Etiquette For Dining with Others

Etiquette For Dining with Others

You are dining out with friends and having a great time.  The meal is delicious, the conversation interesting and the atmosphere lively.  Later, the bill arrives and awkwardness accompanies it.  Someone has to take charge and oversee the payment.  It’s too late to ask for separate checks.  Now what?  Do you split the bill equally, ask everyone to pay an approximate amount for what they ordered, or pull out the phone calculator and have everyone pay the exact amount?

Bill resolution can be frustrating and is a common problem that many groups of diners face.  As Valentine’s Day approaches, some of you may have plans to eat out with other couples.  How are you going to handle the “check?”

My advice: Agree upon how the bill will be handled before anyone orders.

Below I will discuss the three most utilized options for bill handling when dining with others.

Split the Bill Evenly

When using this option, the bill is split evenly between all diners (Two couples – total cost $150, each couple pays $75). The advantages are that bill division is quick and easy to calculate.  The use of this method is preferred when people do not want to hassle over cost or when several dishes, appetizers and beverages (bottled wine) are shared.  The main disadvantages are that individuals do not pay the exact cost for their meal and the bill is usually higher than if paid individually.  People tend to use less caution when making selections and often order more expensive items.  The result is everyone ends up paying more.   If you are on a tight budget and watching your expenses, this is not a favorable solution for you.

Request Separate Checks

This is the most fair, efficient and accurate method.  Diners pay only for what they order. No one feels cheated, taken advantage of or under obligation to bear others’ burdens.

So why is this method not used exclusively?

  1. Some restaurants, mainly upscale establishments, do not allow tables to have separate checks.
  2. Shared items such as bottled wine and appetizers cannot easily be separated on individual bills.  Also consider the scenariowhen you order a starter and everyone else indulges.  Will you be okay or feel imposed upon?
  3. This is not a favorable option for congratulatory meals, such as birthdays, when the guest of honor’s meal is paid for by the entire group.  The honored guest should not be made to feel uncomfortable when much discussion is centered on the division of their tab.

Pay For What You Ordered

Paying for what you ordered is a common method used by many people dining in groups.  The diners pay an approximate amount for their meal and beverage, including tip and tax (25-28).  When using this method, someone must “step up to the plate” and oversee the process.  Also, keep in mind that the time spent during collection can be cumbersome.  If honesty is demonstrated, the main advantage of this system is that the disparity between the actual amounts owed and paid is minimal.

Have you ever been faced with a situation where no one makes a move for the bill? You can begin the process by reviewing and fairly paying your portion, then pass the bill to another person stating, “This should cover my share.”

I cannot say that any method is best and that fairness is going to play out when dividing the bill.  Throughout your dining experiences, all forms of bill division will probably be used.  Using one method or another is dependent on the different variables of the dining experience.  While there is no way to escape those occasions where you have to pay more than your share, I hope this article has clarified the reasoning behind certain bill-dividing situations. I am very interested in hearing from our readers about your take on this subject.

P.S.  If you invite someone out to eat, that means that you can plan on being responsible for the bill.

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Tina Hayes is the founder and owner of The School of Etiquette and Decorum in Antioch, CA. As a passionate instructor dedicated to providing quality and professional etiquette training to her clients, Mrs. Tina Hayes promotes the awareness that social presentation and behaviors are important to be successful in today's society for all ages.