Slanted Splitting: When the restaurant bill is a unfair

by epi on September 27, 2011

Q: My husband and I went out with another couple for a nice dinner. They ordered very expensive appetizers and drinks. When the bill came, they expected us to split the bill evenly with them, even though they spent $50.00 more than my husband and I. We paid to avoid an argument. What should we have done?

A: This is an ongoing problem for group dinners.  It somehow is never “fair.” You either have to know you are going to be paying extra to cover the cost of another person’s extra drink or more expensive entrée, or you have to agree ahead of time that someone takes a calculator and divides up the bill precisely.  An alternative is to go to a price fixed restaurant, or a buffet, or other place where the costs are the same and those who drink or order extra deduct and pay that amount before the bill is divided.  Many people simply do not go out in groups anymore because of the acrimony that is caused when it comes to dividing the bill.  The only way it is not acrimonious is if you all agree ahead of time exactly how you are going to organize who pays for what.  Another alternative is to call ahead of time and ask if the restaurant is willing to provide separate checks for groups.  If so, there is no issue.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

TootsNYC September 27, 2011 at 10:50 am

Simply refuse.

Just open up your mouth and calmly say, “Oh, but we order much less expensive entrees.” “Oh, but we didn’t order the expensive wine.”

Just say. Just state the fact: “Our entrees were much less expensive.” (or whatever it is) And even add on “Our share should be about $50 less.” or “Our share should be about $75.”

And then wait. Don’t say anything more. Just state that fact.

Then they will HAVE to say, “Oh, but let’s split the check anyway.” They won’t have the brass to do that.

And if they DO, then you simply repeat, “Our share should be about $75.” Make THEM start “the argument.” You’re not arguing, you’re simply stating the fact.

And remember–these people are thieves. They are takers. Do not ever, ever go to dinner with them again. Drop them from your social circle. NEVER introduce them to a friend. Never invite them along on a restaurant dinner again; you know that they will steal from the people they are eating with, and it would be the height of rudeness to introduce them to your other friends, who are trusting your judgment.

And feel free to mention your experience with them to other people. They deserve the reputation they will get.

I don’t think you should ever have to state in advance, “I won’t pay for all the extras you spend money on.” That should be a given. Anybody who doesn’t enter a group dining-out experience with this assumption, that everybody pays mostly their own way, is a thief.

It’s one thing to say, “oh, don’t be bothering me over $2, that’s too much math.” And it’s totally ok to volunteer for YOU to pay more. But to volunteer other people to pay more is theft. Con men do that.

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Chara September 27, 2011 at 11:46 am

It seems to me that soiling someone else’s reputation with others because they have been rude isn’t any more polite than insisting that someone else pay for part of your meal. I think it is sufficient to state the fact and put them in the position of asking you to pay more. If they do, you are perfectly in the right to decline future invitations to dinner. You might even let them know next time that the money that they spend is outside of your budget.
I would really recommend that you read a book called, “How to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable” by Suzette Haden Elgin. She has an entire chapter about how to deal with people in this type of situation. You can be assertive about what you need without causing a disagreement, and without walking away with bitterness between you.

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Elizabeth September 27, 2011 at 12:37 pm

I agree with Toots 100%, but with one caveat: it isn’t enough that the other couple ordered the wine or appetizers, they have to have consumed them in their entirety as well. If you partook in them, that then obligates you to split the cost for them, even if it wasn’t your ‘decision’ to order them. The best thing to do would be to discuss the order before it is placed. When the other couple suggests the cavier blinis or the $100 bottle of wine, that’s the time to say, “Oh, I’m sorry, it sounds delicious but that’s not in our budget. But you guys go ahead and enjoy!” If they decide to order those things, you don’t say anything and you eat/drink them – sorry, you’re on the hook.

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Just Laura September 27, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Thanks for pointing that out. Once we were out with a group of friends, and we ordered a certain expensive appetizer. Well, everyone wanted to try some and between all of them ate fully half of it. But of course, we were the ones who were on the hook for it when the checks came.

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Country Girl September 27, 2011 at 1:08 pm

A good point. These appetizers/desserts/bottle of wine (Ie things that could be shared) are tricky.

My thought is if you order one of these without consulting the group (ala “Want to share the calamari?”) then you, in effect, should be the one paying. If you offer them up to the group after ordering, while certainly generous, this is still “your” dish.

If either you consult the group, collectively deciding on a dish, or the group members “invite themselves” to try your dish then all should be sharing the cost. And Laura, I too would be a little peeved at group members inviting themselves to “try” your appetizer but not offering to pay. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems once one has broken the seal of asking to taste others incorrectly see this as an open offering.

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Kate September 27, 2011 at 1:39 pm

If you politely ask before ordering drinks to have separate checks, most restaurants will happily comply. It is much easier to split from the beginning than at the end. You need not even discuss it with your dinner companions first. When ordering your drink, just say “could you please put ours on a separate check?” If there are more than 2 couples, this is a signal to the others to let the server know how they would like their’s split. It isn’t impolite – just practical. The exception would be large groups, which should have organized how to pay in advance.

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Gertrude September 27, 2011 at 2:49 pm

I completely agree with Kate. I always do that, and it always is a great way to avoid a problem.

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Heather P September 27, 2011 at 10:56 pm

For me, humor always works wonders. Perhaps this works because I and my social circle are young (under 30), but I’ve always just said with a big grin, “No way man, I’m not paying for your twenty-dollar cocktails!” The other party invariably laughs and says something like “Oh, you’re right, you did just drink water, didn’t you?” Then we settle the bill amicably, with no drama, and certainly without accusing anyone else of being a thief!

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TootsNYC September 28, 2011 at 11:36 pm

One thing the statement of fact does (“our bill should be $75″ or “our entrees were much less expensive”) is it does NOT accuse them of being a thief.

Please note that I didn’t suggest you do that, not by any means.

If your dinner companions are *not* con men, but simply didn’t notice the discrepancy in price, then how would these honorable (but mistaken) people react to your statement of fact? They’d say, “Oh, goodness, I hadn’t realized, here’s the extra money!” And all is well. You can be happy, they can be happy.

So simply act as though they made a mistake, or didn’t notice something. And you are merely bringing it to there attention. They must have goofed; you’ll tell them. They have spinach on their teeth, or they turned down the wrong side street. You just say, “the facts are XYZ.”

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Vanna Keiler October 1, 2011 at 3:41 pm

I have a suggestion for dining with others or with a couple: bring cash. This way, the other couple or friend(s) can mull over the costs among themselves, and you can simply drop the cash you plan to contribute into the plastic card holder/receipt holder and sit back and relax, letting the other party figure out how they want to pay and how much. Problem solved.

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Colleen October 25, 2011 at 10:36 am

Maybe you can suggest a different way to split it with the quiet understanding that some people may do things differently from you and not react like a lunatic like this:

“And remember–these people are thieves. They are takers. Do not ever, ever go to dinner with them again. Drop them from your social circle. NEVER introduce them to a friend. Never invite them along on a restaurant dinner again; you know that they will steal from the people they are eating with, and it would be the height of rudeness to introduce them to your other friends, who are trusting your judgment.”

Dropping people from your life, calling them thieves and blackballing them from your social circle over a restaurant bill misunderstanding will be doing them a favor by letting them know they have just dined with someone who has some serious hostility issues so they know to stay away in the future.

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Lauren (NYC) November 7, 2011 at 9:35 pm

@ Colleen FTW. Seriously? Someone is trying to give the rest of us New Yorkers a bad name.

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Pickmypocketplease July 30, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Worked with two women who were drinking buddies, well we worked , they mostly sat around avoiding it. They loved to go to an early lunch, knock back 3 or 4 expensive drinks each before the meal. No they had no concern about going back to work, they always called for a spilt the bill. They could easily double what others ordered. Got so tired of supporting their lifestyle. Barfly comes to mind with these two beauties. I blamed management on this as most of these were some function of work, avoiding it looked bad, but drinking until you were “loose” was not it would seem. You want to eat and drink like you can afford it, then pick up your own bill cheapo. With these people it is best to give it back to them, thick skin, You know on that $200 bill, “Oh, that much, I thought our share was more like $50, what jacked the price up?” then play stone face/dumb to what you said take out you share in cash, stiff them on the tip. Got a relative that will remove money from a tip from a table, even if she didn’t contribute to it, if she thinks it is too high, most of the time, she pockets it. Every see one of these arm pits of the world? Love how she hangs back to snatch the money.

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