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Is There a Stigma Against Separate Checks?

I ask because I saw an advice column in SELF magazine on how to deal with dining-with-friends-and-money situations, especially with the sticky situation of a friend who ordered a pricey entree and wants to split the bill with someone who munched on a salad. I don’t disagree with SELF’s advice, but perhaps dining out is more awkward then it has to be.

Perhaps it’s because we are poor grad students, but my friends and I almost always ask for separate checks at restaurants (unless what we’ve ordered are really comparable, then we split the checks down the middle). I haven’t felt any stigma against getting separate checks, either from the waitstaff nor from my friends.

Ask Metafilter has a great thread on why separate checks for large groups can be a pain in the a– for waiters, however, we don’t typically have a problem getting separate checks, especially if we ask at the beginning of the meal. There’s nothing embarrassing about asking friends to pay their share, it’s not as if you are asking them for a cash loan!

Here is what SELF says and my take.

1. They got bubbly and oysters. You, a friggin’ frisee salad. Now they want to split the bill.

What SELF says:

You don’t want to seem like a tightwad, but if you’re broke, you’re broke. Say jokingly, “That salad was good, but not $40 good!” Next time, announce when you sit down that you’re ordering small.

My take: It’s not a matter of being a tightwad. No one likes to pay bubbly and oyster prices for a salad -unless your intention is to treat your friends, in which case, let generosity lead the way! I would just say, “why don’t we ask for separate checks” and then flag down the waiter. If that doesn’t work and you have cash, put down cash for your portion (including tax and tip, of course).

2. One person is clearly skimping on her share.

What SELF says:

Rib her gently. (“What else is hiding in that Marc Jacobs wallet, girl?”) In the future, offer to tally up shares–an app like Billr.me makes it easy–and ask another diner to collect so you don’t become the dinner-party pooper.

My take: In big groups, an easy rule of thumb is to take your dinner cost and add 30% (10% for tax and 20% for tip).

3. You didn’t research and chose the $$$ place.

What SELF says:

Sorry, this is your bad, so you have to make it up to the rest of the group. Offer to cover desserts or at least a round of post-dinner drinks. And for your next pick, might we suggest cheap and cheerful burgers and beers?

My take:

It’s up to someone in the group to speak up if the restaurant is too expensive, so I don’t think the person who selected the restaurant should have to pony up for more than his or her fair share. Of course, my friends and I have walked out of a restaurant before we even opened up our napkins once we realized how expensive it is, so it may be that we just have no shame…!

Do you usually ask for separate checks when you are out with friends? And has anyone had a friend gutsy even to suggest an even split when he/she ordered champagne and lobster while you munched on bread?

  • Little Miss Moneybags - A lot of this is probably regional, too. Most restaurants I went to in NYC (where, no doubt, Self is headquartered) do not split checks even when asked ahead of time. Some even have it printed in the menu–“no separate tabs” or “no split checks”. It’s also very much not in the culture of people to be insistent about splitting it, even when I was a poor grad student there eating with other poor grad students. It still throws me for a loop to be in the midwest and have a waitress offer to split checks at the beginning of the meal! ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - I lived in NYC for a summer but mostly lived on reimbursable meals, so people would frequently fight over whose credit card the bill is on so they can get the points! ReplyCancel

  • mochiandmacarons - Are they nuts? I have no qualms in saying when I shouldn't be paying for something I didn't eat.

    ESPECIALLY with someone like me, who is picky to a fault and I have to avoid things like nachos, processed cheese, etc, I don't care if people eat them and love them, I just don't want to pay for it too.

    I always try and ask for separate cheques when I sit down. Otherwise, I do the math of what I ate, add tax, tip, and put in cash. ReplyCancel

  • Emily @ evolvingPF - Always, always separate checks, and no stigma about asking for them. The only exception is when one person has cash and the other pays the whole meal on a card and is immediately reimbursed (but still the proper amount has been paid by each) or if what was ordered was very close in price and the bill can be split 50/50 (generally offered by the person who would have paid like a dollar less). BUT I almost always dine with grad students! ReplyCancel

  • Manda - I find it weird that people supposedly have a problem with not speaking up about paying for something they didn't eat. That stuff doesn't fly with my friends. We always do separate checks, and if the restaurant won't do that then we'll write on the back of the receipts how much each card should be charged. When I was on spring break in St. Augustine, our waiters automatically asked us if we wanted separate checks because so many college kids filter through the town that it's become standard practice to split checks there! ReplyCancel

  • MakingSenseofCents - I'm from the Midwest, and I feel it's VERY different here. I have actually NEVER done an even split until I went on vacation to LA and I thought it was really weird. Everyone in St. Louis just asks for separate checks. We did get yelled at when we all went on vacation to Las Vegas and our waitress told us that we were weird for wanting separate checks. ReplyCancel

  • Andrea - I've never understood why it's difficult to ask for separate checks. I'm not too far away from Michelle geographically, so maybe it's a regional thing? Splitting the check evenly seems so strange to me; why would I want to pay for stuff I didn't get to eat? It's never been an awkward thing for me; if it's someone like my younger cousin, I pay for the whole meal, and if not I let the server know upfront that we want separate checks. If the difference *is* geographic, I'm glad I live in an area where it's okay to make things fair! ReplyCancel

  • bluecollarworkman - I didnt' know that it was a big thing either. Weird. Usually my family and I go out and we don't split the check. We just all put in what we owe in cash and it works out. *shrug * works out pretty good since no one is skimping on the bill. I think there shouldn't have to be "things to say" when bill stuff happens, I think peopel shoudl just say what they're thinking, what's wrong with that? "Oh hey Mac, I know you wanna split the bill, but my nachos dont' add up to your burger and beer, so that ain't gonna happen." What's the big deal in saying that? ReplyCancel

  • SavvyFinancialLatina - Ehh? I have always asked for separate checks with friends. There is no hesitation. ReplyCancel

  • Lyn @ Pretty Frugal - I always try to bring cash when I go to eat with friends. Some restaurants don't split the check with a certain number of people, so I like to be prepared. I do have a couple of friends who ALWAYS skimp on their portion of the tip, so I often end up paying a little bit more than my share. That extra two bucks won't make a huge difference to me, but it will to our server.

  • 50by25laura - I live in NYC and ALWAYS just split the bill. It makes you feel like the cheapo if you don't do the same, and there is definitely a stigma associated with it. ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - Can you just put down your portion in cash? I think some of the hesitation with separate checks is the hassle, but it's not any more hassle for anyone (maybe except the person who has to carry cash) to put down cash for what he/she ate. ReplyCancel

      • 50by25laura - I mean, you could, but you'd be considered pretty stingy/selfish by the rest of the group for paying your exact share instead of the split that everyone else is doing with credit cards. It's just expected that you're not going to quibble about a $1-5 difference, because it all evens out in the end. Plus, it creates more hassle if everyone else is splitting it but then you are paying a different amount, because other people will have to adjust their totals based on what you're putting in. (Usually, cash is processed by the waiter after the credit cards, and most of the time it just goes toward tip.) ReplyCancel

        • Debbie - We had a situation where we asked friends if they wanted to join us for a light dinner at the bar of a local restaurant. They got there ahead of us, asked for a table, ordered a 3 course meal and we stuck with our 'bar menu' choice of veggie burgers {we're also vegan and couldn't eat a lot of what was on the regular menu.} When the bill came there was a $60 discrepancy between our two orders. They never said a word, so my husband asked for separate checks. Why should we pay $30 more to help pay for their meal and they pay $30 less for what they ordered? We won't get petty for a $10-$15 difference, but come on… It would have been really nice if they had said something, but they were perfectly happy to have us pay a lot more than our share. $60???? Really??????? ReplyCancel

  • Dyan - Usually, when a group of friends and I get together, to make it easier on the waitstaff, we get one check. That said, at the end of the night when the check comes to the table, they hand it to me. They help in figuring out who ordered what, I round everything up to the nearest dollar, split the appetizer among the mouths, figure out and split the tip and tax among everyone, and then everyone pitches in their share. I'm usually a few pennies over just because I round up, but we add it to the tip and the server always seems appreciative. We have never had an issue of someone not paying their way or feeling that they were unjustly given a dollar amount that was wrong. ReplyCancel

  • My Shiny Pennies - When I'm out with a group of 3 or 4, it's not a big deal. When the group gets larger, some of my friends do push for an even-split. I don't mind speaking up because I'd rather risk being seen as cheap than shelling out money for food I didn't even get to eat. ReplyCancel

  • Michelle - If it's the same check we just pay what we owed plus the tip. Never had a problem. Typically, we over pay. The friend who tries to underpaid isn't invited to these dinners anymore. So, we don't worry about that problem anymore. ReplyCancel

  • Newlyweds ona Budget - perhaps like amking sense of cents said, it depends on where you live. i live in southern california and we rarely ask for separate checks. with my friends, we all just pitch in our share and we've never had a problem. my husband and i once went out with family from both sides (mine and his) to celebrate my husband's graduation and his brother asked for a separate check for his family of four, and I remember everyone gave each other looks like it was kind of like okay… I didn't care, but it was a little weird. ReplyCancel

  • krantcents - I think it depends who I am out with. Some friends I will just pay for my share and others I will ask for separate checks. Past experience tends to affect my choices. We were just in alarge group of friends that the shares were off $40, so I am in favor of separate checks. ReplyCancel

  • Budget & the Beach - I live in LA and it's very common to do one check for a fairly small party, then we all just look at the bill and pay our own share. If it's practically even, we split it evenly. Most of my friends would NOT expect me to pay for part of the bill that wasn't mine. Now if it's a huge party and splitting the bill is a pain amongst a lot of people, then we usually ask for a separate check for 3 or 4 people so it's easy to deal with. ReplyCancel

  • @momoneymohouses - I think the only times I've ever split the bill was when my meal was the exact same cost of my friend's meal, otherwise we always ask for separate bills. It's seems odd not to. How hard is it to get a separate bill anyways? ReplyCancel

    • Melinda Gonzalez - I always wondered the same thing, is it really that hard to separate checks? I understand it takes more time, but wouldn't it take just as much time (or more) if everyone was sitting at separate tables? I would also think separating the bills would result in more tips since if everyone is separate they will each tip. I would honestly like to know why it is harder (I'm really curious) as I have never worked for tips or in a restaurant (I have worked fast food and retail though!). ReplyCancel

  • Searhapsody - I usually split it evenly among good friends, but there isn't usually a huge difference and I feel like things sort of even out in the long run. With folks I don't know well I just put in my share and leave it at that. ReplyCancel

  • Lacy @EarnVerse - Consistently separate checks or an honor system. By honor system I mean it is a you get this, I got it next time. This treatment is reserved for good friends and people we see regularly where we end up doing similar things so you know about how much is being spent each go round. ReplyCancel

  • Jenny - In Tokyo, restaurant's are far more eager to accommodate split checks than anywhere else that I've lived.

    And, to answer your question, I have been on a number of dates where this sort of thing (asking for an equal split when some order far more $$$ than others) has happened. ReplyCancel

  • A Dash of This and That - I am in Canada also. For me it totally depends on the group of people I am with, some friends the bill is split evenly (and usually what we order is within a few dollars), other friends it's one bill but we put in our share plus tax and tip, then there are others it's separate bills. ReplyCancel

  • Cristina - I do feel that there's a stigma against separate checks. However, I never ask for them, so I am probably biased. If I know that I ordered significantly more than my dining partner, I will offer to pay extra or pick up the whole check if they are really price-sensitive. In large groups, we usually have everyone just put in what they think they owe, or split the check evenly. ReplyCancel

  • Putri - We always ask for separate checks, or just pay our own portion of the meal if the check is not split. No problems here. ReplyCancel

  • Lisa - I believe in being fair when you're out with friends. Unless someone has specifically said they'd be footing the bill, I always assume I'll be paying for my share, based on what I ordered. I always feel weird when something outside of that scenario happens! ReplyCancel

  • Jordann - Wow I don't think I've ever been faced with this situation. When dining in larger groups, we ALWAYS say separate checks if the waiter/waitress asks, and if they don't, we each pay for what we ordered. Honestly this has never even come up as an issue for me, not once! It wouldn't even occur to me to to split the bill evenly. ReplyCancel

  • moneyaftergrad - hahaha I've totally walked out of too-expensive restaurants before. I guess my friends & I have no shame either! ReplyCancel

  • Fig - It's definitely regional. I live in the south and waiters always ask how we want the bill separated. It's pretty much automatically assumed here that a party with more than 2 will have separate checks. If they didn't ask I'd definitely ask for separate since there is not stigma here. ReplyCancel

  • Karyn S - It depends on who do I go with. Sometimes we do separate checks, sometime we split it evenly, and sometimes if one has cash (usually me) and the other credit, I give them the cash of my part of the bill and they charge it on their credit. It's usually not a big deal. There's a game where everyone puts their cell phone in the middle of the table and whoever touches their phone first pays for the bill. ReplyCancel

  • makinthebacon1 - I hardly ever go out to eat at restaurants because I consider them a luxury, but when I do, I always ask for separate bills when out with friends. If it's friend's bday and it's a small group, I'll chip in for that person's dinner or I don't mind for paying for that person's dinner. I hate going out in huge groups and the waitstaff get annoyed when you ask for separate cheques or they say they can't do it when it's parties of 8 or more. How hard can it be? Is it because they don't have enough of those faux leather receipt holders and pens? ReplyCancel

  • fabulously frugirl - I've been faced with both situations and I much rather prefer separate cheques, or I try to remember to bring cash (not just $20 bills) so that I can just leave my portion. If' it's not too much of a difference to split everything equally ($1-$5 difference), then I don't mind going that route, since it makes it a bit easier for everyone.

    Certain restaurants refuse to do separate bills, but they do accept multiple payments via credit cards. ReplyCancel

  • dreemsie - When my friends and I go out, we will split the bill and sometimes even play a nice game of credit card roulette. There are no qualms with calling someone out for ordering something expensive if they try and split the bill. We simply ask them to pay more.

    I noticed my wives girlfriends try to play that card more often than my friends. They will try to split bills when some of the girls are drinking while others are not. ReplyCancel

  • Mr Credit Card - The solution is easy. Just say "let's get our separate checks"…..Tell the waiter or waitress that and problem solved. It's fair as well!!! It becomes a hassle when you have a party of ten though!!! Especially when ome drink alcohol and some don't! ReplyCancel

  • Miiockm - I think it's more inconsiderate to ask someone to pay for your expensive item when theirs was significantly cheaper. ReplyCancel

  • The Norwegian Girl - I always ask for separate checks. Hell no if I`m paying for anyone else`s food. That`s not cool! ReplyCancel

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