Should You Really Split The Bill?

There’s often an awkward pause when the check arrives at a restaurant. Should the bill be split down the middle? Or should you tally up the bill so each person covers their own meal expenses? There’s also the option of requesting separate checks entirely. What are the current best practices around check protocol? We asked the money etiquette experts all about the best—and classiest—ways to handle this common 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.

Culled from by Erica Lamberg

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *