Somebody Help This Poor Girl: How Do You Split a Restaurant Check Equally

How do you split the bill?

From D Magazine‘s assistant managing editor, Krista Nightengale.

SideDishers: I need your help. Or at least your advice. I went to Rhode Island this week for the City and Regional Magazine Association’s annual conference. Since I was a bit of a loner (no one else from D was able to join me), I invited myself along to dinner with a big group of people and we went to Hemenway’s.

It’s a gorgeous seafood grill and oyster bar. It had a dark, romantic feel to it. My only complaint about the atmosphere was that there was a fan directly above us that was hanging over a light, thus creating this obnoxious rotating shadow on the menus. Also, the air conditioning was out (but it was in Providence where the average temp was in the low 70s this past weekend, so we didn’t even notice).

Her problem starts below.

As the party of 18 settled into its chairs, wine and appetizers were ordered all around. I refrained for two reasons: 1. I don’t drink; 2. I wasn’t hungry enough for an appetizer. The average price of an entrée was $25. Not a horrible price point.
The food came, and it was okay. I thought since I was in Rhode Island, the seafood I ordered would be the best I’d ever had. My salmon was dry and had hardly any seasoning. The best part of the plate was the fresh green beans on the side.

Then came the awkward part: the bill. So while 13 members of the group kept ordering bottle after bottle of wine (I’d say there had to be at least 10 bottles ordered), the five non-drinkers  wondered how this would play out.

One of the guys in the group (I’m still not entirely certain who he was), got up and said, “I’ve figured it out! We’ll just take the total, add the gratuity, and split it evenly 18 ways.” My bill, which would’ve been around $27, ended up being $60.
I paid. There were too many people to try to adjust the bill, it was late, and I didn’t want to be that girl who caused all the problems.

What would you have done, wise SideDishers? Paid or had it adjusted?


  • Twinwillow

    Dinner with a large group of strangers? Been there, done that. Have it adjusted!

  • S

    I’ve been in many situations like this and must confess that I would have piped up with an alternate plan – as in, we can split the cost of the food sans wine, and those who drank can evenly split the wine.

    Since there were 5 non-drinkers, I’m fairly certain you would not have been “that girl.” Likely there were four others sitting there thinking, “I don’t want to be that girl/guy.” But it’s rather crass for the rest of the group to suggest an even split.

  • Certainly the 5 of you should have spoken up and noted that you didn’t drink or partake of the appetizers. I don’t think there’s anything uncouth about that at all! You know the price of your meal, share some of the tax, add your gratuity, and move on. That’s why you should always have cash on hand, toss your money on the table explaining it was for your portion sans drinks and apps.

    The other 13 took advantage of you guys, and they knew it! That’s unfortunate.

  • Brad

    I would have grabbed the closest un-finished bottle and polished it off.

    But, seriously, that’s pretty tacky on the part of the big eaters/drinkers in the group. I’m generally the big eater/drinker in my group, so I always overpay my share of the bill. I notice when the girl across from me only had one glass of wine and a salad because she’s single and desperately wants a husband. If everyone is splitting the bill, I’ll make sure she doesn’t pay more than she owes. Being off by $10 +/- is just the way it is when you’re in a big group, but when you’re paying more than double your fair share, I’d suggest you find an appropriate amount for the drinkers and one for the non-drinkers.

    It’s time for that 7th grade algebra to shine through:

    13x + 5y = $1,080 (18 people x $60)
    y= ($1080-13x)/5

    A possible solution, according to my TI-83, would be $71.29 for the drinkers and $30.65 for the non-drinkers.

    So, start drinking, or carry a big calculator.

  • Poodle

    Avoid this situation entirely by never going to dinner with a large group of people you don’t know well. That’s what I’ve learned. It happened to me at Bob’s of all places, where I didn’t drink, didn’t have anything other than a steak and a carrot, and ended up with a $100, when the $1000 bill was split evenly between 10 people, only one of whom I knew. Can you tell I am still mad?

  • Tr

    Methods of bill splitting often splits along gender lines; I don’t thiink it was a coincidence that “one of the guys” suggested to divide it equally.

    However, it would be gentlemanly to, at the same time, take note of the non-drinkers (nearly half the group) and make some recompense. Split the food by one number the drinks by another. Or at least give the nondrinkers a by on the tip.

    Since this didn’t happen,you would not have been out of line to discreetly ask the waitress to make your check separate. If anyone asked you could have blamed it on a penny watching boss.

    More pleasantly, did you make it to Federal Hill for italian?

  • JJ

    While it’s unfortunate that 5 non-drinkers ended up subsidizing the 13 wine drinkers, I think that result is inevitable in a group of this size. Any effort to split the check based upon actual orders would have failed miserably, and left someone holding the bag. The double split, of food among 18 and wine among 13, makes some sense, but is still not entirely equitable. The tip would have been based upon the full tab, so you’d have to calculate the tip in two parts (one for food, the other for wine) and similarly split those among 18 and 13.

    Sooner or later, the entire process would give the group tired head.

  • HelloGoodbye

    That guy new exactly what he was doing, and you got hosed. Get it adjusted for sure, and if you get any funny looks, give those a people a nice “f*ck you!”

    But then, I don’t get along with strangers. I view them all as my enemy.

  • Krista Nightengale

    JJ, just reading your comment gave me tired head, which is why I didn’t have it adjusted. Although I know you all were right in that I should have said something, it just seemed like more of a hassle than it’s worth.
    And, Tr, although I was told by at least five people to go to Federal Hill for Italian (and sit facing the door), I didn’t! I definitely regret not going!

  • dallasboiler

    I can completely understand this diner’s anger.

    I had a slightly different problem repeatedly with a group several years ago where our issue was people leaving before the bill came. They always left cash for their portion of the bill; but each time they ended up forgeting to calculate tax and gratuity into the total leaving us significantly short when the bill came and everybody paid their fair share. The worst part was having to confront them several days later to ask for their “make-whole” payments and having them tell me up and down how there was no possible way that they owed more and that they had left way more than their fair share already as it was.

    Unfortunately, my only solution to avoid that issue in the future was to never invite those couples out to dinner again. That, and our groups generally agree before dinner that everybody weho drinks will pay as a group and everybody who doesn’t drink will pay as a group.

  • Sunny

    I’m still wondering what the, “I notice when the girl across from me only had one glass of wine and a salad because she’s single and desperately wants a husband.” statement means. What does desperately wanting a husband have to do with eating a salad and moderately drinking? Is she worried she’ll get fat at dinner if she has an entree and all the single men at the table will leave in disgust? Is she a vegetarian? Do the men at her table only like women who don’t eat like normal people? Non-sequiter…

  • George

    In that situation, I probably would have thrown Wick under the bus, as in “I’m sorry, but my publisher limits me to $25 per meal, which is why I didn’t drink or have appetizers”. And then thrown on the table what you calculate to be your portion plus 20% and excuse yourself quickly. Just be sure that you have calculated your part correctly, including that $3 iced tea. Too often, “friends” add up their portion, but they forget about the coffee, tea, even appetizer, and tip … and then they round down. Their $24 steak dinner, plus calamari appetizer, plus tea, and coffee, by their math, comes out to $20-$25.

  • wordy

    @Sunny I’m so glad you said something… I was gritting my teeth and counting to ten before I even allowed myself to ask that “gentleman” what the heck he means to imply and “gee, I’m so glad that he deigns her worthy enough to be noticed since she’s so desperate.”

  • luniz

    When the guys suggested to split it 18 ways, you should have suggested to split the alcohol only among the people who drank. For the appetizers, you just have to suck it up. If you want a cheap meal, don’t go out to eat with a large group that will probably order appetizers.

  • Brad

    @Sunny and wordy: definitely not implying that Krista fit that description. She unfortunately got stuck with bad salmon and admits to plain old not drinking (for what reason is none of my concern).

    I was merely conveying (with an apparently poor attempt at humor) that in my personal experience with large dining groups of single people, I’ve witnessed a girl (or two) with a lower than average priced meal due to her desire to maintain a girlish figure and attract members of the opposite sex. Maybe I was mistaken about her motives. It’s quite possible that these ladies were simply concerned with their health and were moderate drinkers (as you suggested, Sunny). Although, that wouldn’t explain the 8 vodka/sodas and the 2am pizza later that night?

    Oh well, I’m glad we’re all in agreement that Krista doesn’t fit that description and she got totally hosed on her dinner bill. I’ve got an extra TI-83 calculator at home if she wants it. Seriously.

  • suggest credit card roulette. don’t put yours in.

  • This is yet another reason you should take up drinking, Krista. I bet you went back to your hotel room alone, too. See what I’m talking about? Six or eight glasses of wine could have solved that problem, too. (Your husband, David, doesn’t read SideDish, does he?)

  • Brad’s right……..

    Obviously Krista is married, so it doesn’t apply to her, but Brad nailed it when it comes to chicks picking at a salad, and not kicking back with a few cocktails. They don’t realize that some guys like a fun gal, who goes with the flow. Boring waifs have a much harder time finding a man than the fun, happy go lucky types. P.S. I’m a woman.

  • Son of Dolemite

    We go out with firends often (group can be anywhere form 4-12, plus kids sometimes), and typically just divide it equally, realizing that it all evens out. If I order something extravagent, or think I’ve spent more, I always offer to pay more, and am almost always rebuffed. I never ask someone else to pay more.
    The sitaution you were in was different — it’s not going to even out over time. You would have been perfectly within your rights to have asked for a better split

  • For the drinker who suggested splitting the bill equally, brilliant move!

    For the non-drinkers, I’ve found that if I’m not drinking or not that hungry with a large group that is clearly going for the feast, I will ask the waiter up front to give me a separate check. It’s awkward either way.

  • Beda

    I’ve been out for dinner where certain people will take advantage of being in a large group and order apps and lots of drinks, knowing that more than likely the tab will be split equally regardless of what others have, and they can be pretty confident they’ll pay less than if there were separate checks. I have no qualms at all about speaking up if the amount I really owe and my divided share is more than X amount. That woman only ordering a salad and one drink could very well be short of money and not be able to afford more. (And don’t say she should stay home, then). Paying some attention to the overconsumers at the table and then speaking up (especially if you are one of the overconsumers) and doing your part to make sure there is a degree of fairness in splitting the check would be very considerate and thoughtful.

  • DarnellErwinFletcher

    I do just about everything in my power to avoid dinners with 18 people unless its on an expense account.

    But if I do, I usually have a higher percentage of the bill so I’m fine with splitting it equally.

    And finally, if I wasn’t drinking, I would never go to a dinner with 13 people drinking. Sounds like a nightmare.

  • I would recommend in a situation like this getting the server’s attention at the beginning of the meal and telling him/her that you would like a separate check. Just because you are dining with a group doesn’t mean a good server can’t keep track of what you’ve ordered, each seat has a “number” so the food is delivered correctly. And most computerized sales systems make multiple checks (limitless) with a touch of the finger.

    So for anyone else facing the prospect of this situation – let your server be your assistant in this.

    Then you can just say (nicely) “I’ve already taken care of my bill, thank you for letting me join you.”

  • DarnellErwinFletcher

    Amy S. I’m not suggesting that your suggesting isn’t 100% diplomatic, fair, balanced…. but I will say that such arrangements don’t play too well with the population at large. If I was among work colleagues I know that many folks would find it off putting to pre-arrange your tab like that….

    I think there may be some gender based differences in the realm of check splitting however….

  • tinkerbell

    My experience is, it comes down to gender. Generally, men just divide the bill by however many are at the table. Women figure out who had what,how much of each, etc.

    I would have assessed the drinking situation early on, made eye contact with the non-drinkers, then when the bill came, say, “For those of us who didn’t drink, it should be x. For those who did, x plus y.” State it simply and firmly. End of story.

  • Rawlins Nichol-Plated

    I’ve learned to grin & bear it when the bill is split. Otherwise you look like a grumpy party killin’ cheapskate when that is not the case. I hate it when bottles of wine are ordered when I simply wanted on cocktail or two before dinner & then iced tea with dinner…or water, whatever. Appetizers ordered are seldom something I want or want to eat if I am having a full entree. But I’ve learned to just shut up, grin & bear it. Recently went to Buenos Aires where night after night this happened. So I began ordering pricey stuff I would otherwise not afford.

    MY bigger beef is this!!!!!!!!!!
    And no few single people I know will applaud when they read what I write.

    WHY when I, who am single, go out to dinner with a couple…two married friends or partners….a paired ‘team’…do they seem to inevitably think that ‘slitting the bill evenly, half & half makes sense? Meaning me paying half the bill while they pay the other half.

    When you are with a couple…I don’t care if they see themselves as ‘one’ a ‘team’ whatever. There are two of them & one of me. So how do we split the bill ’50/50′ instead of the more logical putting 1/3 on my card & 2/3rds on theirs. It never happens. If the two of them pay 2/3rds of the bill despite (ugh) them constituting 2/3rds of the diners represented on that bill, they feel fleeced &/or offended. I feel fleeced when I am paying half the bill when I was only 1/3 of the diners. (And back to Krista’s original point…they ordered the bottles of wine I’d rather skip.)

    I can hear the singles out there cheering now because NOone ever mentions this quirky way couples see themselves in relation to individuals when it comes to settling tabs. It’s weird. And expensive.

  • fescue

    Hey all you suckers who, fitting your description, “sucked it up” either for the apps or alcohol or both, please be MY friends so I too can screw you over when we go out.

    I’d have asked to have my stuff computed separately and would have rigorously objected to the drunkard’s proposal to split the bill evenly.

  • Tightwads….

    Rawlins…. Grow a pair. Speak up! You’re getting screwed without a kiss. Find new friends/dinner companions.

  • Rawlins Nichol-Plated

    “Tightwads”, this practice is as common as mole in cetral Mexico. Gay, straight, young, old, professionals, working class; ‘marriesd’ tons of couples do this. Trust me. It has zero to do with my ‘friends’ & acquaintences. It’s just the prception that married have because, I suppose, they split the bill 50/50 when they dine wit other couples but fail to see that a single person is not another ‘couple’.

    Too many (single) people I know have told me that this happens to them all the time. And the people doing it are generally good people who somehow are clueless when it comes to this despite being sophisticated by any measure.
    And PS: If you mean by ‘grow a pair’ that I stand up for yourself, may I share with you that my childhood nickname was ‘Mongoose’. As any randon cobras over the years will attest.

  • air

    jon has the right answer. credit card roulette would be the way to go in that situation where folks are willing to spend money like it grows on trees.

  • George

    I’ve just not seen what @Rawlins describes, although I’m sure it happens.

    My biggest beef is still when you get the bill and everyone tosses in the center of the table what they think their total+tip comes to be and somehow, magically, it is always short. And whoever is the one to pick up the pile to count it and sort it for the waiter is the one who often has to pony up the extra couple of $20s.

  • luniz

    You shouldn’t go out to eat with a group of 20 people if you’re attempting to pay as little as possible.

  • George

    Flip this story around a little bit.

    What do you do if everyone tosses in what they think is their fair share, and the total comes up to be 20% to 40% above the total, which already includes that magic 18%-included-for-parties-over-6 gratuity?

  • @Rawlins… I used to have a couple of friends who were twins. They always wanted to pay their “half”. Notice I said, USED to have.

  • jonas


    1. Play credit card roulette. Win some, lose some.
    2. Speak up.
    3. Don’t go out with a big group
    4. Suck it up, quit complaining

  • what happened to free CUBA?

    This is what you do…
    for example (a party of five)a $500 tab…
    ask the server to split the check 5 ways, right?
    then you proceed to pay 4 of those w/a $100 a piece in cash, right?
    then, with the remaining $100, put it on a credit card, add the minimum 15%, so that the total charge is $115, ok?…then,
    STIFF THE SERVER on the remaining $400 that was paid in cash…
    Can I tell you how many times as a server this has happened at a particular SUSHI restaurant (in Oak Lawn)that gives away FREE SUSHI every weds nite from 5-7,

  • I think requesting your own separate check at the beginning of the meal is your best bet – especially if you know you won’t be drinking.

    @ Rawlins – I totally hear you. I used to hate when I would go to dinner with a couple and they would split the check in “half.” Especially when I was young & broke and consciously ordering lower priced meals.

    So now that I have a significant other we always throw in two credit cards and ask to split the bill three ways. It’s an easy fix.