How to split the tab (without losing friends)
Whether your friends are open about money or more private with their finances, splitting the bill at dinner can be tricky.
Do you have to pay for other people’s drinks if you didn’t order any? Do you chip in for an appetizer you didn’t eat? How do you split tax and tip?
The good news is that mobile payment systems like Venmo and Zelle have made splitting the bill quick and easier than ever.
But they haven’t completely removed all the awkwardness from eating out with friends.
Here are a few ways to avoid looking stingy, overpaying, or ticking anyone else off.
Make decisions beforehand
One of the best ways to avoid confusion (and later, resentment) among your friends is to definitively decide before the meal which way you’re splitting the check.
“Establish who is going to pay the bill up front,” says Jacqueline Whitmore, an etiquette expert. “Don’t whip out a calculator without warning after a meal, because you run the risk of looking cheap.”
Waiters are often more than willing to split the check, Whitmore says, so don’t be embarrassed to inquire before the meal to make things easier on your group and the waitstaff.
Talking about the check beforehand also prevents miscommunication. One friend may have meant to agree to pay the tab, with or without expectation that they will be paid back.
Alternatively, your group of friends be fine with splitting the tab evenly. But the fairest way to avoid conflict is to bring up the subject before the meal, even if it initially feels uncomfortable, she says.
Choose your app
Apps like Venmo and Square Cash make it easy for one person to pick up the tab and everyone else to send them electronic payments for their share. Instead of reminding your friends individually to pay you, you can request a specific amount from each person based on their order.
Other apps like Tab and Plates by Splitwise, which utilize Venmo, have features that allow you to keep track of who paid last, and some even have options for special occasions, like covering the cost of the birthday girl or boy.
“While gifting can be nice, sometimes you don’t want that sort of pressure on a relationship,” says Jonathan Bittner, the CEO of Splitwise. “Our app is designed to help make relationships about what they should be about, and less about money.”
Paying only for what you ordered — particularly down to the cent — used to feel stingy. But the apps help reduce the pressure to round up or kick in a little extra.
If all of your friends agree to use an app, the social stigma disappears. Gabe Savit, the CEO of Tab, says that he is getting requests to make features more granular to keep better track of how splits were done.
“The data is interesting and indicative of how there’s a real desire for people to be as specific as possible with the bill,” Savit says.
According to Plates and Tab, users of all ages and locations are becoming more accustomed to paying for meals with the aid of apps, although demographics tend to skew toward younger people and more urban areas.
Always be considerate
If you know one of your friends is on a limited income, try to avoid putting them in a position where they might have to pay for things they didn’t order. The tactful way to do this is to let that friend decide which way of paying works best before the meal, and sticking to it. They may be more comfortable paying the exact dollar amount they owe instead of splitting a tab evenly.
“I wouldn’t be quibbling with friends over a dollar or two dollars,” says Whitmore.
Conversely, if you’re the one that’s tight on cash, requesting a separate check for yourself at the beginning of the meal can give you an out without forcing you to explain.