How To Split The Bill: Tipping and The Group Dining Problem

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What’s the best way to split a dinner bill on a group night out?

That question has befuddled family and friends since the beginning of time.


It’s never this easy.

I recently went to a birthday dinner.

We were a party of 12, and the birthday girl opted to pay for her own meal.

I ordered a $12 bowl of soup (I didn’t like the menu; went for a safe choice). I didn’t order or sample any alcohol, appetizers, or dessert.

The total bill?

$600 (including tax, but not tip).

The initial idea was to just split the bill evenly. A few people (myself included) thought that was a bad idea, considering the range of meals ordered ($12-$50+) and the amount of drinks ordered.

Someone then determined that we would just add up the amount we were going to pay for tax and tip (about $120) and split it evenly between everyone at the table, about $10 each. Everyone would then contribute the money for what they ordered in addition to this fee.

The problem with that suggestion?

Some people were responsible for much more of the tax burden than others.

Should someone responsible for $20 of the order really have to pay the same tax/tip amount as someone who rang up $70 worth of consumables?

The group was a mix of family and friends, but not so familiar with each other that we could dismiss any talk of money.

I put in $20: a (relatively) large contribution considering that my after-tax individual bill was less than $13.

And we did, initially, come up about $50 short when everyone put in their money or credit cards.

(After some deliberation, one guy said it was ‘ok’ and just threw in an extra $50. He was NOT one of the people ordering drinks by the dozen.)

I was visibly annoyed at the situation but didn’t yell or berate anyone.

I couldn’t understand how one could willfully short the money pool in a relatively small group— especially when it’s family and friends.

All of this got me thinking about more equitable ways of dividing up a group dinner bill…

(Note: I’m aware of the social complications that arise during discussions of bill division. You’ll have to weight your unease about uncomfortable discussion against the likelihood of shameless/unethical people in your party.

All the more reason to get comfortable with straying from your comfort zone.)

This is how I would split a dinner bill:

—Small, non-familial groups should have separate checks. Everyone can then pay what they owe, and throw in a few dollars for tip.

—Larger groups (8 or more) who do not want to have separate bills should split the bill into two parts right off the bat: one for drinks and one for food. That way, people who drink little or no wine will not subsidize the people sucking down wine coolers at the end of the table.

You can then estimate the cost of each item and have everyone add on 25% cost to their order to cover tax and tip (if the server deserves it)

If you believe everyone will be honest, you can ask everyone to contribute what they owe to some large pool.

You shouldn’t be surprised, however, if you come up short.

(Cheapness, lack of integrity, and people forgetting to factor in tax and tip.)

Now, onto “Tipping”….

I don’t know where this sense of server entitlement came from, but it appears as though waiters think tipping should be mandatory.

I can understand larger groups having a gratuity automatically added onto a bill, but no such rule should exist for small groups. I even hear that some states have laws in the works that would mandate tipping.


Tipping is a reward for a job well-done, not an unconditional benefit.

No matter how poor the service, you should always tip. Don’t be cheap.

It’s this line of thinking that will continue to reduce the quality of service at restaurants around the world.

Too many people flee from conflict at every opportunity. If a server is rude (even if they’ve had a bad day, they should still be polite to customers) or sneezes in your food (‘wink wink’), you should speak up. Sinning by silence (or tipping) only perpetuates the problem.

Suggestion: you might want to wait until you’ve ordered and eaten all of your food before speaking to the staff. You don’t want any ‘surprises’ in your food.

Don’t you know that restaurants pay waiters less than min. wage? You have to tip them.

Sorry, that’s not my problem. You chose the job. You didn’t accept it under duress.

It’s not my responsibility to offer unconditional compensation. I’ll pay the bill and tax, and, if you do a good job, throw in a generous tip.

I did NOT have an enjoyable experience during the birthday dinner.

Besides the so-so food, the waiter was awful. He was a nice guy, but was inattentive. He did not come back to the table to see if we needed anything (several people wanted more water or utensils but were not attended to). I was not the only one dissatisfied with the quality of the food and service.

My food (remember, I only ordered a bowl of soup) took FIFTY MINUTES to come out of the kitchen.

Yes, fifty.

Considering that the restaurant wasn’t fully packed and that all I ordered was a soup, this was unacceptable.

If I was alone, I would given the waiter little or no tip.

I appreciate any comments on tipping or improving the dining experience.

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I’m an entrepreneur-among other things-specializing in helping people build businesses and develop fulfilling relationships.


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