Eating out with friends is like when you first start dating someone, it’s fun until you have to stare at each other and talk about the situation. What are we doing? How are we going to manage this? How much will you give? How much will I give? It can leave us questioning our values and how much we’re willing to offer.
Over the past few weeks I’ve had conversations about splitting the bill, not while sitting at a restaurant and the waiter has the eftpos machine out, rather while I am detached from a dining experience with a chance to reflect. It’s something that people can have strong opinions on, because money is personal and social situations can become fragile when money is thrown in the mix.
I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to split a bill or sort out money with friends, there are just more stress-free ways to go about it. Personally, I always try and go for the more convenient option while respecting the values of the person I’m having the exchange with. If someone has a tendency to ask for, or pay, the exact amount and I know that’s what makes them comfortable, I don’t question it further. If someone is insisting on shouting me, I let them. If someone is insisting on paying me an insignificant amount, I let them. At least once I’ll ask, “Are you sure?” or say “Don’t worry about it!” but if there’s still insistence then say no more. My approach is that I want to spend as little time as possible talking about who owes what, because I’d rather spend time talking about other things.
For example, if I’m at a restaurant and they don’t split the bill, I usually don’t hesitate to pay for the whole thing and ask my friends to transfer what they owe. I am not going to sit down with the receipt and figure it out down to the cent, I trust that my friends will pay roughly the right amount. If I end up being short a few dollars, then I’m willing to cop that if it means I had an enjoyable night.
By the same token, if someone has paid for the whole bill and they tell me that I owe $33.45, I’ll round it up and pay $35. The extra ‘tip’ of $1.55 is a small way of saying thank you for sorting out the bill. Now, if that person were to transfer me back that $1.55, I would probably find that odd but I wouldn’t make a deal of it. If that makes them feel more comfortable, then so be it.
The thing that really grinds me gears is when instead of splitting a bill evenly, people figure out what they owe based on what they consumed. I say this not because you should be paying for someone’s main if you only had a starter, but because it can suck the fun out of a night. The same goes for if someone has paid for the whole bill and is insisting that everyone should only pay for what they consumed. This means I have to read over the bill and guess how many slices of pizza or sips of wine I had. Didn’t we all have roughly the same amount?
If I’ve had a great night out with friends with some good food and nice drinks, then that’s what matters to me. I will always pay what I owe, but I’m not going to get myself twisted over exact amounts. I believe that the price of admission to a quality night out with friends, is the acceptance that you will be short a few dollars when you come home.
I appreciate that money is personal, and I also think that it doesn’t cost anything to be generous. They say it all comes out in the wash, and for this to be true you’ve got to put a load on every now and then.
What do you think? Do you have an approach to splitting the bill?