There have been a lot of comments this weekend about splitting checks, service while doing so, etc. These comments originally started on another thread, but should really be on their own. Therefore, I’ve moved them to the comments on this post.
The question is, when is it appropriate to split checks in restaurants? Should you tell the server in advance? Should restaurants be able to say no? Should they charge extra?
Join the conversation below!
Kim Nyland says
I find it hard to believe any server (that isn’t working for a 3+ star restaurant), in this town, would not have the foresight to mention to a server there are to be multiple tabs prior to ordering for the table. I would’ve done the exact same thing…requested each cardholder specify what amount is to be charged.
Note to non restaurant employees…it’s just polite to do so
Other than that yeah…sounds like you had a bad night.
Stiv Bator says
Not to mention..what kind of a waiter would request separate checks to begin with? I’d have simply stayed home or put it all on my card. Sounds like someone who knows nothing about the business trying to settle a score for some reason or another.
I find splitting checks a matter of bad taste, pay the whole bill and then give each other the money owed! My observation is that it is usually women who like to split checks in 3 or 4! ways. I mean, come on, pay the tab and do the math with each other!
u mean there are women that can do that split math ;)
plastic baby! says
You mean people actually carry cash? I thought paper money went by the wayside years ago! Plastic baby, plastic. Try collecting THAT from everyone at the table.
Are you suggesting pocket sized POS systems, or perhaps we all log into paypal from our cell phones and transfer the money over?
Who carries cash anymore?
You know, I’ve worked at places that had expensive POS systems that could automatically do the tabs by person; I’ve worked at places that did it the other way as well. Maybe it’s just coincidence, but the places that had those expensive systems tended to suck in comparison to those that didn’t. I’ll take places like the Hula anytime.
Kim Nyland says
In all the instances over the years where I’ve been out with a non-hosted group, there’s only been one case where the group neglected to make the need for separate checks clear to the server before we ordered (it was a complicated situation, in which some people offered mid-meal to pick up other people’s tickets). In that instance (at a McMenamin’s where some of the people in the group are semi-regular) we ended up lining up at the register so the server — cheerfully and politely — could itemize the bill properly for each party member; some of us paid via cash, and some via plastic. It was the only sensible resolution, we were happy to do it that way, and I know for a fact that the server got a very healthy tip, percentage-wise, out of that group, which he most definitely earned.
In all other cases, I/we have always taken care to request separate checks as we order (and in one recurring instance, we usually seat ourselves so that we can say “this side of the table is one check, and that side of the table is another”). I/we view this as (a) common courtesy to the server and (b), far easier and more convenient for us than doing math and haggling at the end of the meal about who owes whom how much.
Food Dude says
I’ve been noticing more and more restaurant menus saying something to the effect of “no more than two checks per table”.
Yes, or occasionally a version of “we cannot split checks for parties larger than X” (or, in a few cases, the menu will give a policy of not splitting checks at all).
I think one of the things this illustrates is that dealing with larger parties is both a specialized skill for the server and a specialized service — in that some restaurants, and some classes of restaurants, deliberately encourage patronage by larger parties who are likely to ask for separate tickets. But this is spinning into a discussion that may be best conducted over in the forums….
Nikos – Ouch on the “ladies” comment! I don’t know what kind of women you hang out with, but they’re sure not friends with me. Splitting checks is a giant pain in the rear, period. Just pay the bill, and have your friends treat YOU the next time around. Ugh.
My comment was based on casual (unscientific) observations of neighboring parties in various restaurants. I prefer to dine with men, but that is a whole other blog discussion.
Having been in the restaurant industry 16 years most of which I was a server I can say that a split check on a four top is at best a minor annoyance and would have taken about 20 seconds to clear up if the order thad not been taken by seat number. To act annoyed at the table is unprofessional whether its the busiest night ever or the slowest. 6 top 8 top larger table with many cocktails different story but a 4 top – come on its just a little math and if that’s what the customer needs you do it graciously and talk about them as much as you want over a beer after the shift!
pollo elastico says
I have a hard time understanding why there’s so much gnashing over a simple transaction. When I get drinks or food with friends, we often each throw our cards at the end of the meal and ask to server to divide by two or three. Dividing by two or three or even four is pretty damn easy.
Food Dude says
What may have been lost when I moved the comments, is that this particular party wanted the server to figure out who ordered what, and divide things accordingly. Unfortunately they didn’t state this until the end of the meal.
And as regards the number of credit cards per check that some menus post, many credit card processors charge you not only the percentage of the sale, but also a ‘per swipe’ fee. So, the more cards are used on a check, the more the restaurant is charged by the processor – decreasing their profit in an already shaky business.
I have never had a meal someplace where the charge of splitting the checks was put upon the server – doing so (especially when there are >2 people involved and drinks, appetizers, etc are enjoyed by some, but not others) is just plain rude. Either pick up the tab for everyone or go to a pay-and-serve restaurant.
Stive Waiter says
What? don’t you get? It’s simple so..why not figure it out yourself?
I have been a server and bartender for over 12 years and have worked in a wide variety of restaurants with varying levels of classiness. Weather I had a POS or a hand written check, I have had a lot of nightmares with splitting checks. However, I have also had a lot of experiences where splitting a check was no big deal. But by going through the sometimes nightmarish experience of splitting a check, I learned that if a table of 6 or more doesn’t mention they want separate checks, I ask them! Splitting a check for under 6 is no big deal. If you know that you are gonna have to split the check then it’s usually no big deal. And, for the times that I had large parties of 30 or something, then I assign every single, couple, whatever, a number. Each time they want another beer or sandwich, they just tell me their number and I put it on their “table” number. Easy as pie!
Cuisine Bonne Femme says
Asking a server at the end of the meal without any prior warning to split the check for a group by what people ordered, and not three, four, five ways or whatever is just plain selfish and rude on the part of the diners.
It shows complete lack of consideration for the time it would take a server to figure out who ordered what and then have to go back over the bill to change and charge it. This is not only inconsiderate for the server, it is inconsiderate of other diners since it will slow down the server from being able to serve other tables. I think the irate diner in the LHH post is clearly in the wrong here and is just pissed because they got called on their B.S. or something (who knows how LHH reacted, god I’d love to hear their side of it). I’d be miffed too if a table pulled that crap on me.
It’s interesting to me how almost everyone commenting here is looking at this from the servers’ perspective. I’m not and have never been in the restaurant business, so I don’t know nuthin’ about that. But just as a restaurant customer, I’ve got to say: Nothing ruins a good evening in a restaurant for me more finding out at the end of the meal that the people I’m dining with all want separate checks.
I’m with Nancy Rommelmann on this: For god’s sake, people, TREAT your friends to a meal once in a while. And then let your friends treat you in return. It’s fun. That’s what friends are for. And it does all even out in the end. Really.
Food Dude says
I’m going to dinner with Papaki ;)
And by the way: If your friends aren’t willing to do this, you don’t need separate checks. You need a better class of friends.
It amazes me at all that establishments in PDX put up splitting the bill with multiple cards, especially when the bank and credit card clearing systems end up taking 3%-5%(ish) per transaction (each credit card swipe).
Times that by how many cards are on the table, and it adds up fast.
I’ve never seen a restaurant on the east coast allow this, any place I’ve seen this tried has been shot down by the waiter, and don’t even try the separate check thing! Even in diners and dive bars.
I guess we tend dine with like minded people similar to Nancy & Papaki. Sometimes we buy, sometimes they do, or someone puts down one card and everyone hands them cash, doesn’t matter.
We’re out having a good time with our friends.
A few weeks ago friends of ours thought they had stiffed us on their share of dinner (at the time, wine was flowing, who knows, who cares…), and they bought a few round of cocktails one night the following week. Another great excuse to go out!
If it is going to be an issue when the check comes with your group while out, bring enough cash to cover your share (and maybe spot a friend $10).
I find myself a trifle annoyed at the implication that asking for separate checks in a group dining setting is somehow an expression of miserliness or an indication that no, you’re not really such good friends with your dinner companions. Let me amplify on my own experiences to illustrate:
The considerable majority of my group dining experience involves large-ish groups (rarely fewer than six, often twelve to fourteen, occasionally more) of singles or sometimes duos. These groups are made up of people who are friends, people who are casual acquaintances, and people who are professional/social colleagues (yes, all at once). Where possible, the larger groups make reservations, but sometimes the choice of restaurant is made more or less on the spur of the moment. It isn’t unusual for some group members to be on expense accounts, and/or for individuals to treat the meal as a business expense for tax purposes.
It’s well understood by participants that these meals are “no host” — that you’re expected to pay your own way. It’s also always made clear to the server(s) up front that this is the case. To some extent, where reservations are not made, this colors the choice of restaurant; over time, the more experienced diners in these groups have learned which places locally can be expected to handle a large non-hosted group professionally. (See my comment above: some restaurants, and some classes of restaurants, have developed the specialized skill to handle this kind of group with minimum fuss. Others have chosen not to do so. Both are valid business choices.)
It would be silly to suggest that participants in these groups aren’t “good enough friends” with each other to buy each other’s meals; in some cases, they’re not friends at all. It would be unrealistic in many cases to expect a single group member to put the entire (potentially very sizeable) check on their own plastic. At the same time, the amounts of cash involved are sometimes large enough to make the post-dinner math fairly scary, especially where alcohol has been flowing. And for those participants for whom the meal is a legitimate business expense (don’t laugh, it’s often entirely true), the separate ticket is essential to document that expense.
As I’ve said upstream, these groups well understand that large parties are more work for the server(s) involved, and as a result the aggregate tips for such meals tend to be generous. On those occasions where I’ve been aware of amounts, I think the average would run in the 25%-33% range, and I suspect 40% has been broken once or twice.
I know exactly what you’re talking about. It is awkward to be in that kind of situation and I have actually observed the reduction in my group because of this awkwardness.
I have figured out a better way to be perceived as both Generous and Resourceful in this situation.
1. I would find a restaurant that has deals on Metroseeq.com
2. buy either the $25 gift certificate or higher (there happens to be a Father’s day promotion right now so it only costs $5 for $25 gift certificate)
3. Throw down the certificate when you get the check, restaurants are more than willing to take it. I’ve tried it many times and it’s worked out well.
this way, you’ve only spent $5 on $25, chip in a little more if you ordered drinks. Usually a $25 certificate + $5 = $30 (but you really paid $10) works for me.
Most group dinners I attend have an agreement that we all bring cash, specifically because it helps out the server.
On the occasions when dining with a friend and we would both like to pay with our cards, we ask that it be split down the middle. No one has ever blinked.
I also resent the implication that we are cheapskates who won’t pick up our friend’s tab. Some folks can’t reasonably afford to do so – does that mean those folks shouldn’t eat out with friends on occastion?
We hold a bi-monthly dinner with 12 people at different restaurants in Portland. Some of these people we are just meeting for the first time and we couldn’t have one person put it on their card. In order to not be a nightmare to the restaurant we ask all people to check out the restaurants website and bring enough cash to cover their meal. There are times when a couple of people forget the cash rule, but for the most part it works and the servers don’t seem to mind one or two credit card transactions.
Outside these dinners I never carry cash and am usually dining with people that don’t carry it either. I have never had an issue just asking a server to split it evenly or giving them amounts to charge.
Interesting thread. I can only add that it has ruined for me more than one social gathering of women when there was quibbling at the end of the meal over who ordered what, with the clear intention to pay not a penny more than what each person ordered. This is not gracious or endearing behavior. In situations where the diners are good friends (oh heck, even when they aren’t), at the very least, split the check evenly, regardless of what each person ordered. (I concede that dining clubs might be an exception here.)
I think that these comments are interesting, but it seems like they’re getting away from the original interaction that started the thread (4 people wanting the server to add up for them what each spent at the end of the meal, without prior knowledge that they would be asked to do this) and more into large-group dining etiquette.
to me, these are pretty different things. i wouldn’t think that anyone posting here would expect someone to pick up the tab for a large group – i think that those comments were related more to the original incident.
at any rate – i often dine with around 4 people. sometimes we ask if we can have the charge split on 2 or 3 cards evenly. i always ask if it’s okay to use more than 2 cards, as i find that kind of obnoxious but sometimes necessary if dining with someone other than a close friend. but never more than 3 cards – you’re taking more cash away from the restaurant, but more importantly you’re taking the server away from the other customers for too long. it can take awhile to run cards through, and this is annoying. if people want to pay separate amounts, i write down the amounts and the card types or names on the cards on the bill and give it to the waiter. that’s the customer’s job. bring a calculator if you’re going to be that picky about it. if you know that you cannot afford to spend more than x amount, then keep track of what you spent when you order. i would think that most people notice prices when making their ordering decisions, especially if money is an issue. so make a mental note of it at the beginning, then you know that your portion of the bill was $17. round up to the nearest dollar.
if you know that you cannot afford to spend more than x amount, then keep track of what you spent when you order. i would think that most people notice prices when making their ordering decisions, especially if money is an issue.
This is not always as easy as it sounds. I have begun to see a startling number of menus (at all levels from chain pancake houses up to gourmet places) which either omit non-alcoholic beverage options entirely or list them but fail to mention what the prices of the non-alcoholic beverages are. Also, there’s the matter of sales tax, which we mostly don’t have to cope with in Oregon — and which we’re therefore not used to calculating, let alone calculating in our heads, when dining out elsewhere.
Mind, I agree that it’s a wise idea to pay attention to the price of what you order. I just think it’s unprofessional of restaurants not to fully disclose prices on their menus so that diners can make appropriate ordering decisions.
As a recently returned ex-pat (UK, four years, a number of which were spent traveling throughout Europe on business) I have often been mystified why this seems to be such a difficult thing for US restaurants to get their heads around. Most of the developed world, where credit/debit cards are the norm, simply charge each person what they have ordered automatically. This is often done with a little hand-held device, which I understand might be prohibitively expensive for some places, but others simply do it via paper: the server tracks who orders what (they need to do this anyway, to get the right order to the right person) and at the end of the night let them know what they need to pay. Simple as that. No great drama, and certainly no implication that the patron is somehow being rude or inconsiderate by choosing a form of payment the restaurant itself encourages them to use! After all, restaurants benefit a great deal from the use of credit cards by patrons (we all know one spends more that way than if you paid cash only), so it’s only reasonable, it seems to me, that they take the good with the bad. To insist otherwise seems to me rather inexplicable. Alternatively, if it’s such a burden then why not simply say you only take cash?
The RR Ruler says
I’ve been running a dining group for a couple of years now, and our solution has been a standardized form where everyone writes down their particular share of the bill, then turns it in with their share of the money at the end to create one group payment. This way, we always take care of dividing up our own bills, and although the only two credit card per table situation can occasionally be sticky, we deal with it somehow, as long as it is mentioned on the menu, or the server mentions it in the beginning (so someone can frantically run to the nearest ATM.) Some places are really great though, they have the lastest computerized software, and with a press of the button, we all get individual itemized receipts.
I know these are tight times in the restaurant industry, and profit margins are ridiculously tiny. That being said, the aura of goodwill you create when you willingly collect those multitudes of credit cards for one bill creates the kind of good feelings that make people decide on your restaurant for a return visit rather than checking out that hot new place in town.
Some of these people making these comments about everyone putting it on one credit card have got to be out of their mind, how ridiculous, I can barely afford my own dinner, let alone paying for twelve people at $50-$75 each. It’s got nothing to do with a lack of generosity, it’s economic survival. Us poorer people eat out too, bub.
I had two situations this past weekend splitting checks that really drove me up the wall. The first, was a party of 16 who neglected to mention the check splitting thing. It was a mix of three or four families, including their kids, and none of them were seated together. Like someone mentioned previously, splitting by seat number is no problem usually, but they were laid out on two separate tables, and I had to combine them for the tab, so I couldn’t do that. What I ended up having to do, was ask each group which of the children and/or spouses to include, then split it like that. Was it hard? No. But it did take my focus away from my other tables, and it took me close to ten minutes to get it figured out. Had I known about it in the beginning, I could have easily grouped them together.
My other table was a group of 12 for a bachelorette party. They asked me if it was okay to split the check right at the beginning. I let them know I could do four forms of payment only, and almost everyone said they had cash. Okay, perfect. I even told them I would print out each person’s check individually so they would know how much to pitch in. The problem started when they all only had $20 bills, and each person wanted their individual change. Now, we don’t have a till that I can do that with, I carry my own change, but I didn’t have nearly enough to satisfy everyone’s tab. It was total chaos having to run back and forth to the bar (at the complete opposite side of the restaurant) to get people’s change, when they could have just as easily tossed it all together and figured it out later. Again, my other tables were neglected because it took me so long to get their change.
And about multiple cards for the bill? At my particular place of employment, we DO pay for every extra swipe, as well as a percentage of the bill. The cost is not paid by the restaurant, so I do cringe a bit every time someone gives me more than 2 cards.
banquet manager says
As a banquet manager and past restaurant manager, as long as the waiter assign seat numbers to the correct item when he/she is entering the food into the POS system, it will be very easy to print a separate check by the seat number. Unfortunately many waiters do not do this for smaller groups then wait until the end to find out the hard way.
but what about the many small restaurants in portland who don’t use a computer system? what about when you have a group of people where some show up a little later than others, and so the party moves around at the table? these are things that happen. sure it would be great if the waiter could remember everything that each person at each of their tables ordered, including drinks, but that doesn’t always happen and that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad waiter.
i think the point that started this is that, at the end of the night, the customers wanted the waiter to go add up what each of them had. as a waiter, when you’re busy with other tables, etc. to try to go over this (now who had the cobb salad and who had the green salad? who had the pinot and who had the shiraz? do i split the bottle of wine 4 ways, but only 3 people drank from it….) it can be time-consuming and frustrating. i think it’s entirely appropriate for the waiter to ask the table to add it up for themselves at that point. if they had asked at the beginning of the meal, the waiter could have kept track as they went, or started off with separate checks.
there were 4 people including one couple. so split the bill in half – the couple takes half. then split the remaining half of the bill in half again for the remaining two people. or ask to take a look at the menu again to get the prices, if you have trouble reading the ticket. but don’t ask the waiter to drop their other tables and do this for you. i feel strongly about this.
It’s 4 people – it’s not 6 or 8. It’s not that hard. It’s on the server. This is supposed to be a good restaurant – expect better from your restaurants.
quo vadis says
“It’s 4 people – it’s not 6 or 8.”
No, it is probably more like 20-30. Many guests have trouble recognizing that they are not, in fact the only people being served that evening.
Nicholas Joseph Griffin says
I had a party of 20 teenagers come in to an upscale restaurant in Beverly Hills on rodeo drive (which is known to be expensive) and at the end of their meal (which I’ll add they ordered sides only and were as cheap and high maintenance as they could be) they asked to each pay seaparate and wanted me to give them 20 checks… when some of them even ordered things like a side of fries to share (so they wanted checks for 1/2 order of fries, etc). When they told me they wanted 20 separate checks i told them we cannot do that, but that i would gladly accept cash and up to 4 credit cards which they could charge different amounts. They were insistent and i stayed firm with my 4 card rule. They went through the bill with a tooth and comb for a good 30 minutes trying to divide it up when f ally the most polite one in the group handed me a card and said “here after all that we’re gonna put it on one card” to which i thanked him. My tip was included so i didn’t care what they thought about me or my 4 card maximum policy. The next day one kid in the group wrote a nasty yelp review about me tryin to brag about how much money they spend there (they spent $500, which is NOTHING for a party of their size… this is Rodeo Drive remember.. we have 2 tops spend $1000 easily) and spoke about how the server would split the bill for them. He of course forgot to mention in his review that they were provided several free desserts as there was a birthday, they had phenomenal service (with the expecting of me refusing to their bill they way they insisted at the end of their meal) and he also failed to mention that it was for a party of 20.
My manager was at first upset when he read the review thinking i didn’t split for a 2 top or 4 top… when he heard it was the obnoxious cheap teenagers… he sided with me.
We now have printed on our menu, “We do not separate checks”