Touchy Subject. Restaurant Bills.

2013 update (first published in 2008)

This is a subject I have been toying writing about for a while. On the one hand, it probably is down to culture (you know, the Going Dutch and all). On the other, I seem to be more often than not stuck in endless conversations on how to … split the (restaurant) bill! A touchy subject in itself. Read on.

We love going out. A lot. Spur of the moment dinners out? The two of us, but often enough we are also going with other foodie friends. Other (couples) friends. Just the girls. Pre-gig dinners in a group? The more the merrier. With a big group come different appetites and different tastes. Should we order a starter or not. Should we order a side dish or not. Should we order the house wine or go for a recommended bottle. Still or sparkling water. And so on. Sound familiar? Needless to say that conversations at the beginning of the dinner can get pretty animated.

But we all come to – different! – conclusions, and order. The dinner progresses, the wine flows, the conversation gets louder. We might even order dessert. The calorie conscientious, perhaps a coffee? I usually opt for another glass of wine. Some go for a pousse-café.

And then the bill arrives!

Usually we encounter two scenarios: we either all agree that we ordered pretty much the same, and decide to split the bill evenly. Or the headache starts. Each and every one of us goes through the bill, identifies and crosses out the ordered items, and starts adding them up. After which the amount of the drinks gets split between the drinkers. The non drinkers agree to split-pay for the water. And finally, individually, we start paying. Which is hell for whoever is closest to the bill, who inevitably, ends up adding the total bill. Of course not forgetting the different payment methods everyone choose – credit card, cash or meal vouchers. How does restaurant staff feel about this I wonder?

Does it sound like a real mess? I’m glad. Because it is.

Before you start discussing the pro and cons, let me explain. I don’t have anything against splitting the bill per consumption. When we go out in smaller groups, it is always easy to add up exactly who ordered what. But – except in the very obvious cases (only ordering a starter, no wine at all etc) – are people really always that precise with their consumption? I know myself pretty well – I’ll skip dessert, but I drink a lot of water. And will have a glass of wine or two extra. Which never stopped me from splitting the bill and paying ‘my share’ of someone else’s dessert. Or someone else’s pousse-café.

I will also oblige, and if the dining group is so inclined, go through the bill and add up to the last cent what I ordered. Yet somehow, not sure if you noticed this, someone always ends up paying less. Despite the all mathematical adding up (yes, yes, I have seen calculators and mobile phones being brought out!) we always seem to be a couple of euros short. Which again brings me to the person closest to the bill who usually ends up paying those couple of euros extra.

When splitting the bill from the beginning, equally amongst all, we always end up with extra euros . Usually left as a tip.

To get the fire started, I prefer splitting the bill equally. Please bear in mind I am talking here about dinners out, with friends, where no receipt or expense claim is involved (business dinners are thus excluded from this). Dining out, involves also enjoying yourself. Which is why, when discussing who pays what becomes THE topic, I stop enjoying myself.

As said, perhaps I am talking here about cultural differences. Perhaps economic differences. Or simply, I enjoy going out with friends more than going Dutch.

Now you know where I stand. So:

Split the bill? Or pay for what you ordered only? Discuss.

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