Splitting the Tab Without Splitting Hairs

How to graciously split or pay the restaurant bill or tab is a skill to know when you dine out with friends or coworkers or find yourself the host or guest at business meals.

How to split or pay the restaurant tab or bill without splitting hairs. #restaurants #hostess #businessmeals #manners #etiquette

By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor

Do you know how to graciously split the restaurant bill or tab without splitting hairs?

It’s a question worth asking if you’ve ever invited people out for a meal only to have them rush out their credit or debit card to pay the restaurant tab or bill before you could. It’s certainly a nice gesture on their part. But when your intention was to treat them, their gesture comes at the price of your good intentions.

I’ve had this situation happen to me numerous times, and I bet you have, too. Read the question I received from a reader below and see whether you relate!

How to Graciously Split or Pay the Restaurant Bill or Tab:

Dear Maralee,

Thanks for your blog! I’m amazed that you know all of these things! I always learn something new.

My question is about paying for a meal. There have been many times when my wife and I have offered to treat, but the other party insists on paying. How do you graciously hold your ground, and at what point do you let the other party pay?

Here’s an example. Some friends were visiting, and we said, “We’d like to take you to lunch.” It wasn’t fast food, but still really casual. Someone from each family had to be at the counter to help carry the trays.

The order was totaled, and I handed my debit card to the cashier. My friend whisked his card into the cashier’s hand and said, “We’re getting this.”

How to Graciously Split or Pay the Restaurant Bill or Tab Without Splitting Hairs

It felt like I was getting outbid on eBay at the last second!

I was a bit stunned, and all I could think to say was, “Thank you.” When I shared the story with my wife, she was mad at me because they had also paid the last two times we were out together.

What else could I have done?

Thanks in advance,

When It’s Best to Let the Other Person Pay the Restaurant Bill or Tab:

Yep, I’ve been there more than once. We all have. You’re right! There was nothing else you could have done at the moment that wouldn’t have made the situation more awkward, for you, your friend, and the cashier.

“Order and Pay Here” lines are supposed to move quickly. That wasn’t the place to have a debit card showdown with your friend. Your simple verbal thank you was the right thing.

How can you keep it from happening again?

Well, you can’t always. There’s just no magic etiquette wand to wave the situation away, but below are the top tips for splitting checks without splitting hairs. Being proactive is everyone’s best defense, so these guidelines will help you the next time you find yourself in the middle of a check war. 😉

Be very clear in your invitation that you’ll be picking up the check. “Suzie and Carl, we’d like you to be our guests at dinner next Tuesday.” That should be enough. If you feel you need to make yourself doubly clear, you can add, “I hope you’ll allow us the joy of treating you.”

The Most Gracious Ways to Pay or Split the Restaurant Tab or Bill — 5 Savvy How-Tos:

1.   Saying “Will you join me for lunch?” is sometimes a little too vague if you want your guest(s) to know for sure that it’s your intention to treat them. When you first sit down at the table, or as you’re walking in the door of the restaurant, it’s nice to give a little reminder. You can say something like “Thanks again for being my guest!” or “I’ve been looking forward to treating you.” Does the host always pay? This post gives the answers!

2.   If the other party succeeds in paying at the last moment, simply say something like this: “Thank you. I thought we had agreed that I was going to treat you today. Next time, my treat, and after that, we’ll each pay our own.”

3.   For business meals, sometimes guests feel awkward thinking you’re spending personal money on entertaining them. Try this: “To talk more about the Thompson account, let’s meet over lunch. My firm is treating.” Having “the firm” pay helps the guests feel like they aren’t causing you a financial strain.

4.   In most restaurants, you can arrange that the bill or tab not be brought to the table. How? Here’s a simple and savvy way. Arrive a few minutes before your guest(s) and explain to the restaurant host or hostess that you don’t want the bill brought to the table. Instead, ask that it be left for you at the host stand. Excuse yourself near the end of the meal and pay the bill at that time. In this way, the bill never appears at the table. Always tip 20% for this service. Your guests will be quite impressed with your savvy forethought, and the awkwardness of the bill being put on the table is eliminated. I do this any time I’m treating someone for a social or business meal.

5.   When splitting a bill between several friends, don’t count pennies by saying, “My rigatoni was $14.99 and I just had water to drink.” The bill is to best split evenly by the number of people at the table. Let’s say six friends are dining together and the bill comes to $107.16. Here’s what you would do. First, add a 20% tip, because splitting the tab is extra work for the server. The new total is $128.59. Now divide by six. Each guest pays $21.43. Round up to $22.00 each and you’re set. For tipping when ordering takeout, you’ll find the modern etiquette in this post. 

How to Split the Tab When Your Portion of The Restaurant Bill is Noticeably Less:

If you really did just have soup and water, you’re correct that it’s not fair to have to pay for food and drinks you didn’t have. You can say this prior to everyone splitting the bill: “Here’s $10 — that should more than cover my dinner and tip.” However, if it’s within your budget, it’s best to only do this when your share of the food bill is significantly ($10 or more) lower than everyone else’s. (Going out with a group of friends from church? You might be the one asked to say grace. Here’s what to do if you’re not comfortable praying aloud.)

What’s Next?

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Until next time, keep doing what only you can do. Bless the world by being you at your authentic best!

Hugs and blessings,

How to Graciously Split or Pay the Restaurant Bill or Tab Without Splitting Hairs

Maralee McKee

About Maralee McKee

Maralee McKee is the founder of Manners Mentor. With her best-friend style, sense of humor, and knack for updating etiquette to meet our modern sensibilities, she has been referred to as "Sandra Bullock meets Emily Post!" Maralee shows you how to become the best version of yourself. No fluff. No pretense. Just you at your authentic best! The person you were always meant to be! To learn more about Maralee click on the "Meet Maralee" or "New? Start Here" links at the top of this page.

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