A Dilemma: Out With A Group & They Want To Split That Bill Equally

image via wit & delight

What to do, what to do?

We’ve all been there. You know how it goes… you’re out with your friends, you order an inexpensive item on the menu to be your frugal/responsible self, and then the bill comes and someone says, “Let’s just split it equally! That’ll make it easy!” Then, out come the wallets, credit cards, and cash. It’s awkward to pipe up and say, “Uh, but, uh, I only had the $7 thing not the $35 thing, and no wine or dessert or appetizers!”

No one what’s to be the cheap/poor/miser in the group. I’ve been there. Trust me. It’s not a fun place to be. So, how do you deal?

Lucky for us, a reader wrote in with that very question:

“This weekend I went out to a friend’s birthday dinner which was out at a restaurant. We’d recently gone out to eat for this friends’ sisters birthday and everyone in the group paid for themselves. Additionally, during all the other previous times we went out, that I can remember, we all pay for ourselves.

Well this weekend, when the bill came, one of the guests at the table suggested that we all split the bill 6 ways to make things simpler and so that the birthday girl wouldn’t have to pay. This was devastating to me and my wallet! I’d looked at the menu before getting to the restaurant and chose one of the cheapest entrees, which was $15.75. With tax and tip I figured my bill would be no more than about $20. I even brought about that amount of cash. The final bill was $300. Split six ways and its $50!!! I sucked it up and paid $50 because I was too embarrassed to say anything, particularly since I only really knew the birthday girl, her husband and her sister. Any advice on what to do in those situations or what to do before the bill comes to avoid those types of situations?”

Erm. Completely awkward, right.

image via brown dress with white dots

What I suggest is this…

If you know that you will be going out with a group then get cash (which you did- that’s very helpful). When you get the cash get it in small bills. When the waiter comes to the table and asks for your order say you’ll have a separate check. Then when the bill comes you can pay for yours (with the cash and it won’t look like it’s as big of a deal because you’ll be able to pay for it and be done with your bill- as opposed to using a debit card and then the waiter has to come back and then you have to sign, etc= looks like a bigger deal) and throw in the amount that you’re comfortable with for the birthday person. Another idea if you don’t want to say tell the waiter when they take the order (especially if the waiter is standing across the table from you and not right next to you) is make your order and then find your server when you take a bathroom break, and ask for the separate check at that time.

Sounds like the problem with your particular situation is that you weren’t prepared for the possibility of a split check. Next time, play offense.

What do you do when you’re out with a group? How have you handled this?

There’s also a lively discussion happening over in the Community on this very topic.


  1. Kari // September 19, 2012

    I have tried both ways, most times my friends and I do split the bill evenly (except say if one of us had three drinks or something we would pay extra)and when its close friends I don’t really have to worry but when the group gets larger thats when it can become a bit tricky! But on the other hand I have actually experienced any times where people put in what they “think” they owe and forget about tax and tip and everyone else ends up picking up the extra so either way be prepared! Great Post by the way!!

  2. Kristy // October 25, 2012

    Another option is to say you have to leave early (another function or you have to be up early the next day) and then run it by the host that you only had “this” or “that” and leave whatever money on the table. Usually the rest of the party is never offended, in my experience and they are usually grateful that you put in your share.

    • Anna Newell Jones // October 25, 2012

      ohhh! really good idea!

    • Amy // February 7, 2013

      I always find this to be a good option. Another option is to go for a visit to the little ladies room once dinner is completed and go and pay your share then. Quite often you will start a trend that people will similarly follow suit.. Nobody really wants to split a bill!!

      • Anna Newell Jones // February 7, 2013

        Ha! I think you’re right… splitting the bill is just, awkward, huh.

        • Amy // February 7, 2013

          Everyone hates it! Only good thing in Australia though is at least we don’t have to worry about the tip!

          • Anna Newell Jones // February 8, 2013

            No tips in Australia? How does that work?

          • Amy // February 10, 2013

            People get paid by the establishments they work at. For example if you work in hospitality or retail casually you would get an hourly rate of about $25 which I believe is much higher than you America (I think!) hence no tips. (and hence some very poor customer service!)

          • Anna Newell Jones // February 27, 2013

            $25 is WAAY higher than what American waiters get paid. In American servers make only $3.50 per hour so tipping is a must. 20% of the bill is the standard/hopeful tip.

  3. Christa the BabbyMam // January 11, 2013

    I feel really lucky that I’ve never had friends who were bill splitters. We’re the group where it’s more likely that we all request individual checks.

    • Anna Newell Jones // January 11, 2013

      That really is the best way to do it. That’s the what me and my friends do too (luckily!).

  4. Jessica // January 27, 2013

    When I’ve gone out with friends we’ve always paid separately but then the others forget to tip, or only tip $1 or so, which leaves me feeling responsible since I like to tip big when I go out to eat. After several times paying more than I wanted to cover tips, I finally just casually mention after we order “So how do we want to split the tip?” and usually everyone checks what they have in cash or offers to add it on to their bill when it arrives. I know it’s an odd principal but I feel like as rowdy as my friends usually are that it’s important the server gets a small tip from every person at the table!

    • Anna Newell Jones // January 28, 2013

      As a former server I appreciate how you think! You’ve come up with a great solution to a semi-tricky/could be awkward situation.

  5. Cheryl // February 10, 2013

    Hi Anna,

    In Australia, tipping is quite a foreign concept as people know that the staff are being paid a fair wage. When your bill comes out, it covers everything, including the wage for your waiter or waitress. Of course wages vary depending on experience or place of work but I believe that our minimum wages for working in hospitality (wait staff, chefs, kitchen hands, greeters, concierges, porters etc, etc) are higher than in the States so it is possible to earn a living without relying heavily on tips.

    Tipping here isn’t really called tipping…it’s called “keep the change”. If your bill comes to $16 and you hand over a $20, you might say to the cashier, “keep the change” and that’s usually put in a tips jar and divided up between staff at end of night.

    One friend who has visited the States has said that she has once or twice offended service staff because she forgot to tip…and it wasn’t out of malice or spite or being a tight-arse…it’s simply not culturally ingrained in Australians. So if you’re serving an Aussie and they forget to tip (and assuming that you haven’t given atrocious service) a gentle reminder will see them be kind and generous usually :-)

    • Anna Newell Jones // February 27, 2013

      It’s so cool to hear what it’s like in Austrailia. I was a server for many years and culturally, people from almost every other country didn’t tip the same way as Americans. As servers we were told that we could never mention the tip to the customer other than to say, “Thank you”. If anyone ever did it that was a major no-no and was grounds for getting “written up”. It’s a shame because it sounds like some people would be open to the idea of a friendly and gentle reminder. I can understand why the waiters that your friend forgot to tip got offended. Since waiters only make $3.50 an hour here and since they rely on those (hopefully 20% tips) it means a lot when they are forgotten.

  6. Natalie // February 19, 2013

    In Australia, yes we do not have tipping – and could not agree more with Amy who said the customer service here is generally not so good. We end up paying for the “service” and not getting it anyway – I would rather we had a tipping system. Aussie restaurants also rarely offer separate bills which makes it all the more hard to tackle this tricky situation.

  7. Marie Vlasic // May 4, 2013

    It’s happened to me a few times. If what everyone got is pretty close, I don’t worry about it, splitting is fine, but if there is a substantial difference, I do speak up, and nicely say I’ll pay for my own as I didn’t have much, and you all can split the remainder. No one has ever given me a hard time about that. Note: If you can’t afford to leave a 20% tip, stay home. Seriously. Servers have one of the toughest jobs out there, and it’s their income. That’s one area I am NEVER cheap about. (plus, you are treated very well when you’re a good tipper! Whether you tip great or tip badly, you will be remembered for it.)

    • Anna Newell Jones // May 28, 2013

      Could not agree more about the 20% tipping. As a former waiter, I know how hard the servers work. You deal with people treating you like crap, blaming you for everything that happens wrong, being on your feet for crazy long hours, coming home smelling like spoiled food (eww), and then you’re still at the mercy of the customers- something you have no control over.

  8. Dana // November 15, 2013

    This just happened to me! I went to a birthday dinner for a friend. I went last year and everyone paid for just what they ordered. This year, it was a significantly less # of people (just 5 of us). When we were seated, my friend (the one whose b-day we were celebrating) started ordering a bunch of things off the menu for the table. At this point, I assumed that we would be splitting it and went along as I didn’t want to cause a scene. Once that round was done (and I was pretty much full), the other guests started ordering a bunch more and on top of that shots of premium alcohol. Once all was said and done the bill came and I was told I owed $76 (one 5th of the bill). I didn’t eat much after the first round (others at the table even commented on my small appetite) and didn’t have any of the premium shots, yet I was expected to pay the same as everyone else. I also must add that I am living on an extremely small budget as I am going to school and only work a part time job. The others at the table make over $100,000 a year. My friend knows this and didn’t say anything when his other friends told me how much I owed. Lesson learned: I will not be going to any other dinners like this without specifying up front I can only pay for my own as I am in a tough financial spot. Sucks to have to explain this but it’s better than being out the $!

  9. Greg // December 12, 2013

    Traditional Chinese, Arabic, Persian, French, Jewish, and Greek people consider splitting the bill or paying separate bills very bad and rude in their cultures.

    • Daniela // July 23, 2014

      Oh well…let them be offended!

  10. Alan // December 23, 2013

    My gripe here in Australia is ‘no split bills’. Why not? Why should we endure the undignified ritual of working out who had what after the meal and passing cash around? If there are two couples, give us two bills. Otherwise we can go somewhere else where they can be bothered. As for Americans and tipping: We went on a river cruise in Portugal on an American boat and tipping to the Portugese crew was rife. We explained that in Australia, people were paid a living wage and didn’t have to beg. The response from one of the passengers was: ‘Well in Australia you must have had a succession of socialist governments.’ There’s no answer to that. Lack of tipping in Australia does not mean poor service. If you receive poor service then stand up for yourself and complain directly – don’t whinge on websites like this.

  11. Laura // January 11, 2014

    I know this is an old post, but something that mos commenters seem to have missed is that this was a birthday. If I’m going out for someone’s birthday, I assume that we will definitely be splitting the check, because I would never let the birthday guy/gal pay for their own meal. Since that has to be split amongst everyone anyway, it only makes sense to split the full bill.

  12. Ray // March 19, 2014

    I don’t understand. Why split the bill evenly ever? Who came up with this? It seems silly and rude. In which restaurant is it not possible to bring everybody a bill for what they ordered? Why do people have to come up with strategies to get out of subsidizing others at dinner? If I want to buy you dinner or a drink, I will gladly do so. Why on Earth would you assume you have the right to force me into it?

    • Anna Newell Jones // March 19, 2014

      Hi Ray, Spilting the bill evenly is something that a lot of people tend to do. I think what happens is people who aren’t as money conscioous think that everyone had just about the same amount of food and drinks… at least that’s been my experience. Usually the people who suggest just splitting the bill evenly are either bad with their money, have lots of it, or don’t want to look cheap/frugal by busting out the calculator or asking for separate checks. I also know people who show their “love” by paying for things and would never consider NOT paying a few extra bucks if they were out with friends and family.

      • Laura // March 19, 2014

        WOW, that is a really harsh reply. I frequently split the bill evenly with my friends and I am very good with my money. If everyone truly did have about the same amount (or if it’s a really big group where one person’s extravagance gets split by quite a few people), I think the $1-4 difference is worth avoiding the hassle.

        • Anna Newell Jones // March 20, 2014

          I don’t think it was harsh, Laura. Just my opinion. Of course not everyone who wants to split the bill evenly is bad with their money. I didn’t mean to imply that but I think it is a common trait.

  13. alex chopin // May 23, 2014

    I think it’s important to note that in different parts of the U.S. having separate checks per person isn’t allowed. For example in NYC restaurants give one check and it’s up to the guests to figure out how to split. Often splitting is easier if everyone ordered about the same amount. I’ve lived in North Carolina for school and every restaurant has no problem bringing multiple checks, one for each guest in the group.

  14. Rebecca JH // May 30, 2014

    I have a dilemma myself. I’m 16 and am from/live in New Zealand and my group of close friends (6 girls) are 15/16 too. We like to go for dinner every now and then for fun as we all love food. We’ve been to a variety of places – restaurants, all you can eat buffets, a pizzeria where you buy a whole pizza. Everywhere, except the buffet which charges per head, we’ve split the bill. (I can’t remember if this is always evenly) What is your opinion on this? Should the standard be to split the bill, or should we pay for what we eat? Also at one restaurant in particular we order either 1-2 dishes of hot potato chips/fries, who pays for this? Should we bring spare change to pay for this? Thanks

    • Anna Newell Jones // May 31, 2014

      Hi Rebecca, I always prefer to pay for what I order instead of splitting the bill evenly. Another thing I try to do is to bring cash when I know I’ll be in a group eating/paying situation. That way it’s a lot easier to pony up what ya owe and move on.

      • Rebecca JH // May 31, 2014

        Thanks for your reply

  15. Ideatech // July 15, 2014

    We all have experienced this very real situation. Sometimes, we just say, let’s split this evenly, but it becomes unfair for those who were trying to save. Or maybe everyone gets several expensive bottles of wine, but the person who wants to save doesn’t take wine. Does that person still have to split the expensive wine with everyone else?

    I’ve also seen others try to split up a bill fairly and it became very painful to watch the struggles. It is fair, but it takes mental effort and struggle.

    I had enough seeing this problem. My solution to this problem, is to create a tool to have regular every day people easily and fairly split a bill. I finally did it! And I hope many others who have struggled with this problem can now have a much easier time.

    I published an iPhone/iPad App: ‘Fair Bill Split’ http://www.ideatechlabs.com/products/fair-bill-split/

    I hope others don’t have to suffer through hard mental calculations to keep things fair.

  16. Tara // August 22, 2014

    I love going out with groups of friends. It’s just a great way to spend an evening! I always tell the waiter that we’re splitting the check before the even start the orders. It makes it easier on them and the group. I know I only ever buy what I can afford that night!

  17. Marsha // October 20, 2014

    I actually have a question!

    How do you go about splitting for something when it’s a party of 3 but two of the people are a couple?
    Do they act as one or as individuals?
    And I’m not just talking in the contex of going out to eat but with presents as well.
    Any thoughts?

    • Anna Newell Jones // October 20, 2014

      Hmmm… that’s a good question. I think when out to eat they count as individuals. With presents, I guess it depends on what you want to give them, and what the occassion is… I could see an experience gift like movie tickets, for example, being a “couple” gift but not something like a cozy, over-sized, unisex hoodie or something like that that they’d have to share. I think if you give a “couple” gift it has to recognize each individual.

  18. Betty83 // December 16, 2014

    Today, they are great apps that will help you to share group bills on the way you want. I’m using Tricount. It easily help you to split group bills and expenses by participant.

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