How to fairly divvy up the dining check | Ask Erin

When I am dining with others and receive one check, I worry about a “fair” split.

Dear Erin,
I am hoping you can help me with a question about splitting the bill when eating out with a group. When I am dining with others and receive one check, I worry about a “fair” split. I do not want to break out the calculator and be specific, but is it even appropriate to suggest a more thoughtful split to my fellow diners if one’s total is much higher than other’s?

— Portioning in Poulsbo

Dear Portioning,
It’s important to keep in mind that when dining out, people have different budget amounts. Some see the world as their oyster, while others see the world as their oyster cracker.

That’s a big difference.

If some of your dining partners order the steak and lobster and a glass of wine, and you order a bowl of soup and water, your friends’ portion of the bill is significantly higher. When the bill arrives, your dining buddies should announce: “We ordered more expensive items and will put in enough money to cover our portions.”

Sometimes, especially if you are dining with a big group, someone will suggest making the bill easy and “just splitting it.” This can be a simple solution if everyone in your party ordered approximately the same dollar amount, but if that’s not the case, it’s OK to politely point out that your share is less.

Do this by adding up your total portion in your mind, rounding up to make sure you cover your share, and announce what you are paying. Don’t forget to include amounts for tax and tip. This should give a very big hint to your fellow diners to pay for his or her share of the meal.

In the future, if these particular friends seem to constantly consume more than you, it’s perfectly fine to ask for separate checks when ordering. Nowadays, most restaurants have computers to assist the wait staff when placing your order, making it very simple to divvy up the bill accordingly.

I do know of a group of people who for years have gotten together once a month for breakfast. Over time, this group has decided to split the bill down the middle, no matter if a person orders the Eggs Benedict or a plain piece of toast. They subscribe to the theory that it all evens out in the long run. And it probably does. This can be an easy solution but should be decided ahead of time, and not when the bill arrives.

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