In this week’s edition of MBT Talks, the MBT editorial team talks about the awkward occasions of splitting a large dinner meal.

Lars Plougmann / Flickr |

Lars Plougmann / Flickr source

Laura: Over the weekend, three friends and I went to get dinner and the bill ended up being about $64 total. My portion of the bill was about $13, and the other three’s were around $17 each.

We ended up staying pretty late, so by the time 4 a.m. rolled around (we talked for a long time!) everyone was not really into calculating who has to pay what on the bill. Everyone gave an estimate and they each put down $20, as did I, even though my portion of the bill was substantially less.

My question to you guys: what would you have done?

Amy: If the disparity in the bill is like that, and I was eating amongst people I didn’t know, I would have attempted to figure out how much each person was responsible for.

Laura: Yeah, it was probably worse because I didn’t know two of the people there; they were my friend’s friends.

Amy: Yep, even more the reason to try and straighten it out, because if it were among friends I knew, I know that it’ll net itself out in the future when we eat together again.

Simon: So $17 was without tip and tax?

Laura: Yeah it was without either.

Amy: They should have paid $22 and you should have paid about $17, so they underpaid and you overpaid. Simon, what would you have done?

Simon: I would have ordered something similar to everyone else, so that there’s less hassle when it comes to the bills.

Laura: That’s how you normally order?

Simon: With friends, yeah.

Laura: What if you’re not as hungry?!

Amy: I think you have to be baller like Simon to be able to do that.

I actually read an article on birthday dinners a while ago, where the author talks about how at birthday dinners, it’s tradition to split the bill equally amongst everyone minus the birthday girl/boy, and how this always leads to annoying situations where people who ordered and ate relatively little compared to everyone else has to pay an unfair amount. There’s no way out of these situations almost.

The author also talked about how one time he went to a group dinner and one of the more frugal members of the group negotiated beforehand with the waiter to make sure that he gets his own private bill taken out of the group’s, to save on gratuity and the hassle of paying for a large order. That’s a good way but I’m sure not every waiter is willing to accommodate that.

Simon: This is like what happened with my friends and me over the weekend. It was a huge group dinner — maybe 20 people — and there was one girl who was vegetarian whose bill came down to be a lot lower than the rest of the table’s, and we just all agreed that she should pay less.

But yeah, group dinners can be tricky. There was a part of the table that ordered wine, another part that ordered many more appetizers, and everyone ended up paying the same amount of money at the end of the meal.

Laura: Once during a large group dinner, we got the waiter to split the bill in groups of four down the long table we were sitting at, which made things a lot better since people usually eat however much their own subset eats, as opposed to eating however much someone at the opposite end of the table does.

Amy: That’s nice of the waiter to accommodate, but I bet a lot of waiters aren’t willing to do that because large groups get an automatic gratuity added to their bill that a smaller group doesn’t get, so they could potentially miss out on a lot of tips, based on the restaurant’s policies.

Bottom line: large group dinners are the worst. The worst.

Simon: One guy ended up paying most of the bill on his card and taking the cash from everyone else. So he earned plenty of miles with his credit card and he had hundreds of dollars in cash on him after!

Laura: I hope he didn’t get mugged…

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  • I’ve often been in large group situations in which the bill itself wasn’t such a problem–everyone had ordered similarly–but the level of tipping became the flashpoint. I’m appalled at how cheap some people are, especially the people who think a server who waited on two dozen people shouldn’t GET a tip! Even after you get by the drinkers vs. the non-drinkers, the salad vs. full meal folks, and those who have an appetizer and/or dessert vs. those who don’t, you have to fight THIS fight? It was costing me too much money, trying to give servers an decent tip after my “friends” were cheap SOBs, so I finally stopped dining with a lot of them. And when some of them asked why, I told them–“Dining with that crowd was embarrassing and costly, and YOU weren’t helping matters.”

    Now, if I go out with a larger group, I make sure the group decides up front–separate bills, or a reasonable level of tipping. I’ve also found that servers like to know in advance, too.

  • We either split ahead of time, or divvy equally. Generally, every paying party at the table is in the same ballpark (+- 10%) of each other’s totals.