How To Split A Check At A Restaurant

Eating dinner with a group of people at a restaurant can be fun. You know what’s not fun? Trying to figure out who owes what when the check comes—when Jenny, like, only got the roasted beet and goat cheese salad, but Freddy got some stupid $38 hamburger (THE MEAT IS FROM PAT LaFRIEDA, OKAY?!), but Jenny had three cocktails compared to Gabby’s single glass of Pinot, so maybe Jenny actually owes more than everyone else, because those cocktails were $16 each (THE BARTENDER, EXCUSE ME, “MIXOLOGIST,” USED ANGOSTURA BITTERS AND HAND-CHIPPED ICE, OKAY?!), but Franny says she owes less since she didn’t even order an entree on her own, even though she definitely took bites from half the main courses at the table, which was super annoying (ugh, such a Franny move), and everyone went to a stupid liberal-arts college so no one has the math skills to properly figure this out, and, you know what, this totally isn’t even worth the aggravation, the waiter looks like he wants to stab us with a salad fork, why didn’t I sit at home and get a pizza delivered, I don’t even really like you people! So yeah, splitting the check can be stressful. Here’s how to deal.

If you are under the age of 25…
You are probably poor! Because of this, it is OKAY to look at the bill and figure out exactly what you owe for the food and beverages you consumed, in addition to whatever tax and tip is appropriate. Some people will try to get you to split the check evenly because it’s tedious to go through and figure out that Johnny owes $24 whereas Lisa owes $32 or whatever, but that $8 difference is a drink at the bar later, so stand your ground.

NOT OKAY, however, is to be that person who got a $10 appetizer and a $20 entree and throws in $30 and hopes that no one else notices. People notice! Don’t be that person. Everyone hates that person. (Why is it always the same person?) In this day and age, tax and tip add 28% to the cost of the meal, which is not an insignificant amount. Do you really want your friends to hate you over 28% percent? If you don’t have the cash, that’s rough, but you’ll have to put it on your card anyway, even if you’re already behind on your payments.

(And I really hate to generalize/be sexist here, but young attractive females try to pull this off all the time. They’re all, “Oh, ha ha, I’m sorry I’m a little short, smiley face!” I’m glad you have a nice smile, I really am, but if you’re not even sleeping with me, why am I paying for you? Your less cute friends don’t pull this shit; they’re civilized and understand that not everything in life is handed out on a silver platter. This is one reason why there should be a law requiring YAFs to pass some sort of basic etiquette test before they’re allowed to hang out in public with the gen pop. Honestly, is there any sub-species of human more ill-behaved than a young attractive female? I don’t think so.)

Oh, and if you don’t have cash on you—which you probably don’t, because you are poor—you’ll probably have to ask the waiter to put different dollar amounts on different cards. Recognize how annoying this is and please leave a nice tip.

If you’re under 25 and not poor, you probably work as an analyst at an investment bank and make a magnitude of 5x-7x as much as your friends. If this is the case, throw them a bone and just pick up the tab every now and then? They’ll appreciate it.

If you are over the age of 25…
Did you not drink as much as everyone else? Was your pasta entree half as expensive as the steak? Did you not get dessert? I’m sorry, but no one told you to be a teetotaler, or to not get the steak, or to not get dessert, you pussy. When you agreed to go out to dinner with your friends, you implicitly agreed to the following social contract: “I, (your name), hereby agree that when the bill comes, I will pay my share of the bill, calculated as follows: Total cost divided by # of people, regardless of who got what and how many. I further agree not to publicly complain about this methodology, even if I get a little screwed, because there will be times in the future when what I end up paying is considerably less than the dollar value of what I eat/drank. It evens out over time. Sincerely, (your signature).” Granted, there are obvious exceptions—e.g., you showed up late and really did only order a glass of wine—when no one would expect you to pay a full share, yet even in these cases it’s generally polite to throw in some cash.

Now, the observant among you have read this, processed it and realized that in a group-dining scenario, one is effectively incentivized to order lavishly and imbibe irresponsibly, because not everyone else will, and thus what you end up paying will be disproportionate to what you actually owe, meaning that you make out like a bandit while your schmuck pals who exercise restraint in the name of fiscal responsibility end up subsidizing you. This is correct! The guy who behaves like a reckless asshole always wins, so long as there are people around to bail him out. Have you learned nothing from CNBC’s coverage of the myriad crises surrounding our financial-service industries?

So basically, when in doubt, go ahead and have another $16 Rum Swizzle. It’s practically free!


Neel Shah notices that you go to the bathroom every time the check comes.

Photo by VolaVale.