Ask Dear Prudence: Splitting A Check

Thursday, June 20, 2013

All this month, Emily Yoffe, Dear Prudence columnist for Slate takes listeners questions on thorny ethical and etiquette questions and offers her advice.

This week: Does "hosting" imply picking up the tab for restaurant meals and is there a good way to handle check-splitting when people of different means ... and different tastes are involved?  

  • Have advice about this situation? Post it below!
  • Need advice?  Post your own dilemma here and maybe you'll join Emily on the air next week!

Some of the advice that came in during today's conversation about the bill-splitting conundrum. 

  • Emily: When you hear that the event is at a restaurant, you should try to get the payment policy clarified.
  • Emily: At the restaurant, talk to the waiter, explain the situation, and ask for a separate check. (Only if you don’t think lots of others are going to do this as well)
  • Caller Karen: You have to ask, even though it may be uncomfortable: “are you asking me as your guest, or are we splitting the check.” 
  • Caller Jackie: “Be honest, and just put your money on the table and move on.” Emily agrees: You can proactively say how much you think you owe by giving the money you think you owe to the host before the check arrives or the awkward situations arises.

Got more advice? Keep posting yours in the comments.


Emily Yoffe

Comments [16]

Manuel from Bronx

Subway etiquette

I have noticed that now a days people are too shy to comment on people playing songs or music on the bus/train when this music is disturbing the rest of the commuters. Should we uphold the peace of the environment or continue allowing degenerate behaviors such as this to go unchecked?

Jun. 27 2013 11:53 AM
Tina from Queens

Not only in Germany. Pretty much throughout Europe, the birthday person invites, hosts and pays. I think it is a spoiled attitude to wait for a surprise party. You will get very dissapointed when nobody throws a surprise party for you. By taking matters into your own hands you know what to expect, and by keeping your expectations realistic you will not get disspointed.
I just did my 50th. I payed for the whole tab (hefy - but I didn't care - you are 50 only once:). But, the guests were generous in gifts, so I made part of my money back. It was still expensive, but social life comes at a cost. Otherwise you can stay home and sulk!

Jun. 20 2013 12:06 PM
Lisa from Oakland

I've been in this situation, but on the other end. Someone brought a friend to a dinner a few of us had planned. However, when the check came, it was obvious she wasn't going to pay. I would not mind paying for others coming to a dinner if they can't afford to, but it would've been less awkward if she had been upfront about it. I have no problem picking up the check if I know that is to be expected. I think if you cannot afford to go out, simply saying "I would love to go out, but I can't afford to now." Most friends, I hope, would be happy to say, "hey, I'll treat you." I do this often- pay for friends. But if you're going out with someone you are not comfortable enough to say this to, then you should expect to pay your share.

Jun. 20 2013 12:00 PM

I guess I don't understand the problem. If someone invites me to dinner without clarifying in advance that we share the bill - I expect them to pay.

Jun. 20 2013 12:00 PM
Listener from 10037

I lived in Germany. It is the tradition there that on your birthday you bring in the treats to the office.

Jun. 20 2013 11:58 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

I think ultimately all this boils down to good communication, but in this day and age, with people more interested in their electronic gadgets than actually dealing with other human beings, communication is going down the drain.

Jun. 20 2013 11:58 AM
John from Washington, DC

Bring lots of cash in small deniminations to put out exactly what you ordered, maybe rounded up generously a bit, as soon as the check arrives. That shifts the burden better than asking for change, etc.

When a restaurant is announced by a "host" I have come back with a different suggestion, or early-bird menu at a different time, citing everyone's expenses. That brings out in advance whether the person who initiated it is really paying.

I've also pointed out when someone has ordered even less than I have. That usually readjusts things without sounding selfish.

Jun. 20 2013 11:58 AM
Dorothy from Manhattan

"Hospitality" isn't the issue. The issue (for me) is that I'm careful about what I'm ordering while another person (often with buckets of money) orders several expensive courses THEN she "suggests" that we split the check. I USED TO have a friend like that.

Jun. 20 2013 11:57 AM
jb from Brooklyn

When invited to a pricey event I respond with "it's a little too rich for my budget". That puts the onus on the person offering to clarify details. It's even gotten a few "don't be silly-it's on us!" Can't blame a girl for trying.

Jun. 20 2013 11:56 AM
Robert from Manhattan

I dont drink alcohol, and I'm picky about what I eat, and also how much I'm willing to spend on food out. I have no problem telling anyone who invites me out, that I would attend as long as I like the place and can get my own bill.

Jun. 20 2013 11:56 AM
dan from park slope

technology could simplify this greatly. just have an app where the waiter takes each person's (or couple's) bill separately, and each person can charge for what they ordered to their credit card themselves...

Jun. 20 2013 11:56 AM
Luke from fort greene

As a vegetarian I often encounter this problem.
With large parties of friends when 'the table' orders vast amounts of food I don't consume, like kobe beef pizza or sushi with various animals, when I just had the very cheap cucumber roll and side of rice or cheese slice.

I don't judge my friends for their carnivorism, but its frustrating to be expected to split the check equally.

I have just learned to kind of make a joke out of it and then contribute something closer to what I ate.

Sometimes its uncomfortable, but often people just aren't thinking about it.

Jun. 20 2013 11:56 AM
Chris from Brooklyn

I think there's an easy solution. You always assume that you will be expected to pay and if you're invited to an event or get together at a venue you can't afford you say at the time of invitation "oh, that place is a little out of our budget" and then suggest another option in your price range. Your friend then has the opportunity to agree to your choice or to offer to pay. No awkwardness.

Jun. 20 2013 11:56 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Maybe it's because of who my social circle is, but usually when I'm at a restaurant w/friends, there's a discussion before we order (or during) about whether to ask for separate checks.

Jun. 20 2013 11:55 AM
Ben from Manhattan

This strikes me as ridiculous. My wife and I are hosting a party to celebrate a special occasion and would NEVER ask our guests to pay. We hope they will give us monetary gifts, but do not expect it.
If it was just a gathering of friends, than we would NEVER order for other people.

Jun. 20 2013 11:54 AM
Jocy from Nj

A situation similar to on-air re splitting the check---
I do not drink wine or any other liquor. When I go out with friends or family--- others drink and expect me to split evenly the check.what to do?

Jun. 20 2013 11:51 AM

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