Dining out with a group can be stressful, especially when you’re on a budget. Group dinners tend to be festive occasions, which may cause your friends to go a little overboard with the ordering. Appetizers, fancy cocktails and small plates can quickly add up on your bill. What if you keep your order simple, sticking with water and a salad, while your dining companions order several bottles of wine plus the most expensive dishes on the menu? You can use a few simple strategies to make sure everyone pays his own way.
One of the easiest ways to avoid awkwardness when the check comes is to set expectations with your friends before you meet up. A good time to broach the subject is while your friends are making plans over email. Honesty is the best policy. Explain that you really want to come to the dinner, but you’re on a budget and you’d prefer if everyone could pay her own way at the restaurant. It can be uncomfortable to bring up money issues with your peers. However, your true friends will be understanding of your budget. Plus, they’d probably rather spend time with you over dinner than have you cancel because you can’t afford to subsidize a fancy group meal.
Ask the Waiter for Separate Checks Up Front
If emailing your friends about your budget isn’t possible, rest easy that you have other options. One easy and discreet way to handle the dreaded check-split is to ask your waiter for a separate check at the beginning of the meal. This should be done when you order your food. In fact, this is considered good restaurant etiquette toward your waiter. It’s time consuming for the waitstaff when a large group orders tons of drinks and courses and then asks for separate checks at the end. By asking for separate checks up front, you are being polite to your server and saving yourself the headache of having to speak up when your well-meaning friends suggest splitting the bill evenly.
Speak Up Politely
If you weren’t able to speak up before, the check arrival is your last chance. You have a few options here. You can simply say, "I would be a lot more comfortable if we each pay our own way." Or, you could point out that there are discrepancies in what people ordered. "I noticed that some people ordered drinks while others didn’t. Therefore, it might be best for us to each pay our own way." Alternatively, you could ask a close friend to speak up on your behalf. You’d probably want to set this up before the meal. This is a great way to diffuse any tension and keep the mood light.
Keep in mind that if you happen to spend within a few dollars of your dining companions, the best etiquette is to split the bill. Experts say a five-dollar difference is a good cut-off to keep in mind. If you have more than a five-dollar gap between your order totals, paying your own way is a good move. If your friend owes just three dollars more than you, it’s polite to split evenly.
Offer to Calculate for the Group
One last option you have is to volunteer to calculate what each person owes. Let’s face it, this task is annoying and is one of the main reasons why groups opt to split the check evenly in the first place. If you take the lead in doing the calculating for the group, you will ensure that everyone is paying what he owes and avoid overpaying for your portion. You may even look like a hero for doing it! Make sure to factor in taxes and a minimum 20 percent tip for the waitstaff.
Bring Cash, Especially Small Bills
If you are planning to suggest that everyone pay her own way at a group meal, make sure you have cash on hand to handle your portion of the tab. It’s also a good idea to have small bills with you. This way, you’re not ponying up $40 for a $33 bill because you didn’t have a few extra singles in your wallet. Having exact change is a surefire way to ensure you’re paying only what you owe.
Use An App
These days, apps like Venmo and Zelle make it easier than ever for your friends to pay their own way at a restaurant. The nice thing about these apps is that they allow you to split up the bill however you want. For example, if you have one friend who likes to put the entire tab on her credit card to earn points, you can simply use Venmo to send her your portion of the bill. Using an app allows you to calculate what you owe and pay only that amount.
- If a couple is on a tight budget, they might more readily agree to attend because they will know they are in control of how much they spend.
- Be careful in your phrasing. Never say, "John and I are hosting a dinner at Michelangelo's..." or your friends will expect you to pay for their meal.