Dear Salty Waitress,
Every now and then I like dining out with my friends and since none of us are exactly bringing in the big bucks to pay for the whole dinner, usually we want to split the check somehow. Generally it’s not ideal to split it evenly, since nobody likes having to pay for somebody else’s super expensive meal while they dined on something much more modest. I’ve heard the best thing in this situation is to ask for separate checks before ordering, but we pretty much always forget to do that. I have one friend who always insists on writing the names on our credit cards next to the items we ordered so the server can divide it up, but that seems like a giant waste of time and energy for our server. What would be the protocol in this situation: Suck it up, risk ruining some friendships, and split the bill evenly? Everyone running to the nearest ATM to get cash? Or just be assholes and ask for newly calculated individualized bills (and tip extra, of course)?
Confused and Guilty
What’s this new ringing in my ears? You must have hit a nerve. You know, some nights we servers wake up in a cold sweat after that recurring dream where a table of 20 hands us a picnic basket’s worth of credit cards. Terrifying stuff.
But confused and guilty is no way to live life, sugar, so let’s sort this through for your sake and mine.
In an ideal world, here’s how the scenario above would go down: You and your gaggle of pals would all visit the ATM before dinner and come prepared to pay your own way. But this is 2018 and no one has cash, and my crow’s feet look like the Grand Canyon, and life is imperfect.
So, take two: I understand you all want to pay for just your portions, and it’s most convenient if you can ask for separate checks before you order. (This is also something a savvy server like myself will ask a large party if they forget to mention it.)
But say you’ve passed that point. You’ve drank the wine; you’ve eaten the bruschetta; you all shared two cannoli. I bring you the check, and you all want it divvied up.
It’s basically a time management issue for your server more than anything. They’ve got to run all the cards and put the checks in those little menu thingies that always seem to have greasy fingerprints on them from the last guest, so now they’ve got to wipe those down, too.
The best move you can make here is just to kind, hand the cards to your server, and mention that you’ll be patient in waiting for him or her to come back. Having a larger table say, “Oh, we’re actually going to need separate checks” when you have food and drinks dying in the window is a sure way to annoy your server. So just be patient, if possible, while we get around to those cards.
You can also help us out by doing the math yourselves, like you mentioned. Include a tip section for each portion, too, because that could help depending on the restaurant’s POS (point of sale) system. You and your friends have more free time to do your own calculations than a busy server, so doing the math saves your server time. Be prepared for us to take a minute and double-check your figures, though, since I saw your friend Stephanie really going hard on that pinot grigio.
Bottom line, you don’t really need to feel bad asking for a split tab, Confused. Just remember the golden rule: Your server has other people to take care of, too. Maybe tip a buck or five extra, depending on how many splits there are, as you’re just turned a single, quick transaction into several, time-consuming transactions. Bon appetit, sweetie.
Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or just a general question about life we can help you with? Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org