Sunday, August 10, 2008

Ripped Off at Group Dinner: Splitting the Bill?

What do you do when the bill arrives during a group dinner? Do you split the bill evenly or whip out the calculator to figure out tax, tip and your portion of the tab?

Recently, about 10 couples gathered for a discount dinner at a high-end restaurant in Miami. For $36 a person, dinners received three courses: appetizer, main course and dessert. It was part of a special summer promotion.

A very frugal friend and her husband rarely go out to eat. But the opportunity to enjoy a high-end restaurant meal for $36 and meet with a group of friends lured them out of their normal menu of home-cooked meals.

During the meal, my friends ordered one glass each of the low-cost house wine. One couple ordered only water and others ordered expensive wine and vodka. When the tab came, a few of the couples insisted on splitting the bill, which was not a good deal for everyone at the table.

My friend's portion of the bill was roughly triple the amount she had budgeted for the evening.
At first my friend and her hubby were upset with their inflated bill. But then she realized that that the time spent with good friends was worth the extra expense.

What do you during group meals? What's the best strategy for dining out in a large group? Separate checks or a relaxed attitude?

I have some frugal ideas about dining out. To hear my ideas, please meet me at the Starbucks store at 29th St. & Park Avenue in Midtown Manhattan on August 11.
(Full details below.)

I'll share my favorite frugal ideas and offer free samples of iced coffee, plus more. I'll be chatting about my new book: The Frugal Duchess: How to Live and Save Money.

I'll also offer tips about how to spend less money for back-to-school/fall shopping.
Here's the official invite:

An Invitation!

You are invited to my Sip 'n Save book party at the Starbucks location at 29th & Park Avenue. The event features free samples of iced coffee.

Date: Monday, August 11, 2008
Time: 2-3 p.m.
Location: Starbucks @ 424 Park Avenue South
29th & Park Avenue
New York, New York


Here's how to buy my new book:

@ Barnes & Noble
@ Borders


finance girl said...

my approach to group dinners is expect to pay for things you didn't order and expect to pay waaay more than do when it's just you/significant other or you/significant other and another couple (where it's easier to divvy up the bill).

I will never ever ever understand why people who order more expensive things don't pony up their fair share, but they usually don't.

We once went out to dinner with a large group and agreed to close out the tab (we had arranged it). We ended up paying $350 over what we had expected! (lots of people obviously hadn't factored in their drinks). sigh, oh well.

Chaucey said...

I'd always pay for my own. If there were some shared side dishes likes breads then I'd make sure to have one of those added to my individual bill. I don't think it is fair to expect others to subsidise me or vice versa.
Some meals, like Yum Cha are better with a split bill, but I'd still pay for my own drinks.

Alicia said...

I had a similar experience as your friend when I went out with a group of old college friends. Now before we even go out in a group it's stated whether the bill will be split or everyone pays for their own. That way I have some idea what I'm getting into in advance, and can judge if I'm with a big spender group or not.

lulugal11 said...

That is really messed up for those who ordered water and had to pay more.

I don't drink alcohol so I always decided before we start to order that my meal is on a separate check. If everyone else wants to split then that is their problem but I always tell the people I am eating with that I want to pay for my own meal so we can tell the waitstaff BEFORE they start to take the order.

This works for me because restaurant portions are so big that I don't even eat an appetizer before the meal.

Make a decision before you start ordering to save the confusion and hurt feelings.

Anonymous said...

I wish this post had had more useful content rather than just an event plug. I'm a big fan, but I'm not in the area (or even the right country, for that matter).

Melanie said...

When I first moved out to California with my fiancee (who had set up shop a year prior to me), we went out a lot with our friends, partly because I was new to the area and wanted to establish that I wasn't some sort of "reclusive girlfriend" who forced my boyfriend to stay at home with me and partly because I didn't know people well enough to invite or be invited over to homes. And, without fail, we paid 2 - 3 times more than our fair share of the bill, to the point where I declared that we were not to go out in groups of 4 people or larger, unless it was with very close friends. Since I like to cook anyway, that has served us very well.

I wish that splitting checks was as easy as telling the waiter, but out here in CA, the waiters always act personally put out when you ask them to do that. Then they give you a lot of attitude. This, combined with overpaying for one dinner too many, has caused my fiancee and I to embrace eating in / having friends over, which always ends up being way more enjoyable than any restaurant. :)

Anonymous said...

This happened to me for the first time when i was on a trip. I was with about 5 other people, people I barely knew, who were friends of my brother (relatives of his bride-to-be) - They had just picked me up at the airport. We went to a restaurant and they said they expected us to split the bill. But I had only a small amount of money; they were rich compared to me. Also, I had deliberately ordered ice water for my drink, and had ordered something inexpensive to eat (a $6 appetizer, not an entree!). THEY had all ordered entrees _and_ other stuff - spending at least $11 on each entree, etc. Afterward they insisted on us splitting the bill, which was very upsetting to me.
I still don't think it was fair.
It was almost like they just assumed I was on their same income level! - but i wasn't anywhere near their income level!