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How to Split the Bill When Eating Out with Friends

By Casey Slide

eating out friends sushiWhen you dine out with other people, do you pay for your own food and drink, or divide the bill so that everyone makes an equal contribution? Splitting a bill can be a source of conflict among friends, especially if one person is trying to avoid contributing at all. It can be difficult to split bills fairly, without antagonizing anyone in the process.

Money can be a touchy subject, and people don’t always react well when prompted for their contribution towards a bill. Now, more than ever, paying too much when dining out can be a financial burden. Although the amounts spent at restaurants may not seem like much, the meals can quickly add up to a significant amount of money. Over the course of a year, you can easily spend hundreds or thousands of dollars at restaurants, especially when you’re paying.

Here are some tips for how to split the bill when you are out with friends:

Splitting the Bill with Friends

To avoid any conflict, talk openly with your friends about sharing the bill as early as possible. Then, at the restaurant, ask the server if he or she can provide your party with separate checks. Even if the restaurant does not provide this option, asking this question will show everyone that you are only willing to pay for your portion. However, this approach only works if everyone hears your conversation with the server.

If you haven’t had a chance to chat yet about splitting the bill, find a subtle way to ask your guests to split the bill when it arrives. For example, when the bill is placed on the table, ask your friends how they would like to pay for their meals. The timing of this approach lets your friends know that you are not overly anxious about splitting the bill, while clearly stating that everyone is responsible for paying for their meals.

If necessary, offer some suggestions for how the group can split the bill. It’s entirely possible that some friends didn’t bring cash, and might want to charge their share of the meal to a credit or debit card. If the group’s meals are charged to one friend’s credit card, make sure to pay him for your entire meal, including tip. If trying to split the combined bill becomes too cumbersome, it isn’t too late to ask the server to split the bill even if the bill has already been totaled and printed.

friends eating out

Ideas on How to Split the Bill with Friends

After you’ve had a conversation with your friends about paying for the meal, determine the best way to split the bill. Each of these methods has its advantages and disadvantages, so use the approach that is most appropriate for your situation. Here are several ideas for splitting the bill with your friends:

1. Ask for Separate Checks
Asking for separate checks is the most equitable way to split the tab because each person pays for their share of the bill. For example, if someone orders a salad when everyone else orders steak, the salad eater will not be paying for a steak-sized portion of the bill. This method also works well when some people plan to pay with cash, and some people plan to pay with credit cards. The downside to this method is that it is more work for the server, and waiting for separate checks can take some time.

2. Take Turns Paying
Taking turns paying works well for people who frequently dine out together and generally eat at restaurants with similar prices. For example, my husband and I frequent a Mexican restaurant close to our home with a neighboring couple. Since we know we will be going to the same restaurant with the same couple again soon, we take turns paying the entire bill in order to keep the bill-paying process quick and simple.

Conversely, this is also a wonderful way to stay in touch with friends that you don’t see very often. Pick up the tab the first time you meet for lunch or dinner, and when your friends protest, tell them it’s your “secret ploy” to get them to go out again because they “owe” you a meal. I have done this many times and my friends are always charmed by the ploy, and the favor has always been returned.

3. One Person Pays and Is Repaid
If you trust your friends, you could volunteer to pay the bill, and have your friends pay you back later. You could also take turns being the person who pays, and is repaid later. This also keeps the bill paying process quick and simple, but it does take trust, and it also requires the buyer to put out some significant cash. This would not be the ideal approach for anyone who practices the envelope budgeting system, due to the cash required.

4. Split the Bill Evenly
If you and your friends do not feel it necessary to calculate how much each person owes towards the bill, a simple solution is to split the bill evenly. While some people have no problems paying a little more or a little less than they owe, others will be upset about paying for someone else’s steak dinner. If you decide to split the bill evenly, make sure that each person ordered items approximately equivalent in price, and that no one has a problem with this approach to splitting the bill.

5. Use a Bill Splitting App
If you frequently go out with a group of friends, or order take-out with your roommates, check out a bill-splitting application like Wesplit.it. The website will track your bills and the total amount owed for everyone in your party. The easy-to-use app reminds your friends that they owe you money, taking the pressure off of you and eliminating the need for an awkward conversation.

6. Split the Tip Evenly
Sometimes it is not the actual bill that is difficult to split, but the tax and tip that can be frustrating to determine as you are trying to pay the bill. The easiest solution is to split tax and tip evenly. While some people do mind splitting the entire bill, most people do not mind splitting the tip evenly, since it is only a small percentage of the total bill.

7. Use a Tip App
Use your smart phone to do some calculations. If you decide that you want to split a tip equally, there are tip applications that do this calculation for you. You can also use the calculator on your phone to determine the amount of tip that each person owes.

8. Throw in Dollar Bills for the Tip
Collect a tip for the server by asking everyone who has dollar bills to throw them into the tip pile. This works well because most people don’t mind putting in a dollar or two into the tip pot. Most likely, next time you dine out with this group of people, it will be someone else who has the dollar bills. Over the course of a year, it’s likely that everyone will contribute tips equally using this method of tipping.

9. Only Pay for Exactly What You Ordered
If you’re out with friends, it shouldn’t cause a conflict to just pay for what you ordered. You should have a pretty good idea of what your total is when the bill arrives, and the total can be quickly verified by scanning the bill. However, this approach can be problematic if the table shares a bottle a wine or a dessert. If that happens, offer to pay for what you ordered, and for a portion of the item shared with your friends.

splitting bill friends

What If Someone Doesn’t Pay?

Sometimes, there is one person in the group who says that they just do not have the money to pay for their portion of the bill. Unfortunately, the burden of that person’s meal is now on his or her friends, and it is never a good situation when a friend won’t pay you back. However, there are a few ways to deal with this situation:

1. Let it Slide
If someone doesn’t pay his or her portion of the bill once, just let it slide. Consider it a gift, with the expectation that it will not become an ongoing occurrence. But in the future, discuss splitting the bill with this friend before you leave for the restaurant.

2. Have That Person Pay the Tip
If someone can’t afford to pay for their entire meal, perhaps they would be willing to pay for the tip. Depending on the number of people who went out to eat, the tip may be significantly less than paying for an entire meal.

3. Loan the Money
Offer to pay for the person, but make it clear that you expect to be paid back the next time you see them. A straightforward statement like, “Sure, no problem. I can lend you the money. Just pay me back as soon as you get a chance,” works well. This way, the person knows that he or she is expected to repay the loan.

4. Subtly Remind That Person Next Time You Go Out
If you paid for someone’s tab on a previous occasion and haven’t been repaid, a subtle-but-direct strategy during the next meal is to say something like, “You have me covered this time, right?”

5. Don’t Go Out with That Person
If someone gets into the habit of talking their way out of paying for their food, stop going out with that friend. Eventually, he or she will get the message.

6. Discuss the Situation with Your Friend
Talking about money can be awkward, even when you’re having the conversation with someone you know very well. If this person is really a friend, you should be able to have an open and honest discourse about his or her behavior. Your friend might be experiencing serious financial troubles, or he or she might just be a little forgetful. Opening up a conversation about the topic will get everything out in the open so you can decide how to move forward with this friend when it comes to paying the bill.

Final Word

Make sure you are splitting the bill in a way that makes you feel comfortable. Have a plan established and agreed upon before you go out with friends. Be in control of the situation by bringing up the topic of splitting the bill in a tactful, but direct way. This shouldn’t be a contentious or uncomfortable topic, if the people are friends.

How do you normally split the bill with friends?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Casey Slide
Casey Slide lives with her husband and baby in Atlanta, GA. She graduated from the University of Florida in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering and worked for a prominent hospital in Atlanta. With the birth of Casey’s son in February 2010, she decided to become a stay-at-home mom. Casey’s interests include reading, running, living green, and saving money.

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  • Gina

    I like the suggestions that you made, but even so it seems like there is always someone who tries to get out of paying their fair share. Sometimes I just avoid these types of social situations with these people, other times I just suck it up and say it is not worth our friendship.

  • http://www.howisavemoney.net Lulu

    I always tell my group that I am going to get my bill separate before we even agree to meet up. What they decide to do after is their business…..and I have seen squabbles over splitting the bill when it finally comes but I always have my bill separate from the beginning. I don’t eat from the appetizers that they order as I am aware that I am not paying for it so I think this works out for me.

    • SEPHRON MAIR

      Brilliant. i started that recently. Appetizers are a way to pad the bill. Dinner is for company not for belly full. A bottle of wine is more problametic. Just pick up the tab for a bottle if needed. Kind diners will slip you a few to cover. Just quietly ask for your check separately- no fuss or drawing of attention. A little whisper to the waiter is all that it takes. How simple? Try it next time. You will love it

  • http://madsaver.com Mac

    This can definitely be a tough one when going out with friends. I love when restaurants split the bill ahead of time as that eases all conflicts, but most don’t spend the extra few minutes to do so. In the past, it was a pain to deal with as there always were those few who tried to spend less than they owed. But as we got older, the opposite happens more often. We end up putting way more money in the pot than we should! A good problem.

    And even if we get one large bill, people can still use credit cards or cash. Just tell the server how much to put on the credit card. Just as easy as paying with the green stuff.

  • http://www.joetaxpayer.com JoeTaxpayer

    This happened just the other night. It was going well, three of us, three of them (i.e. two couples and our daughters) we look at menus and my wife says “it’s late, just a capuchino for me.” When the bill came, the other father and I both put our cards down and just split it. My daughter asked how we did that so fast. I have to say, I think if you observe enough people, this is a guy thing. Women tend to either ask for 2 checks or add their items on the bill. I figure it evens out over time.

  • Karmella

    I’ve never had it be a problem – we are all more likely to try to grab the check and pay for the whole thing instead of splitting it up. I don’t have any way of knowing if it evens out over time but I feel like it does – if it doesn’t, it’s not too far off.

  • http://www.moneyfunk.net Money Funk

    I love that most restaurants include a split price at the bottom of the reciept. And you can ask the waitress to split among X amount of friends. Then the bill is easily split between your friends. No weaseling out of that one! ;)

    • Winston

      Speaking of weaseling, I just finished “Dilbert and the way of weasel” by Scott Adams. In that book, there was an email sent by readers about how one weasel managed to pay less when the bill was supposed to be evenly divided. That person claimed that she didn’t have any cash with her, and it would be a lot of easier if everybody gave her their share of the bill and put the whole bill on her credit cards. Everybody happily obliged and gave her the money including the 15% tips. Well, as it turned out, that girl only gave the waiter 7 to 8% tips, thus screwing the waiter.

  • Em D.

    This can often be a problem, though I too am finding that as I get older we often have more and not less money at the end. What I find works is we split the tax and tip evenly no matter what you got so the first person figures out what it is per person and says “Add x amount to your total.” That usually works out. I’m a fairly direct person though, I have no problem grilling each person until we find out who didn’t put enough in… if they don’t like it they won’t join us the next time and we’ll be saved the hassle.

  • http://www.yourfinances101.com/blog David/yourfinances101

    I usually let it slide the first time or two with someone who doesn’t want to pay.

    If I see its a habit, I just don’t go out with that person anymore.

    If he/she is a friend, well, then, we would discuss it.

  • http://madsaver.com Mac

    Another way to split the check is to use one of the many tip calculator apps out there. There are a ton of them, especially for the iphone. I just enter in the total bill amt, tax, tip %, and # of people and get the exact amount we all should pay. But that only works well if each of us spent about the same amount of money.

  • Claudia

    Im in a rough situation right now dealing with unemployment and mounting medical bills. Still, I have a monthly dinner of alumni from my law school (all with high paying jobs). Unfortunately I had to start skipping some dinners as they choose very expensive restaurants. I started being honest with myself and them and advised them (and all my friends) that unless we can go somewhere reasonable, then I couldnt attend. Since they are all friends, they understood and know my situation is temporary. Besides, its the company that counts. Also, the liquor, especially with larger groups really kills it for me. The bill can triple just from wine and liquor. I also want to drink but those drinks add up so normally we all try an drink before dinner and I dont partake and at dinner, we stick to soda and water.

  • Winston

    Since I live in two different cultures, I know that Americans and Chinese have different ways of going about their daily life. When I eat out with my American friends, we tend to go dutch. However, when I go out with my Chinese friends, there is no such a thing as splitting the bills. One individual will pay the whole thing. And best of all, that person has to fight/quibble with others to get the right to pay the bill. Obviously next time, somebody else will pay the whole thing.

  • Jeccica Simpson

    When I invite someone out for dinner or lunch, I usually get the bill. I figure I invited I pay. So I hardly get myself in that position of no splitting. I have decent friends so many times we split bills will no problem. I feel sorry for the people that get themselves in those position, makes you think about people character.

  • http://www.wesplit.it CMYK42

    Sharing a flat with friends can be so much fun, but when it comes to finances it can be a pain. Thats why our household uses an online web-app to solve this awkward situation. We use WeSplit.it

    It is easy to use and understand and takes away all our hassles of who owes whom how much and by when. No more reminding people to give you $5 or something small like that. The webapp sends out reminders for you and also has a nice clean “dashboard” that keeps a running tab between you and your flatmates!

    Give a web-app such as WeSplit.it a try and see if it helps your household like it does to ours..

  • darrell

    i usually just take up the bill when people can’t figure it out or have the right amount of bills, etc and i tell them they all owe me later. then what happens is people feed bad that im taking all the burden when actually it doesnt bother me at all. so other people take up the bill another time. at the end of the day multiple people owe different people. would have been so much easier if I or one person took all the bills and that one person was owed. so trying to be nice and pay for the bill actually caused a huge mess for everyone instead of one person keeping the tab.

  • ninjasrolled

    If you go to an upscale restaurant, you must ask your server to start separate checks before anything gets ordered. To help him out, also stay put in your seat, don’t order for anyone else and don’t expect to be able to split items, such as an appetizer for the table.

    Most of the time, when my friends and I go out, we order family style for the whole table. Everyone gets to try multiple dishes, we all eat about the same, and we are courteous enough to drink about the same. If it’s a BYO, and someone has brought a couple bottles of wine, then the others pay more for their share of the food. But then, we all work in “the industry” and we all “get it”. It’s laughable to me to see people pull out their calculators and labor for half an hour over every penny of the bill – it’s classless and screams cheap.

    • http://twitter.com/YPMoney Mike Lai – YPMoney

      To ninjasrolled’s point, it really does help the server out if you request separate checks before you order. Severs assume a single bill unless a split is requested and it is tough on them if they’re having a busy night. They have to remember who ordered what while serving 2+ other tables.

      I’ve been to a few restaurants where they’ve been able to split appetizers multiple ways. The receipt says 1/4 this, 1/4 that, etc. It’s pretty cool!

      • Casey Slide

        Yes, that’s absolutely right. Letting your server know ahead of time that you want separate checks is the best way to go. It’s best for the servers as well as those eating because the bill splitting has already been done when the checks arrive.

        I’ve never heard of splitting appetizers. That’s a great idea!

    • http://www.savings.com/blog/blog.html Amy Saves

      yea, we usually do family style when we go out, so splitting the bill evenly isn’t that big of a deal. i hate when it gets to nickel and diming. seriously, it’s a meal, people should not be that cheap.

      • TallyO

        Then again, I’ve been at restaurants in groups with people I didn’t know who are getting caviar and lobster dinners with champagne and drinks and all the fixings racking up $200+ bills by themselves then expecting other people to pay who were ordering $30 entrees and no drinks on a tight budget and are just trying to be with friends on special occasions.

        It’s one thing to do a family style meal, but it’s another to have something like a birthday dinner at the most expensive restaurant you can think of, invite your friends (some of whom may not be a wealthy as others but who want to be with you) and then have those who are glutenous or who are more well off and see their tab as normal, expect those on a budget to pay for more than what they ate, and some reasonable amount extra if they want to chip in to cover their friend or something shared by the table that they also ate.

        • Casey Slide

          Yes, the restaurant that you are at makes a big difference in how you should pay. In the situation you are describing, TallyO, I would not want to split the bill in that way. To be honest, when I am invited to a party at an expensive restaurant that I know I can’t afford, I simply decline to attend. If it’s for a birthday, I’ll take out the birthday person later at a more affordable location. I’ve found that to be the best way to get out of that kind of situation.

    • Izzy

      Are you for real? 1980′s pretentiousness about money has no place at the modern table, and is FAR more cheap and classless than honesty about one’s financial status. if penury offends you, stay home. there’s plenty of it about.

  • Anonymous

    The rule we follow is mostly safe proof: If we invite we pay, and if we are invited we try to contribute and it is mostly rejected. It is working very well. Yes, in some cases when the number of guests is big, and the bill will end up to be high, it is agreed before end that each pay their own. This has also the benefit that some guests will not overeat. In the end the best way, is still for families to invite their friends to their own homes, with home cooked meals. This would contribute greatly, to good home life, right? I would also add, that America would not now be the fatest nation on earth if meals were prepared at home and of course, eaten at home. And yes, how about a home prepared sacklaunch? Yes, eaten in the place of work with other sacklaunch eaters! By the time one gets the ordered meal, it is almost time to be back to work, and so the food is almost gulped down; I call it: drinking your meal! And yes than bad digestion needing some stuff like Tums, etc., to “pacify” the stomack. America needs to wake up to reality! Yes, portions in restaurants need to be like they do in France! One can only wonder about the food that is taken home in a box? I suggest mostly ending up in the trash. Yes, it has been reported that 30 percent of money Americans spend on food is wasted! I am sure most of the ones that will read my comment will have seen a similar report!

    • Casey Slide

      That’s a great tip to invite people over for a homecooked meal!

  • PonyLady

    I have a situation that’s actually really awkward. We rent a room out to one of our friends, and we haven’t had any trouble with rent. However, whenever he invites us out, or we invite him out, he somehow cons his way out of paying. One time when I asked him to get his part of the bill he sat there twiddling his thumbs and pretended he didn’t hear me (even though I asked him twice, and loud enough for his head to turn). When he takes us out he assumes we’ll pay for our share, but when we ask if he wants to tag along he assumes he’s getting a free ride. The only solution is to talk with him about it. He makes more than enough money, and we give him a stellar deal on rent, but he still refuses to pay. It’s extremely rude. People like this… you need to watch out for them. We’re overbudget because of the situation.

    • Casey Slide

      Wow, yeah, I’d talk to your friend. That sounds so awkward, and I’m sorry to hear that you are dealing with that. Good luck to you, and I hope you’re able to resolve this with him quickly.

  • amy

    I had lunch with two friends and friend I don’t know too well. Well I know my two friends paid their share of the bill according to what they ate. We didn’t split the bill evenly so I ended up paying £6 extra for a £10 meal. I just let it go and didn’t say anything. Then I realised the other friend who I don’t know that well paid by card must have paid less. Should I talk to my best friends about it or let it go?

    • Casey Slide

      It’s up to you. If it were me, I’d let it go but be very cognizant of everyone paying their fair share next time. If it is a problem a second time, then I’d say something. But it’s up to you and whether or not it’s worth getting that money back.

  • Springsonata

    Need help/advice for my situation –

    1: I’ve a friend whom I met at work. She recently left to join another company that’s about 15 mins from my work. Recently, she invited me to go to lunch at a restaurant by my work where we used to visit frequently back when we worked together. At the end of lunch when the bill came, she pretty much assumed I’d pick up the tab and did not attempt to pay for her meal, much less paying the whole bill. I let it go but it definitely left a bad taste in my mouth as I remember that I was the one paying for our last couple meals together. Some would say that since she invited, she should pay while others may argue that she came to my area and I should pay. Either way, I honestly would not mind paying but simply did not like the fact that she “assumed” I would pay. Any suggestions how I should deal with this situation as opposed to simply say no to future invites?

    2: Another couple friends of mine whom I’ve known for many years. They don’t live in my area so we see one another once/twice a year. The issue is that they’re both wine connoisseurs while I can’t drink.. period. Every time we get together, they’d and love to get a bottle of wine to share. I don’t want them to feel that they shouldn’t simply because I don’t drink. However, I always end up contributing towards their fine alcoholic beverage. I know people normally would adjust for the difference if they happen to order more to eat/drink but these two friends don’t seem conscientious of that. Please advise. Thanks!

    • Casey Slide

      For the first situation, have you thought about asking “How do you want to split this up?” as soon as the bill comes when the server puts it on the table? That will put your coworker on the spot to respond to the situation. All the while you’ll be making it clear that paying for the bill is up for discussion and not to be assumed.

      For the second situation, have you tried using a credit card or debit card and telling the server that you are only paying for your meal? Or what about just talking with these friends about not paying for the wine since you don’t drink? I’d attempt a discussion because it sounds like a long term friendship you won’t want to give up.

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