Should We Split the Bill?

When I was young and most of my friends were starting our careers or in graduate school, we tended to ask for separate checks when dining out. It was just the way we did it then. 

However, when my former husband and I began to earn more, we decided it wasn’t worth bringing forth our calculator to figure out if your salmon en croute was more expensive than my burger and fries or what to do about the extra glass of expensive red burgundy you drank versus my virgin tomato juice. 

Then there was the matter of the tip. You wanted to give 20 percent while we were so underwhelmed we thought 18 percent or even 15 percent was more than fine. We usually acquiesced rationalizing that the expenses would even out over time. Most times they did. Sometimes they didn’t, as when one set of friends popped open their third round of expensive bubbly. 

I still remember more than four decades back when my former spouse and I were new to one Midwestern city. A relative fixed us up with another couple the same age. When the bill arrived, the husband carefully calculated who ate what and how much each couple owed, including for the tax and tip. I knew we were done socializing with that couple for reasons I cannot recall, but the obsessive divvying up remained in my memory bank as being too much work. 

Now as boomers, some of us are retiring on modest fixed incomes, others are still earning very nice salaries, and yet others have inherited generous sums.  I don’t want to ask to see each person’s net worth, but I do want to be fair when paying the check. And that’s what this is really all about. 

I also know that certain geographic areas have their own set of rules and some restaurants will offer separate checks while others won’t. One of my childhood friends who lives in a college town informed me that her friends always ask for separate checks since everyone’s finances vary so greatly. And some couples like to share their food which lowers the bill and is the case with my beau and me as we try to scale back our portions and calories as we’ve aged. 

It also seems to make more sense to split checks when it’s just a gal pal and you. However, when you’re part of a couple or several couples and singles, why not each request your own check? 

To help me decide the right tact to take, I talked to several friends and found their opinions were all over the place. Margaret said that she and her late husband would tell the server or maitre d when they walked into a restaurant to do separate checks if they were with another couple or couples who tended to order the most expensive dishes and drink several cosmopolitans or dirty martinis. Margaret and Nolan usually each had one glass of wine. 

I decided to take this to a higher authority, Ms. Manners, whose old columns I consulted online. I found her best advice was quite succinct: “’Let’s put this on separate checks’” is downright friendly,” she wrote. I knew I liked her. And here’s another tip. It’s far less awkward to state this clearly out loud at the start of the meal rather than wait until the check arrives so you don’t resent paying for someone’s filet mignon or extra glass of Cote de Rhone. 

Another reason to make this decision in advance and possibly go the separate-check route is that you may be more likely to enjoy the process of deciding what to order without hemming and hawing when the waiter appears to take everyone’s choices. You should be free to order what you want rather than make do with two appetizers versus an entrée just because your friends do or similarly not pay for their appetizer, main course with surplus charge for the lobster and dessert. And if you’re like me, you may always find yourself asking to be last to order to see what everyone is eating and then copying them to be fair. No longer. 

Bon Appetit!

1 comment

  • Angela

    Wow… thanks for this! I’ve struggled this all my life. You’d thing by my mid-stage of life I’d have it figured out by now! Thanks again!

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published