There are two types of check splitters:  the dinnertime check splitters, and the “after 11 PM, two vodka sodas” check splitters. There is a clear lesser evil between the two, and I will give you a hint: it’s not the two people who will undoubtedly ask for extra lime.

Across the Bar with Pam Martin: The Do's and Dont's of Doing the Splits 1

Scenario: You’re out to dinner with a group of friends. Let’s say there are no more than eight of you—maybe one or two couples in the mix. You’ve had a great time over appetizers, entrees, and a few rounds of drinks, and now it is time to head home. You pass the bill around the table to divvy up. You set the bill holder down on the edge of the table for your server to pick-up. Your server opens it up and sees what you think is a well thought out map key of symbols and color coding next to each item on the tab and the corresponding credit card or cash amount to pay with.

This oh-so-thoughtful game of Pictionary translates to your server as follows:

Thank you for your service all night, but the thing is, we hate you. We couldn’t add this up ourselves on our trusted smartphones because we were too busy checking in on Facebook, and side texting the other people at the table about where we are going next when we ditch this group of duds who wants to call it a night at 8 PM. We could have told you from the get-go that we wanted separate checks, but we didn’t want to be that table, ya know?

After the dinner rush packs up their take-out boxes — with leftovers that will likely be forgotten at the restaurant –, in walks the late night gaggle of “umm, separate?” drinkers.

You know who you are, and you know we will not be friends after you say this when you order the second round of the same thing, with the same friends, handing me the same debit cards to split the drinks that are all priced the same.

If you are out with a small group of friends—say no more than four people in your group—and you know you are going to be out for a while, likely drinking the same or similar beverages, why can’t you rotate the rounds? If four drinks might break the bank, well then maybe you should consider a night at home. But even in that case, there is an alternative. Instead of handing your bartender four cards, can’t two of you just split a round.

The worst of the worst is a toss-up between the duo who insists on splitting each round, and the group who hands over a mix of cards and cash. Give the cash to your card-wielding friends. Venmo each other. Just have this figured out before your bartender comes over with your drinks and feels the pain of watching paint dry while waiting for you to figure out the science of splitting a tab.

As bartenders and wait staff we completely understand that splitting happens. We do it ourselves. But when it comes to splitting, there is a fine line between being frugal and being obnoxious. There are some basic Do’s and Do not’s.

  1.       DO NOT create symbols and color coding with each item on the bill after the meal. If you know in advance your group is incapable of saying “just split it evenly” across however many cards you have, let your server know that you will need separate checks before you put your order in.
  2.       DO go ahead and list out the cards and dollar amount if you’re handing your server more than three credit cards to run at dinner time. Shouting out the array of charges won’t help.
  3.       DO NOT hand over a mix of cash and cards to your bartender in the middle of a late-night rush. This may fly at dinnertime, but not after the kitchen as closed. Be a dear, give your friend your cash. Let’s make this quick and easy.
  4.       DO have your payment figured out before we come back to you. Know if you are splitting, and how.
  5.       DO strongly consider Venmo. If you already have it, bless you.
  6.       DO NOT assume someone else will leave the tip. That’s a sure-fire way to mark yourself on the do not serve list for the rest of the night.
  7.       DO realize that if you’re staying for multiple rounds it makes sense to just rotate who pays for which rounds. If you’re with a friend who totally takes advantage of this rule, maybe you should just order when they go to the bathroom. Or, novel idea, maybe you just shouldn’t go out with them.
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