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Splitting The Bill—Keep It Fair For All

Posted by Peter Post  January 22, 2013 07:00 AM

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I’ve been on vacation the past few days with two other couples. The trip is a reminder of one of the more frequently asked questions received at the Emily Post Institute: How do you handle splitting the check at a restaurant?

The short answer in our case is we each pay a third of the bill, usually by each couple putting in a credit card and then asking the server to split the bill equally. Even at restaurants that say they don’t do separate checks, splitting the bill this way is not an issue. Nothing puts a damper on an otherwise enjoyable evening faster than two couples quibbling over who had the Caesar with chicken and who had it without.

Here are two things to think about:

The tip. Two nights ago the server very kindly informed us that the gratuity had already been added into the bill. So, after ascertaining that the gratuity equaled what we would have tipped, we signed, thanked the server, and left. The next night the server gave us the heads-up that the gratuity had not been included. So between the three of us we quickly agreed on what a twenty percent tip would be, added it in, and signed our slips. I appreciate that in both cases the servers let us know what the gratuity situation was. On a number of occasions I’ve been in restaurants where nothing was said, and we had to examine the itemized charges carefully to determine if a gratuity was added or not. Remember, even if a gratuity has been added, you can always add a little extra if you think the service deserved it or if the amount of the gratuity is less than you normally would tip. Remember, too, that if you use a discount coupon, in our case one supplied by the resort at which we were staying, to tip on the full amount of the check, not the discounted amount.

Uneven split. The even split works when everyone has ordered a reasonably similar amount of food and drink. Problems can surface when for instance one couple doesn’t drink and the other two order a couple of bottles of expensive wine. In that case an uneven split is called for, and one of the imbibing couples should make the offer. Say the bill is $300 and the wine portion is $90. A fair split would be to figure the three-way split on the amount less the wine—$210 or $70 per couple. Then the two wine drinking couples split the cost of the wine—$45 each— and pay a total of $115 each. They ask the server to charge the cards accordingly, and everyone is fairly treated.

So, when it comes to splitting a restaurant check, be aware, be fair, and don’t worry about the pennies.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."

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