Check Please: A Guide to Eating Out with Friends

Four rounds, three appetizers, and five mains later and the relationship friend at the table announces they are ready to leave. They have “dessert” plans. We’ve all done it.

The planner friend requests the check.

The waiter returns with an uneasy smile. They can’t gauge how this tab will be paid.

The idgaf friend pulls out their wallet and asks “how much do I owe?”

The mathematician friend says “lemme see the check,” and starts doing quadratic equations on their phone.

The bill is $272.88, before gratuity.

Should you split the bill evenly? Should you just pay for what you ordered? It depends.

As someone who regularly dines with friends and I’m familiar with seeing tabs in the neighborhood of $200+, I’m going to say it really does depend.

“Damn I ain’t even realize I ordered all of that.” – The broke friend

My first bit of advice, don’t go out to eat with broke people. Seriously, nobody wants to be at the table trying to figure out down to the penny who owes what while the staff is mopping.

I’m a functionally broke person, by that I mean I still have some change left over after I’ve paid my bills. I also make it a rule not to eat at places where I know my for real broke friends may not be able to foot their portion of the bill. So, if you’re breaking bread with people like this, go someplace you know they can afford. Ask the person or people if they have a place in mind to have an idea of their budget or just ask them for a suggestion.

You can also tell the waiter you need separate checks before placing your order. This will immediately set the precedent that they’re responsible for their order.

“How much I owe?” – The idgaf friend

We all have a friend who wants to pay their bill and make the next move. I like those people. This is the person you want to eat with regularly, they’re also usually ok with splitting the tab down the middle. But broke friends, don’t take advantage. This person is still quietly keeping tabs. If they see you’re always ordering meals significantly more expensive than theirs, eventually y’all can only link up for pizza.

“I only had salad and water!” – The penny pincher friend

Remember when I said it depends, this is what I meant. If someone’s only ordered $10 worth of food and everyone else $35, then the bill shouldn’t be split evenly. The only exception for this is if you’re out celebrating someone. In this case, I suggest splitting the bill evenly but the biscuits and water buddy doesn’t put in for the tip. Instead split the tip amongst the rest of the paying people. I find myself in this situation regularly, because I don’t really drink. My tab tends to be sometimes $10-20 cheaper than everyone else’s. Real friends will not and should not expect you to pay for their drinks under these circumstances.

$81.86 each” – The mathematician friend

This friend is generally the most annoyed at the table because they’ve watched everything go down. They are also usually the planner friend. And now they’re hoping everybody either pulls out cash or all cards and willing to split the bill evenly, so they don’t have to write a memo on the back of the bill. This person will most likely go with the flow of the group when it comes to choosing between itemized or even split payments. They also hope the waiter doesn’t come back to snarlingly announce a maximum of two cards split and no Amex.

So now it’s back to the drawing board with how to pay.

Obviously, the more people at a table the more complex and annoying this can get.

Here’s how you can help:

If dining with friends, friends you like, split the bill down the middle unless someone ordered  significantly less than others. Anything more than $5, the person should pay less. Trust me it will come back around. If the girls are out with a larger group and the menu isn’t plant-eater friendly, my vegetarian friend usually has the lesser tab. She shouldn’t have to chip in an extra $10 for meat, she didn’t eat.

Celebratory outing with friends?

If you’re planning the function, clearly state in the invite and at the table before everyone orders how the bill is being handled. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s better to get it out the way than to have an awkward situation after someone has run up a ridiculous tab. The larger the group the more this needs to be emphasized.

Don’t order what you can’t afford.

Be mindful of how much alcohol you’re ordering in a restaurant, it adds up – quickly.

Settling up:

If you can try to put it all on one card. This will make the server’s life much easier and less room for error. Or make sure you have enough cash to cover your tab.

Cash App, Apple Pay, Venmo, QuickPay, or any other digital money transfer app, they’re your friend. Friends and I sometimes alternate whose paying the tab on their credit card so everyone has a chance to get points or cashback. We generally cash app each other once all the math is done. Everybody’s a winner. This method is especially helpful at restaurants that have a max number of cards they’re willing to split or don’t take certain cards such as Discover and American Express.

And if you do nothing else, please tip your server. If you’re at an establishment that allows tipping please tip at least 15%.

But my number one tip to avoid this headache is don’t eat with broke people.

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