The Rich Miser

Eat and Drink: How to Split the Bill, Without Actually Splitting the Bill

This happens all the time: you go out to eat and drink with a group of friends, and the time comes to pay the bill. The sever delivers that little leather thingamajig where they put the tab, and everyone throws in their credit cards for an even split. Many times, you take a hit because you consumed less than others, but wind up paying an even share. You might’ve had $20 worth of food, yet you pay $45.

So, how do you split the bill? Well, there’s many ways, but the reality on the ground is that many of us don’t actually put ’em in practice because we don’t want to look or feel like a cheapskate, or because we’ve had some drinks and don’t care at that particular moment (but are then sore over it the next day). If that’s your frequent scenario, here’s some clever ways to get a better deal:

Choose the Restaurant, to Eat and Drink for Less

While you may not always be able to avoid an even bill split, many times you have lots of influence over the restaurant you dine at. So, don’t go fine dining and spend $50 on an overpriced steak. Rather, choose a cheaper-but-cool place, such as a trendy taco joint. This will reduce the overall bill, thereby saving you money.

split the bill

To pull this off, be proactive. The reality is that people don’t generally like making decisions. So, make the decision yourself. Instead of sending out a group text saying something like “dinner?”, say “dinner at [trendy taco place]”? Or, better yet, speak in the imperative: “dinner tonight at X”. If someone doesn’t like it, let ’em speak up. But many times, your choice will be accepted without much questioning. (I’m not saying that you be bossy, just that you benevolently lead).

Get Some Tapas

Not everyone eats the same amount. Take advantage of this truth by going to places that serve small plates or tapas, rather than traditional appetizer-and-main-course restaurants. That way, you don’t get stuck with a bunch of light eaters ordering $25 entrees that they won’t consume; instead they might eat and drink by getting a $12 tapa and $3 beer, thereby, again, lowering the overall bill.

Don’t Get Mad, Get Even

One way to even the scales is to simply compensate when you can (within reason). For example, the next time those people that are always sticking you with the disproportionate bills have a house party, don’t hesitate to drink their expensive booze. Bring a bottle of the somewhat-cheap-but-awesome Tito’s Vodka, but then help yourself to their Patrón. Don’t be shy, don’t justify it, don’t even mention it; just grab that bottle (so long as it’s on the party “drink table” with others).

eat and drink

Never heard of this rum, but it looks expensive…

You can also even out the bill at the restaurant by ordering expensive drinks for yourself. Yeah, this will run up the bill and cost everyone more, but it will be “fair” and might get a message across (especially if you’re dealing with a particularly bad, repeat offender). Do it at your own risk – I’m just throwing it out there.

Split the Bill Unevenly and Set A Precedent

If you’re in a situation where an even bill split will wind up benefiting you, you can always take the initiative of asking to split the bill unevenly (in your friends’ favor), or offering to pay the entire tip. That way, you can try to set a precedent for when you eat and drink with that particular group of people. Hopefully, on another occasion when they would draw the benefit of an even split, they will remember what you did and offer to pay more themselves.

Get A Ride

Another way to equalize things is, if you know your friends will be driving anyways, asking them to pick you up. That way, you at least get a service (and a designated driver).

Pick me up, dude

Summing It Up

The fundamental idea here is fairness. You don’t have to always try to even everything out with mathematical precision. With some close friends, I don’t even care. But, there are other times when people clearly take advantage, and some people do it repeatedly. In that case, you can always ask to split the bill justly, but my experience has been that many of us don’t actually do it in the moment, because we’re having a good time and want to avoid the awkwardness. So, if that’s what’s up, you can try these techniques to make things just a bit fairer.

What methods have you used to deal with unfair bill splitting?

H/T: Money Crashers

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6 thoughts on “Eat and Drink: How to Split the Bill, Without Actually Splitting the Bill

  1. Cubert

    This is often a touchy subject. I have one friend in particular who doesn’t drink alcohol, so when it’s time to split the tab among all the friends, we have to do some funky math to figure it out. I don’t mind, because who’s going to rag on a recovering alcoholic, right??
    Mainly though, we just split the tab evenly and try not to go overboard with anything fancy. If you have friends that go crazy and order the surf and turf with high ball cocktails all the time – tells me they aren’t being very considerate. If they’re smart, they’re buying the first round!

    1. The Rich Miser Post author

      Hey Cubert! I agree; when everyone is acting reasonably and in good faith, it’s usually fine to split the bill evenly. Sometimes, though, you unavoidably have to deal with unreasonable people, be it because they’re friends with your friends, or whatever reason. In those cases, I would consider the steps in the post, if an outright uneven split is not a real possibility.

  2. SMM

    Great Advice! There were definitely people back in my college days that would take a little advantage of this 🙂
    Normally one person pays and then the next time we go out another person pays (kind of like a rotation system). It worked out fine. These days people have Venmo and can easily transfer each other payments on the fly when going out to eat as well.

    1. The Rich Miser Post author

      Thanks! I agree that Venmo is a great solution when the group agrees to proportionately pay the bill.

  3. Damn Millennial

    Cash is king. If you can plan ahead bring some cash know what you got and put your cash in. No one will question that just be respectful and pay your tab with a decent tip . That way you don’t screw your server!

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