We’ve all be there: Deeply broke, out for dinner with a group of friends friends, drinking tap water and eating the cheapest salad on the menu while everyone else orders multiple cocktails and steak dinners. The check comes, and inevitably someone says “Let’s just split it evenly”, which means you’re stuck paying $40 for what should have been a $7 meal. You might as well have just blown your budget entirely and treated yourself to the lobster at this point. But you don’t have to sacrifice your frugality to enjoy a meal with friends, you just need to know how to be tactful and gracious about only paying for what you asked for.
There’s a definite stigma attached to being the only person at a group dinner who wants to pay in an itemized fashion - it’s not really considered to be great social etiquette. But when you’re in your twenties and thirties, there can be huge discrepancies between what you and your friends earn. As you all find yourselves at different points in your careers, splitting the check evenly can be a bit awkward. Some might advise you that it’s better to just skip the dinner entirely than to be “that person” when the check comes, but no! You shouldn’t have to isolate yourself from your friends just because you’re not bringing in the big bucks that they are. Here’s how to fairly split the bill at a restaurant without being “that person”.
1. Speak up at the start.
Honesty is always the best policy, and going into a group dinner with friends, set the expectation of what you’re willing to pay for before you even order. It’s okay to say “Hey, I’m saving right now, so I’m not going to order any alcohol and will just get something small - I hope it’s alright for me to just pay for that!” Unless your friends are non-empathetic assholes, they should be more than chill with that.
2. Ask the server for a separate check.
If you’re with a big group, sometimes the server will help you out if you ask for your items to be put on a separate check - but again, you have to do this before you order. That way, at the end of the meal when everyone pays, you don’t even need to address it. Your own private bill will make its way to you, and you’ll only pay for exactly what you had.
3. Don’t nit-pick.
If you’ve been given the good grace to pay for exactly what you ordered, don’t be too nit-picky. If, for instance, your order came to $11.25, put in $12. Be sure to add extra for tax and tip, and don’t be weird about it. Your right to pay for what you ordered extends only so far - remember, you’re after fairness, not a way to short change your friends by being pedantic or withholding.
4. Suggest going to a place where you pay when you order.
If you’re really broke, you can avoid the whole ugly mess and choose where you eat yourself. That way, you can pick the kind of place where you pay at the counter or the bar. There’s plenty of cute pubs, trendy BBQ restaurants, and healthy options where this is the case - so you’re not just limited to fast food! That way, you pay when you order, and don’t even have to worry about splitting the bill.
5. Remember that your friends are supposed to be understanding.
We’ve been conditioned to believe that there’s an inherent social awkwardness to not splitting a check evenly, and that being “that person”, the one who only wants to pay for what they had, is somehow a bad thing. Of course it’s annoying where there’s only a small discrepancy - say, $2-5 - but if you’re being asked to pay $20 or more than what you actually had, then it really is okay to speak up. The thing to remember is: You’re out with friends. These are the people who are supposed to understand and support you, especially when you’re budgeting. At the end of the day, the company you keep should mean more than bill splitting practices anyway.