Last night my husband and I celebrated a friend’s 30th at a great bar in DC. By the time we arrived 30 to 40 friends had already gathered. Most of them had ordered food and from what we could tell the waitress was adding everything to one bill. We looked around at all of the people and immediately decided we didn’t want anything to do with that bill. We couldn’t imagine 40 people trying to decipher the amount they owed after a long night of drinking.
So we left the table and headed over to the bar. At the bar we bumped into an old college friend who was also avoiding the tab at the table. Trying to get 30 to 40 people to pay their fair share and tip appropriately was the last thing any of us wanted to do, so for the rest of the night we ordered drinks from the bartender.
I’m continually perplexed by how complex it is to pay the bill when dining with friends. Some of our friends want to itemize the bill. They add up exactly how much their beverage cost, their meal cost, add in 15% tip and put down the amount they owe down to the penny. Other friends want to split the bill evenly regardless of how much they’ve eaten. A friend of mine from college was famous for drinking 10 beers in a night, while the rest of us drank 2, and then offering to split the bill evenly. Many of us resented hanging out with him. After all, we didn’t appreciate paying to watch him get intoxicated.
A week or so ago we went barhopping in Canton with coworkers. At each bar a different coworker picked up the tab. We know the tab was a little bit more at some bars and a little less at others but at each establishment someone picked up the bill and paid and no one complained about it.
Most of the time I suggest splitting the bill straight down the middle. You may order an extra beer, while your friend orders dessert, but at the end of the night the difference usually isn’t too large. Plus, over time the cost difference between friends seems to even out. Maybe you order dessert tonight but next week your friend orders a more expensive dinner. So I almost always suggest splitting the bill straight down the middle.
My dad had the best advice for sharing meals with friends and coworkers. He often traveled for business and quickly learned it’s best to be the last to order. He assumed that his coworkers would split the bill evenly and gauged his dinner selection on his coworkers orders. If they ordered steak and lobster he certainly didn’t order soup and salad. And if he only wanted soup and salad he made it known that he would not split the bill at the time that he ordered.