Dining Out in a Group: 3 Ways You Might Overpay When Splitting the Bill

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I like to eat out, especially in groups. Being served food at a restaurant allows you to focus more on the company. Since no one at the table made the meal, there is honest conversation about the level of enjoyment. Plus, if the occasion merits a little extra splurging, there is no shortage of desserts and beverages available to enhance your enjoyment. While eating out in a group is great for creating an atmosphere of uninterrupted conversation. However, on many occasions, the experience has left me paying for more than my fair share of the bill.

I’ve done it intentionally before. I’ll cover more of the bill or pay the tip as a friendly offering of generosity to the group. What I’m talking about here is when I’ve been forced to subsidize some or the entire group, not by choice, but because of how the bill was split.

Sometimes it is from the efforts of free loaders sitting around the table and at other times it is unintentional. While it may only be a few dollars each time, I assure you that it has added up over the years. When these situations occur, I find them irritating and it takes away from my enjoyment of eating out in a group.

Never Split the Bill Evenly

It is common practice in the business world to divide the total check by the number of parties and arrive at an even split for everyone to chip in. This way, everyone pays the same regardless of what individuals ordered. It makes a lot of sense between businessmen, because the parties plan on expensing the meal for reimbursement anyways. It is a horrible idea in your personal group dining.

I’ve found that this suggestion is usually advocated by those intending to eat the most expensive things on the menu. So long as they spend the most money, everyone else around the table will subsidize their meal for them. While I enjoy eating out, my wife and I make it a mission to eat as well as we can for as little as possible. Whenever the group splits the bill evenly, my wife and I usually find ourselves paying more than what we ate.

As a personal rule, I refuse to go along with this bill splitting method, regardless of whether I’d benefit from the exchange. My opinion is that this practice is completely unacceptable outside of business. The reasoning has to do with group dynamics. If the parties subsidizing the bill are in the minority, group dynamics discourage them from disagreeing.

My wife and I once ate out in a group of three couples and one single. When it came time to pay the bill the couple that ate most lavishly began pressuring everyone to split the bill evenly, between parties (aka by 4 so that each couple counted as one and the single counted as one). It would have meant my wife and I covering about a quarter of this couple’s bill. However, it was far worse for the single since she was counted as a couple even though she was by herself. She had only ordered an appetizer and would have paid almost three times the cost of her individual bill.

She clearly didn’t want to foot the bill for the offending couple whom she didn’t know, but social niceties kept her from objecting at first. She didn’t want to be the one voice against six. However, she quickly joined with us when we’d raised objections. Clearly, you want to be courteous when eating out in a group, but don’t let social niceties allow you to be someone’s restaurant sugar daddy.

When You are the Only One Who Didn’t Bring Cash

When the bill comes are you the only one who doesn’t have cash? There must be a hidden plastic tax collected by your companions in these situations, because when I’m the only one paying with credit, I’m usually paying more than I was billed.

I’m talking about those occasions when everyone in the group has cash except for you. Since the group doesn’t need to wait for the waitress to swipe anything, I’ve found it common for the whole group to hand me their bills I ring up the entire bill on my charge card. The problem  is that without split bills, those holding cash are prone to rounding their bill to even dollar amounts. Rarely, have I ever been handed more cash.

I know it isn’t intentional, because there are few human calculators in this world. Just trying to look at a giant bill, adding up costs to the penny and then calculating sales tax and tip  is wishful thinking. Plus, I’m pretty sure that rounding down your bill comes natural.

My suggestion: bring cash when eating in a group, just to be on the safe side.

You Let Someone Else Add Up Your Portion of the Bill

Why are you letting the guy that failed college algebra tell you what your portion of the bill costs? I can’t count the number of times someone else has added up my split wrong. I know it’s not on purpose, but some people are bad at adding in their head and sometimes it’s a simple matter of forgetting what everyone ordered. The cashiers at the grocery store get it wrong all the time and they have all that technology like scanners and computers; how is your mathematically challenged friend going to do any better?

How to Stop Overpaying When Eating Out in a Group

The worst time to solve how to split the bill is after the bill has already arrived. By then, no one wants to trouble the waitress or wait for the waitress to come back with separate checks. These scenarios are easily fixed by figuring out how to split the bill before ordering. Once all parties are agreed on the split, tell the waitress ahead of time so that the bills come to you, calculated accurately and swiftly. Work out the details in splitting up the bill before you order.

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