Splitting the Bill: How to Avoid a Group Dinner Disaster

I can’t tell if splitting the check at group dinners is an actual problem or if it’s one of those things people love to complain about online. You know, the same way everyone complains about “new year new me” posts but in reality, no one is even posting them?

My Twitter timeline was full of complaints about how one person orders a piece of lettuce while the rest of the group got lobster and shrimp and a glass of moscato. Some years of trial and error later, I know exactly what to expect from everyone in my circle when the check comes. I know which friends are throwing one card down then Venmo charging us later. I know which friend I’ll pay for this time because they paid last time. I know who’s going to be problematic and tell me they only only ordered the salad and water. Just kidding, we don’t go out to eat salads.

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Birthday dinners are probably the biggest culprit for split check dilemmas. You invite your closest pals to celebrate with you and by the end of the meal, you’re left wondering, how are we paying for this? One side of the debate is that you pay for what you ordered and that’s that. On the other hand, we came out as a group so doesn’t it make sense to split the bill evenly? That’s the issue no one can agree on.

Deciding how to split the check is annoying from all fronts. From the server standpoint, waiting for your party to pay only to be given 10 different debit cards with varying amounts can get frustrating. Certain POS systems won’t even allow more than three cards so now we really have a problem.  Not to mention, it affects servers and their tips when what would have been a 20% tip on one check gets turned into a series of smaller tips on small bils.  As a guest who ordered an appetizer while the rest of the group indulged in entrees and cocktails, it’s unfair to you to chalk up extra $20. The list of who’s affected by the split check dilemma goes on.

If it’s so complicated should we just stop having birthday dinners?

No. Coming together over food to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and accomplishments has always been the way we do things. Food is universal. Aside from knowing your group well enough to anticipate how things will be done, you can take a few extra precautions to make a group dinner run smoothly. To make your next birthday dinner a split-check hassle free three simple tips can make a big difference.

Set the Tone

Talking about money can be awkward. As much as we try to dismantle the taboo, no one is putting their finances on the table. Your friends and family shouldn’t have to sacrifice being part of celebrations if your event falls on an off week for them.

Send updates to your guests about how the check will be handled in advance.  It can be as early as the group chat pre-event or at the table right before ordering drinks. It’s as simple as asking “do we want to split the bill evenly or pay for our own?” so everyone knows what the deal is. The beauty is that even if 9/10 agree to split and one person only wants to stick to a budget, you can tell your waitress at the beginning and save everyone a headache later.

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Cash Only

In the world of Zelle, Venmo and Apple pay, cash almost seems foreign. I realized I ordered a slice of pizza at a cash-only restaurant only after the food was handed to me and panicked! I was blessed to find a crumbled $5 hidden in my wallet. To avoid issue with POS systems or the occasional server who doesn’t feel like swiping more than one card, urge guests to pay with old fashioned dollar bills. Your server will also appreciate that cash tip 

Prix Fixe Menus

I don’t know if it’s only a millennial thing but birthday dinners seem to be getting replaced with birthday brunches. I’m not mad at it. The bright side is that brunch spots will often have a set deal whether it be a bottomless mimosa option or a prix fixe menu. Having that set amount alleviates the pressure of having to order what everyone else is ordering because you know your price way ahead of time. Choose places with these options for big groups. Also call the restaurant ahead of time to give them a heads up about your big group and to see if they offer family style for larger parties.

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Group dinners don’t have to be a disaster. A little extra planning saves you a lot of stress later.

How do you and your friends avoid making a big deal out of splitting the check? Share in the comments or tweet me @jovaniamichele.

(Salad photo by Ana Tavares, table photo by Marc Babin, Restaurant exterior by Toa Heftiba)

Food, FeaturesJovania Pierre