Sunday, 25 February 2018

To Split the Bill, or Not. That is the Question.

You’ve had a fabulous evening out with friends, your tummies are full, your wine glasses almost empty and you could talk until the small hours, but then the waiter places the bill on the table and everyone falls silent, eyeing the innocent bit of paper nervously. Will someone offer to pay the lot? Oh God, is Kirsty getting her phone out to start totting up what everyone had? Shall we just split it? Have they added a service charge on already? And what about poor Harriet who was just on tap water?!

Paying the bill: Undeniably the worst part of going out for a meal; unless you’re the lucky sod with a rich relative who forks out for everyone, every time. Chances of that though? Slim to none. 
I floated the question on Facebook a few weeks ago and it got A LOT of response with varying opinions of what was acceptable or not. There were those that would split the bill, regardless. And there were those that felt different approaches were needed with different people and so whatever it is you’re doing, it should be agreed beforehand. 
I know what it’s like to be the poor relation and internally yell when other people are ordering wine like its water, and I also know what it’s like to feel flush (just the once after a win at the horseracing) and be the one ordering starters, sides and drinks without a care in the world! So, I write this blog post with both perspectives in mind.
As I said, a large contingent of people are very happy to split the bill. If someone eats or drinks more, what’s the big deal?! Life is much too short to worry about such things. Just split the bill and be done with it. I like this attitude, I really do, and for a lot of meals, I too am very happy to simply split the bill equally among all parties, but on some occasions, I just don’t think it’s fair.
So, what’s the problem?
Well, as someone who usually drinks tap water (unless I’m on the booze), paying up for other peoples’ drinks (soft or hard) really does bother me. There, I said it. What with coke and lemonade costing near enough the same as a pint of lager these days, it’s not a question of who is drinking or not; if mine’s free and yours isn’t, I don’t want be putting my hand in my pocket for it!
Sticking with the subject of drinks, for most people it’s about whether someone has joined in with the jollities and frivolities of alcohol that seems to cause many of the problems when it comes to splitting the bill. The consensus seems to be that the food bill should be split between everyone and the drinks bill then split only between those who have been drinking (just don’t forget those lemonades add up quite considerably too!). I would go along with this, and think it’s a very fair way of doing things. However, I must also tackle the subject of those who say they’re not drinking but are happy to accept the wine when it’s poured. You’re a drinker. Pay up. End of.
If you feel uncomfortable with the drinkers/non-drinkers debacle and are not happy splitting the bill as above, then my suggestion to you is to choose to eat at a place where people can bring their own booze. This eliminates the argument entirely and everyone can bring exactly what they want, whether it be top of the range, cheap plonk, a whole bagful or a screw top wine that can go back in a handbag ready to drink on another occasion. We’ve done this with many friends and it works well. Of course, you may be limited in terms of the type of restaurant, but hey, you can’t have it all ways. 
So what about if someone orders starters and no one else does? Or what about the person that fancied the chateaubriand whilst everyone else was more…frugal?
I’ve been out for meals in the past where everyone has ordered steak and then there’s little old me with my bowl of pasta costing under a tenner; then when the bill arrives, I’m told I need to cough up £40!!! Say WHAT?! 
I think the main thing here is to just be aware. Be aware of what you’ve had and aware of what others have had. If someone on the table has had considerably less, then just split the bill accordingly, and if you’ve been the indulgent one, just slide in an extra note or two when it comes to paying the bill. I think it’s really important that everyone has exactly what they want, so if you want the most expensive thing – and you can afford it – have it. Just be prepared to pay for it. 
Being sensitive to known (or unknown) financial pressures other people in your party might be under is something to bear in mind. We went out for a curry once, everyone ordered what they wanted, and then when the bill came at the end, we split it and one of guys told us he’d have to owe us as he didn’t actually have any money. Not on his person, not in the bank, not anywhere. Now, there’s being sensitive to financial pressures (which we were) and there’s being plain rude (which he was). If you cannot afford a meal, don’t go – unless of course you’re going with that rich relative!
So, lessons learnt so far? Agree before going for the meal how the bill will be paid at the end and be aware of what you and others are having so you act accordingly when the bill arrives.
Still left to tackle is the subject of the service charge. I’m not here to debate tipping, rather more how it gets given within a group. In my experience, too many people forget all about the tip and just put in enough money to cover their food, leaving one or two unlucky people to chip in loads extra. The tip, split between everyone, really isn’t much, but for just one or two people, it’s quite a significant extra on top of an evening out. Don’t forget the tip people. 
And finally, I have to mention the actual act of paying the bill and how one goes about it. In my introduction I mentioned Kirsty getting out her mobile phone to calculate what everyone owes – to the penny. I wasn’t joking. Kirsty is a pseudonym for many people I have been out for a meal with, I am sad to say. I just don’t get the need to use a calculator to work out any bill. You know what you roughly had, you know what it roughly cost, you round it up and you pay the price! Even people who completely flunked maths should be able to work out what they owe to the nearest fiver or tenner. There is no need to bring any pennies into the equation, so therefore, there is no need for a calculator. Now, asides from Kirsty and her mobile phone, I would also suggest getting cash out in advance if possible to save the waiter having to split the bill several different ways and take several different card payments. And finally, in terms of paying the bill, just do it as quickly and quietly as possible. It really is quite vulgar, and it can ruin a lovely evening, to stew over the bill, especially in company.
So my top tips are, agree before you even go for the meal what’s happening with the bill, be aware of what you’ve had and as a result, be fair. And DO NOT get your mobile phone out to make any calculations, use your head and your heart instead. 
So, what’s your bill etiquette?

1 comment:

  1. You make some good points here and it made me chuckle in places when I was reminded of situations I've found myself in. I find it can be even more tricky sometimes with relations, rather than friends!