How to Properly Split the Bill

Know what to do when asked to pay more than you owe.

Richie Frieman
4-minute read
Episode #150

One of my very first Modern Manners Guy articles asked the question, “Can You Bring Kids To Restaurants?” In this article I’m going to take us back to the dining issues… but with adults. Recently I was at a dinner with three other friends and had a great time--until the bill came. Someone chimed in, “Okay, let’s split it four ways,” and I was a little surprised since there were many drinks and appetizers ordered, just not by me. Now, I’m not trying to be cheap here, but I wouldn’t expect or ask someone else to pay for my five drinks! Seems logical, right?

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How to Properly Split the Bill At a Restaurant

If you go out and everyone orders pretty much the same thing, it’s no big deal to split the bill evenly. I’m not going to argue if I pay a few extra bucks--and I’m often the one to open my wallet when it comes to settling any “bill debates.”

However, when I’ve gone out with a group of people and others have ordered significantly more than me, I’m talking three drinks when I had none, then I’m not OK with splitting the bill. It’s unfair and downright impolite to have others subsidize your meal. Unless it’s a special occasion and I’m treating you or hosting the dinner, I don’t want to be responsible for your drinks or food.

So here are my top three tips for how properly handle splitting the bill with etiquette and good judgment.

Tip #1: Don’t Assume Everyone Is ALL In

At a friend’s birthday, the waitress asked whether we wanted to start off with some appetizers, and one guest--without asking others--started to ramble off a list for the table. I think he ordered the entire appetizer menu and topped it off with a bottle of wine to boot. I was stunned since no one had even talked about ordering appetizers, let alone a bottle of wine. Yes it was our friend’s birthday and the plan was to split the bill evenly (including treating the birthday boy), but that didn’t give this guy license to decide what was being ordered—and what we were all spending.

It’s OK to order for the group—but only if you’ve asked them first. Not everyone has the same tastes, the same diets, and of course the same bank accounts. If you are going to order for everyone, you better be planning on paying for them too.