Dinner with Friends: How Do You Split the Bill?

by TTMK on January 3, 2013 · 16 comments

Dinner out with friends can be a fun time.  Good conversation, laughs, and – we hope – good food.  It all adds up to what’s usually a nice evening.

Then….the bill comes.  Now, this shouldn’t be a stressful occasion at all.  However, there’s often the possibility for a little bit of awkwardness when figuring out how to handle the bill.  Should one party pay, or should the other one do it.  Should you take turns, like you got last time so I’ll get this time?

Or, maybe we should itemize every little expense.  You pay your share, and I pay mine.  Including the tip.  We could always make it even easier and just ask for separate checks.

So, what to do? How do you split the bill at dinner with friends?

Personally, I’m growing to like the idea of there being no real concrete rules for doing it.  We are all different, and what may seem fair to one person might seem rude and offensive to another.  Spending money can bring out unneccessary weirdness with some people, so I think we need to consider who we are with and what makes the most sense.

Having said that, my own preference now is to split the bill where possible.   The bill comes, you pay half, and call it a day.  If it’s just you and a friend, or two couples together, it should be easy and straightforward.  No need to quibble that your friend ordered a $19 entree, and you just ordered a $14 one.  Just split it and forget it.

Now, if there were significiant differences, it might be different.  Let’s say the friend also ordered a couple of drinks, when you had none.  Her bill now totals $35, vs. your $14.  In this case, just get separate checks.  That’s fair, with such a huge discrepancy, right?

All this being said, to me it’s about balancing being fair, while also avoiding petty nonsense.

I’ve really seen things all across the board here.  Some people always wanting pay the bill, some people expecting to freeload.  Some saying you get this time, I’ll get next – while others itemize to the dollar.  And many things in between.

So I’m curious, how do you split the bill when out with friends?



{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael January 3, 2013 at 7:58 am

My preference is to split the bill and just pay for what you ordered (plus tax & tip) but that’s not always possible (or at least not always easily achievable without upsetting the proverbial apple cart). So now, when I know that I’ll be in a situation where we’ll end up dividing the bill evenly, I order accordingly. I call it “eating defensively” — if others are ordering higher end menu items, wine, whatever, I follow suit. That way I won’t feel screwed at the end of the meal. 🙂


TTMK January 3, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Michael – I like that concept, “eating defensively”. Good stuff! I can see how there could be a very legitmate temptation to do that, as nobody wants to feel taken advantage of. Hopefully, friends wouldn’t order much more expensive food and then expect to split it, as that’s knowingly taking advantage of you!


Michael January 3, 2013 at 8:02 am

Also: I would recommend discussing this before ordering. Just a simple “Hey, how do you want to handle the bill at the end? Separate checks or split the bill?” If you have a preference, say so up front. That way there won’t be an awkward discussion and hard feelings at the end of the meal.


Michael January 3, 2013 at 8:04 am

PS: I’m thinking here of larger group meals. If it’s just me and a friend for lunch (or whatever) I’d just split it down the middle — or just pick up the check entirely. They almost certainly return the favor down the road.


Andrea January 3, 2013 at 8:08 am

I honestly never heard of splitting the bill until I attended FinCon11 – I guess it’s a geographic difference. Here, we just ask for separate checks before ordering, especially if there’s a large group. Depending on who I’m eating with, I might pay for the entire meal this time and the friend might pay the next, but it’s usually assumed that the checks will be separate.


TTMK January 3, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Andrea – interesting, I never really considered the geographic aspect of things, in terms of different customs in different locales within the U.S. FinCon11 was of course here in the Chicago area, though of course there were folks from everywhere. With a large group, separate checks makes sense.


Emily @ evolvingPF January 3, 2013 at 12:28 pm

In a larger group, definitely separate checks. With two individuals or two couples, generally splitting evenly if it was quite close or by item if it wasn’t. When we eat with older people or friends with much higher incomes (generally anyone who isn’t a grad student) they often pick up the whole check but there is no expectation that we would the next time.


TTMK January 3, 2013 at 7:54 pm

Emily – thanks for sharing, its interesting how sometimes we might do things differently depending on who we are with.


The College Investor January 3, 2013 at 7:22 pm

I’m usually a fan of always splitting the bill evenly, regardless of who pays. However, if I’m the biggest spender, I’ll usually offer to pay my own higher amount unless someone else objects.


TTMK January 3, 2013 at 7:53 pm

Robert – that certainly seems like a fair approach, plus you’re erring on the side of paying more if warranted.


Mochi and Macarons January 6, 2013 at 9:01 am

Everyone pays for what they ate, calculated after tax.

Otherwise, just ask for separate bills when possible.


Holly@ClubThrifty January 6, 2013 at 9:19 am

We always ask for a seperate check. I don’t feel uncomfortable about it at all! We usually buy cheaper meals and drinks than our friends so I don’t want to subsidize them by splitting the bill =)


TTMK January 7, 2013 at 10:01 pm

Holly – sounds fair!


Paige October 24, 2013 at 11:19 pm

In the South, we don’t even think about this issue. The server’s very first question is “How would you like to split the check?” It makes everything a lot easier. You pay for what you eat.


TTMK October 27, 2013 at 10:26 am

That does sound fair!


LJay August 1, 2015 at 1:45 pm

I am very practical when it comes to money. I do not even know why anyone would pick up the whole tab or split a bill. It makes so much more sense to pay for yourself (and spouse/partner). If I am dining for the first time with someone, I always ask if they mind if we get separate checks. Unless you just have lots of disposable income, you do care where your money is spent and will resent splitting the bill with the person or couple that gets an appetizer, special drink or dessert and you don’t. Keep it simple. If they are offended, don’t go out with them again. Common sense.


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