my peers and me.

Ask for separate checks
If everyone plans to pay his or her own way, request separate bills when you sit down. This saves the waiter or waitress the hassle of rushing to re-print the checks when you inevitably forget to ask after the meal, so everyone can eat at ease. However, some restaurants have policies against splitting checks among large numbers of customers.

Split the bill evenly
When everyone orders meals within a few dollars of one another, this is a simple, polite way to pay. If your excuse for wanting to divide precisely is that your meal cost $8.99 and everyone else’s was $10.99, you probably shouldn’t be eating out at all. You’re dining like adults; nickel and diming your friends is immature and unnecessarily complicated.

Take turns buying
Many people eat with the same group regularly. If your friends have this type of routine, pick up the bill this time, understanding that someone else will pay next week. And if someone is broke you might pick up the slack on his or her rotation in exchange for an invite for a cheap, home cooked meal another day. Everyone presumably likes one another enough to eat together in the first place—paying shouldn’t be the painful end to an otherwise enjoyable meal.

How do you split the check?

[Ed. Note: Mallory reminds us that we must include a link to this piece Choire wrote about how gay men split the check, which is not contentious at all.]


Jacqueline Drayer would rather eat at Taco Bell than at a check-splitting restaurant any day. And no, unfortunately she wasn’t paid to say that. Photo: Shutterstock/ssuaphotos


30 Comments / Post A Comment

Megano! (#124)

I either split it or take turns. I mostly take turns with my bestie since we probably eat out together the most.

ElBlynx (#499)

Thank goodness I am old enough that people are able to just split the bill evenly. When I flashback to a few years ago…

1.) People who order a bunch of appetizers without explicitly getting group permission to split the cost. It becomes awkward because you feel forced to both eat them and pay for them or not eat them and then the check is magically short.
2.) Alcohol virtually ensures check madness. The one or two sober people will desperately try to fairly calculate the booze cost while all the drunkards completely forget how to do math or how much they actual drank. They will be shocked at the total cost of the bill and argue that they shouldn’t have to pay so much since they didn’t eat that much even though drinks are usually way more expensive than food.
3.) People who have to leave early and don’t leave enough cash. Ugh, whether intentional or not, so rude.
4.) The noble person who must ensure that everyone antes up, who usually ends up contributing $20 because they are undoubtedly short because people forget about tax and tip and large groups often have a 18% mandatory gratuity.
5.) Awkward birthday dinners where you are forced to sit with a bunch of people you don’t know and then check madness ensues and you are forced to deal with this scenario with people you’ve never met before.

ElBlynx (#499)

@ElBlynx Okay, clearly that Awl article was the place for curmudgeonly complaining. Carry on being sane, practical, and full of good advice, Billfold. You are the guidance councilor who believes in everybody!

iffie (#1,911)

@ElBlynx That Awl article is beyond perfect. I just went to look for it. I reference it often! I think the gyst was something like, we’re all adults and we all agreed to go out so just pay and no whining.

melis (#42)

This is the Awl link Logan meant to include [gives serious side-eye Loganward].

melis (#42)

Assuming that I am correct in guessing Logan inserted the links after Jacqueline submitted the article. If I should be yelling at Mike, I can do that too.

Megano! (#124)


emmabee (#2,008)

@ElBlynx yes yes this. Also, 6) When one person severely undertips and clearly isn’t just making a math mistake, and everyone else has to figure out how to add more money without seeming passive-aggressive.
7)When the undertipper makes more money than you.

krystalkairi (#1,975)

Every time I’ve gone out to eat lately the server has just asked if we want separate bills, so I’ve just gone with that. It’s easy, and it means I don’t have to worry that I’m ordering something too expensive or too cheap compared to everyone else.

Mari D (#1,946)

I would love an article on how to ensure you don’t get unfairly stuck with the check.

I live in LA, land of the shameless freeloader and have come to dread attending the big birthday bash, since half the party will undoubtedly disappear right before the check arrives. The choice has become 1) dont go or 2)leave early but throw a bunch of money on the table just before you do. Obviously neither option is good.

If there is strategy to holding or attending one of these events and not getting burned, I would love to hear about it.

pearl (#153)

@Mari D I live in LA too! But I have no friends so this is not an issue. When I do happen to be with other people, I sometimes just ask for my own check (quietly, to the waiter) some 15 minutes before I leave, so you avoid the weird splitting 10 ways, can pay your own bill, and can leave before the eventual awkward 10-way split.

melis (#42)


melis (#42)


melis (#42)

Oh Logan you are going to get yelled at so hard on Gchat

cherrispryte (#19)

@melis The Neel Shah link needed to be posted anyway, otherwise I’d have to make snide jokes down here about how pretty girls apparently don’t pay their fair share.

melis (#42)

@cherrispryte Let’s never forget that Jolie promised to make us brie naan that day.


cherrispryte (#19)

@MollyculeTheory YOU I MISS YOU.

@melis Ooooh the brie naan. We need to get on that.

eraserface (#1,628)

Or, you know, just do the math. It’s really not that painful, I don’t ever have a problem figuring it out with various groups of friends. Or maybe I don’t go out with super large groups?

selenana (#673)

I never used to have this problem when I was younger because my friends weren’t generally jerks and mostly just paid for what they ordered. Recently, I’ve been hanging out with a certain group of people that has its share of appetizer and steak ordering alcoholic check evaders. I’m a vegetarian who gets one or two drinks and am tired of subsidizing jerks because it NEVER EVENS OUT. I am super happy to treat a friend, cover a bit of difference, whatever, but I really don’t want to pay for your rack of ribs and six beers. So yeah, I pay for what I ordered. Plus a share of any appetizer that I was able to eat even if I just sniffed it. And sure, a couple of bucks extra. But really, I went to dinner on Tuesday and the difference between my bill and the guy next to me was $30. At a moderately priced restaurant. I just don’t want to pay for that guy.

@selenana YES, this. I’m on a pretty tight budget, and I still like to see my friends, and I still like to eat out. I usually order something vegetarian (not because I’m cheap, it’s just how I eat), and I don’t get appetizers, and I only get one or two drinks. I REALLY REALLY can’t afford to subsidize the dude or lady who got an appetizer, an entree that cost 10 bucks more than mine, and four drinks. It really does not EVER even out,and I can’t afford to throw down that extra twenty bucks if everyone does that. So…should I just stay home? Lose friends because I always have to turn down invites?

This attitude irks me, too: “You’re dining like adults” WTF. It’s nice that ‘dining as adults’ means ‘spending money on other people’s stuff even if you can’t afford to’.

Edited to say: Oh, I’m also 32, and I’ve worked at non-profits my entire career. I certainly consider myself an adult, despite my inability to split checks evenly. Helping the greater good does not get you expendable income.

selenana (#673)

@Jake Reinhardt I’m in a similar age/experience bracket, and while I’m not broke, I’m certainly not rich. I’m an adult, and PART of the reason I’m not broke/living paycheck to paycheck is because I don’t blow all my money at the bar/on $6 restaurant beers.

Faintly Macabre (#1,043)

@Jake Reinhardt Yeah, that’s always bugged me. Isn’t part of being an adult being responsible about money? So how is it worse to spend less and want to pay your share than to buy 5 drinks at dinner and then say, “Oh, let’s just split it evenly!”

My parents almost never eat out, and are frugal when they do. They recently showed up towards the end of a group dinner at a restaurant. I think my mom had a drink and my dad got a small salad. When the check came, the host told them that since they were splitting the check evenly, they each owed $50. Luckily, there were some sensible people there who insisted on covering part of what they “owed.”

CubeRootOfPi (#1,098)

Most times it’s fine; we just pay our own way or someone treats. However, in one group of friends there’s an income disparity between us – some of them make six-digit salaries, others (like me) don’t. There’s one guy who’s almost always treating or at least covering some of the meal costs for the lesser-paid ones. It’s sweet of him, but I’ve started declining invitations to hang out with this group in part because it’s not right that he’s covering costs almost all the time (and this group almost always picks a not-cheap restaurant). Thankfully, this group does not meet often.

Mari D (#1,946)

I know what you’re saying! I make decent money but the places my richer friends choose are always the $100 a person places. Its in my best interests (career-wise) to attend these dinners because I meet a lot of potentially helpful people, but I dread being labeled as the charity case.

BUT–a mitigating factor–when I mentioned my plight to another friend, he assured me my generous hosts were going to put these dinners on their company expense account anyway, so I shouldnt sweat it.

If I’ve never experienced check-splitting anxiety does that mean I’m the one everyone hates because I never pay enough? Because I DO I swear.

LizF (#1,399)

Last night I went to drinks/dinner with a group of people all that make much more than I do and also who were all eating multiple courses of food when I had double booked myself with a dinner beforehand and was just having beer and some good discussion before heading home for the night. I made the horrible mistake of not bringing cash and paying for my beer seperately. My friend miscalculated his and his girlfriend’s portion and the server was like “WTF, you only tipped me 3 bucks”(this was done is a really nice professional way by asking “was everything ok with your dinner?”). It was SO embarrassing, however.

The diners cobbled together a generous cash tip (I had already overtipped on my debit card as is my usual for group dinners).

I think it might have been helpful if someone bossy (myself)had taken the receipt and calculated after tax but before tip how much each person had owed because there is no way you could fairly split into quarters a check where everyone’s totals were drastically different. (ie $60 vs $7)

Grubber@twitter (#2,669)

There’s an app for that! Grubber lets you split restaurant bills accurately and fairly by taking into account which food items were eaten individually and which were shared. You can even share the amounts due via SMS or email.

Check it out on iTunes now: https://itunes.apple.com/app/id564582386

Disclosure: I’m the developer of this app.

I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles.
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