The other day, I posted a few tips on spend less money when eating out.
Spending less boils down to two important parts:
- Not ordering so much
- Not paying more than my fair share when it came time to split the check with friends
Furthermore, a big part of not paying more than my fair share comes down to being the first to grab for the check when it arrived.
Making the math easier
But math can be hard!
Here are some different ways you can split the check
- Splitting everything
- Splitting the check, then trying to settle everything by tipping different amounts
- Itemizing then splitting just the tax and the tip
- Itemizing and adding a fixed percentage
- Separate checks
The best way to illustrate these different methods is through an example.
Setting the scene
You’re at a fancy restaurant with five friends — well, three friends, an acquaintance who comes out from time to time, and a friend of a friend.
Here’s the menu:
This looks simple enough.
The ordering begins!
Frugal person that you are, you decide to go for the cheap entree.
As the waiter asks around the table, everyone orders the same thing — the average-priced meal and one beer — until he gets to the last person in your group. That last person — the friend of a friend — orders the expensive meal and TWO glasses of wine… because you only live once on a Tuesday, I guess?
The food and drink comes, everyone eats and drinks and has a good time, and finally, the bill arrives. You snatch at it!
Person #4 — the friend who brought big-ordering Person #6 — peeks over your shoulder and says something along the lines of, “Oh wow so many numbers…math?!” and suggests just splitting everything
You eye him suspiciously.
In an ideal world, the waiter would be able to give you all separate checks. SOMETIMES NEW YORK IS NOT IDEAL IN THIS SENSE.
But if this method were possible, your individual bill would only have your cheap entree plus tax. You’d tip 15% and end up paying $14.87.
Since this is as low as you can go, let’s call $14.87 the baseline
Oh sure, you could split everything. The waiter could chop up the check into equal slices and everyone just tips on the bill they receive.
Dividing everything by six leaves you $25.60 — effectively subsidizing everyone who ordered more expensive meals than you to the tune of paying $10.74 extra.
That’s 72% more than you would have paid had the waiter separated the checks.
Splitting the check, then trying to settle everything by tipping different amounts
One compromise that gets tossed around a lot here in New York City — largely to avoid the ire of our waiters, I assume — is to split the check evenly and then making the people who ordered more pay a higher proportion of the tip.
This is a fine idea when everyone orders generally the same thing. However, in this case, you ordered very different things.
Even getting one-sixth of the pre-tip total and letting everyone else pay the tip, would leave you on the hook for $22.50 — still $7.64 and 51% more than your fair share.
Itemizing then splitting just the tax and the tip
Here’s an idea I like a little bit more.
First, you figure out the tax and tip as though you’re paying the entire bill. In this case, that would be $29.61 = the $11.01 tax + the $18.60 tip, then you divide that up evenly into $4.94 = $29.61/6.
Everyone still has to add up what they ordered individually, but after doing that, all they have to do is add that $4.94.
In this case, you’d end up $16.93 — still $2.07 and 14% more than you’d pay on a separate check, but we’re definitely getting closer.
Itemizing then adding a fixed percentage
Here in New York, the sales tax on restaurant food is 8.875%. Adding 15% in tip to that brings you to 23.875%, which I usually round up to 25% to make the math easy.
Using this method, you again have to itemize, but instead, this time you would just multiply your $12 entree by that 25%, bring you to just $15.
See? Easy math. And this is just a few cents more than you would have paid on a separate check
First off, here’s a chart of how much you pay with each of the different methods and the difference between that method and just getting a separate check:
Anyhow, it should be clear that getting closer and closer to everyone paying their fairest share means you’ll have to do a little more math and a little more sleuthing of trying to figure out what everyone ate.
Needless to say, you should stop wherever in the middle you feel comfortable in terms of your personal cost saving and the annoyance of having to put in effort.
Are there any other methods for splitting the check that I might have missed?