Splitting the Check: When “equally” equals twice as much as you ordered

Q: A group of co-workers and I have agreed to do lunch periodically. During the initial lunch gathering, I had a great time–that is, until the check arrived. None of us had asked for separate checks, so I figured that we’d each pay for our individual orders. Before I could pay the waiter for my portion, someone suggested that we just ‘split the check equally.’

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not a cheapskate, but I didn’t agree with this, as of course, some had ordered more expensive items than the rest of us. I didn’t want to squabble over the bill or appear insanely frugal, so I ended up paying a hefty amount as a consequence.

I’d love to continue with the lunches, but I need a tactful way to express my desire to fairly pay for only the cost of my meal (including tax and gratuity) without looking cheap or ruffling feathers. Please advise.

A: Simply be frank with your co-workers and suggest that the next time you go out for lunch separate checks would be the fair way to go.  Do this before your next luncheon to avoid last minute confusion and possible embarrassment.


  1. Jazzgirl205

    You could tell your waiter, as you are seated, that you would like your check separate. I have seen this “divide equally” ploy all my life. The person who made the suggestion is never the one who just ordered the salad. The others sheepishly agree because they don’t want to look cheap.

  2. Vanna Keiler

    Great idea Jazzgirl. Another way to circumvent the issue, if you can anticipate your meal cost in advance, is to bring only enough cash to cover your own meal or an estimated amount of how much you will spend. That way, if someone wants to put it on their plastic, they can take the cash from you and the rest can divvy it up as they see fit, or calculate you out of the equation.

  3. Jody

    All the advice here is great. If the group agrees at the outset to get separate checks, then at the restaurant somebody says “oh it’s on one check” be prepared to speak up and tell the waiter you’d like your check separate from the others.

  4. Elizabeth

    There are some restaurants where the waitstaff for whatever reason cannot or will not do separate checks. In this instance, if the relative amounts of each person’s bill are similar enough, I would just go ahead and split, even if it meant I would spend $5 or $10 more. But at a certain point, you have to be willing to say, “Oh, actually I think we ordered different enough that we should take the time to figure out our own share. My phone has a calculator, and I’d be willing to do it!” I think half the time people just don’t want to sit there and calculate 8 different totals, but sometimes that’s what’s required.

    I’m lucky – in my circle of friends, it’s the person who just ordered the salad who will say, “Let’s just split it!” and the people who ordered steak and dessert who will protest and say, “No, I ordered way more than you, let’s figure it out.”

    Sometimes if its close, but some people ordered one more drink then others, the check will be evenly split, but the extra-drink people will leave all the tip.

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