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Posts Tagged ‘Elaine Swann’

Trials and Travails of ‘Splitting the Bill’

Posted by gratrueities on April 14, 2010

You’ve just enjoyed a wonderful (one hopes!) dinner out with friends and then comes the moment of truth…the bill arrives.

Splitting the bill can, too frequently, be an awkward experience. The practice I’m  most comfortable with is adding in the gratuity and splitting the total by the number of people – then each person/couple/family contributes accordingly, per person. My rationale:  if you are dining as a group, you mostly likely are doing so because you want to do so, you enjoy one another’s company and your expectations regarding the experience and expense involved are fairly consistent.

However, it’s recently come to my attention that not everyone is in agreement on this subject!

From the price of the items ordered to the amount of the tip, there seem to be many points open to question. A recent example…I was in the process of dividing a check and adding a 20% gratuity on the total bill, including tax, when someone asked “why are you tipping on the tax – shouldn’t you just double the tax? That’s what I always do.” (a formula that equated to about 16% where we were dining). This did not become a heated discussion by any means, but it highlights one area of confusion that surrounds splitting the bill – every person has different practices. To further complicate things, if the person figuring the bill is a poor tipper, do you speak up or just quietly bump up the tip at your own expense?

Then consider the “small-orderer” – the person who only orders a salad or appetizer (Worse…just a cup of coffee. Worse yet…just drinks the tap water!) while everyone else orders a meal. Or, the person who doesn’t drink alcohol while the rest of the group swills down cocktails and/or wine. In those instances, it may be more sensitive to tell the person who did not partake to “throw in” whatever they think is fair and split the remaining balance . Since I am never that person who doesn’t indulge, I can’t say for sure – but I think I would still be inclined to want to be included in regular split. This is definitely a case where I know (from experience, unfortunately) not everyone agrees!

Let’s not forget to look at the flip side – the person who decides they want to order every appetizer on the menu, an exotic item (think truffles or lobster) or that pricey bottle of wine – at the everyone else’s expense. Not fair…and there should be consequences! Unless they offer to cover their personal indulgence, they may not want to expect to be included the next time!

These are my only my opinions. I, therefore, decided to do a little research to see what it actually considered customary today. I was happy to see that I am somewhat in line with current thinking…or at least half. A recent FoxBusiness article addressing the etiquette of splitting the check offers opposing arguments:

One opinon: “Times are tight, and if a person or couple orders appetizers, dessert and drank alcohol, and you choose not to, it’s OK to discreetly say, ‘I am going to take care of my end,’” said Elaine Swann, lifestyle and etiquette coach. “But be sure to adequately cover what you ordered, plus tip.”

Arguing for the other side: Mirza Grotts, an etiquette and protocol consultant,  said situations regarding money are already awkward enough, and by asking to individually pay will make matters worse.“Asking for separate checks is very passé, it’s too much work for the waiter and if you have lost your job you probably shouldn’t be going out in the first place,” she said. “Asking for separate checks is very passé, it’s too much work for the waiter and if you have lost your job you probably shouldn’t be going out in the first place,” she said.She said it’s much easier to split the bill evenly, particularly if it’s a friend you go out with repeatedly. “It becomes a wash and will even out in the long run,” she said.

So…my conclusion: Let sensitivity and common sense prevail. If you are dining with friends with whom you socialize regularly, it probably will all even out in the end…just split and make it easy. If you are dining with someone in a difficult financial situation who orders frugally, let them pay accordingly (or better yet, treat them if you have the means and it’s comfortable to do so). If dining with a repeat offender – the “big orderer” who burdens you, make a decision. Bottom line, if you resent the bill split, you probably shouldn’t repeat the circumstances.

Side notes:

Make it clear from the beginning that the check will be split, avoiding unpleasant surprises at the end of the meal.

Do not let the check sit on the table at the end of the meal: Grotts also said it’s rude to let the bill sit on the table when it arrives. “Always be the first to grab the bill, it is embarrassing to let it linger.”

Social situations are distinctly different from a business dinner, in which case the person extending the invitation is expected to pick up the bill.

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