How Do You Split the Bill Among Friends?

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.

6 thoughts on “How Do You Split the Bill Among Friends?”

  1. I agree with your thinking (and your dad’s). I’m one to speak up in a crowd and say “I only should pay $10, not $20.” However, not everyone is as outspoken, such as my wife. She’s gotten shafted many times with her coworkers, who love to order appetizers, desserts and drinks. She gets a salad, water and nothing else.

  2. I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of months and only today did I realize that you must live near me. As much as I never want to pay more than my fair share, it’s also awful dining with people who will argue you down to the dollar about paying the check. I remember an awful friend I had in high school and her even more awful mother. We went on a debate-team trip and the mother refused to tip the waitress more than 5%. She was the chaperon so she had way more money than the rest of us (all high school students), but we were so embarrassed that we snuck back to our table and left 15%. There’s frugal, and then there’s just plain cheap.

  3. We have this issue when we go out to eat as a department at lunch. One guy in partucular always orders the most expensive thing, plus drinks something other than water. But if our big boss puts it on his card (and we all pay him back when we get to the office), he always splits it down the middle. if my immediate boss does it, however, she’ll only make us pay for what we got.

  4. Isn’t it funny how the one coworker or friend who consistently orders the most expensive items always wants to split the check equally?

  5. Generally if it’s a shared thing then I will split the check evenly, unless I just can’t afford to do that – in which case I arrange a separate check ahead of time before ordering.

    I started doing this after a meal out where everyone ordered steak and multiple bottles of wine and desserts while I ordered a salad and only drank water, and then got told my ‘share’ was $100. Never again.

  6. I guess I just don't understand the problem people have with eating out in groups. When my family members get together, the waiter asks before bringing the check, "How do you want this split?" Instead of us deciding how to pay when the check comes, we tell the waiter which people want their meals on the same bill. It might be a pain for the waiter, but it's easier than dealing with the kind of problems it seems other people have.


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