Handling the division of a restaurant bill is a situation that presents itself with regularity.  How to handle it with taste and grace can be tricky especially when your table is filled with diverse palates, relationships and wallet sizes.

Here are some common sense strategies and etiquette tips that will aide in your bill-splitting navigations.

#1:  Request a separate check upon ordering.  This not only assures that you will be accountable for only your costs but it conveys to the rest of your table partners you prefer to pay your portion only.

#2:  If the group suggests an even split, graciously contribute your portion and don’t get hung up on the pennies (i.e.: error on the generous side).  This work well if the group is fairly uniform in individual costs.  If, on the other hand, Doris dined on lobster and a bottle of 2005 Chateau Angelus Saint-Emilion and you had the soup of the day with a Diet Coke – well, that could change the dynamic.  If you find yourself with a lopsided financial division and no desire to fiscally contribute to Doris’s big ticket buzz, it is perfectly acceptable to plunk down your portion only.  Do this along with a simple statement of “I believe this should cover my soup and soda.”  Message delivered.  If you happen to be Doris, please ensure that you cover your costs sufficiently to prevent anyone else from having to pony up for your extravagances.

#3:  Even splits should be divided by person, not couple.  This is obviously applicable to tables where there is a mix of singles and couples.  If there are children in attendance, those responsible for the child, pay for the child’s fare.

#4:  Don’t forget the gratuity!  This is the one area that is often overlooked when splitting the bill.  Please ensure your tip is added to your final costs.  Once again, error on the generous side.

#5:  Don’t assume and/or take advantage.  Unless a member of your party generously offers to foot the bill, don’t assume your tab will be paid.  This scenario often plays out when parents or wealthy tablemates are in attendance.  Making an assumption that Mama’s Friday night bingo win is paying for your meal is rude and presumptuous.  Unless your age qualifies you for a kid’s meal, fork over your share of the pie.

Business situations require slightly different rules.  Frankly, I find the business lunch or dinner to be easier to navigate through than the typical social one.  This is due to the simplicity of the relationships and hierarchy rules.  If you’ve extended the invitation you are expected to fund the expense.  EXCEPTION:  If you are trying to solicit the other parties business, it is customary that you pay the expense.  In a large group, the most senior level employee should foot the bill on behalf of the group.

While these are all customary guidelines. don’t assume that your comrades are in the know.  Always be prepared to pay your share of the meal expense then tell them about a clever, little blog you’ve stumbled upon.

K. Martini