In any group of friends who eat together, people may have different budgets, different appetites, and different attitudes toward shared expenses.
You may also be one of those people who are happy to divide things equally for the sake of expediency.
But what if the food is completely uneven? You might realize that your friend isn’t in the mood to subsidize their Porterhouse and three martinis when you’ve just eaten a salad.
Then the check comes and everyone freezes. Who will cover what? Or worse: Your friends all open their cards when you don’t want any part of the bottle of Dom Perignon they ordered.
“The last thing you want is a situation where the bill lands on your desk,” Daniel Post Senning, co-author of Emily Post Etiquette, The Centennial Edition, tells CNBC Make It.
Here are three strategies recommended by etiquette experts so you can share food without hurting anyone’s feelings — or finances.
Communication is key: ‘Sooner is better’
Say you’re a vegetarian with a group of omnivores and your plan is to share a bunch of small plates. Or maybe you’re a non-drinker. If you’re worried about getting a disproportionate share of the bill, speak up early, says Senning.
“The key to good etiquette is good communication,” he says. “Sooner is better.”
This means raising any concerns about splitting the check before you place your order. “Hey, I wonder how we plan to split this up – anyone have any ideas?” Senning suggests as a possible scenario. Or, “I’m going to keep things very small tonight, so I’m going to ask for a separate check.”
When the bill arrives: ‘We must be our own sober advocates’
Maybe you intended to split everything evenly when you sat down, but as the meal went on, the score became increasingly uneven. says Diane Gottsman, owner and etiquette expert at the Texas School of Protocol.
“Don’t look at your friends and neighbors across the table,” he says. “Say, ‘I’m covering these two’—that way you’re telling the server, not the table.”
If it’s a group you’re close to, feel free to let your friends know directly, Gottsman says. Either way, communicating your intentions clearly and politely is the best way to avoid resentment or misunderstandings.
“We have to be a discreet advocate for ourselves, both for our comfort level and our budget,” says Gottsman.
Accommodation with friends: Find the “ideal sweet spot”.
Peer-to-peer payment apps like Venmo and Cash App have made it easier than ever to split the bill fairly, especially where splitting a check is a hassle. Often, one person covers the total and asks fellow diners to pay back their fair share.
As easy as this setup may seem, it introduces another wrinkle tag: lending.
According to a recent survey by CreditCards.com, about 61% of US adults have taken out a personal loan or paid off a group loan expecting to be repaid. 59% of them reported negative experiences such as losing money, damaging relationships or getting into physical fights.
If a friend is generous enough to pay the group bill, try to pay them back as soon as possible, says Thomas Farley, etiquette expert and author of the Today.com “Dinner Time With Mr. Manners” column.
“People probably keep their phones away anyway,” he says. “You can pay as you leave the restaurant. Take it off your plate, think about it, and pay immediately.”
And make sure you pay the correct amount. “Pay your expenses, including tax and tip,” says Gottsman. “They’re not going to come back to you and say it’s $6 short. That person might end up being short-changed.”
If you’re the one covering the group, don’t argue with your friends about money. “The ideal sweet spot is to pay people before they ask you,” says Senning. “The money is returned before it is applied to the lender.”
This means that it might seem rude if you write an invoice on the way to the park with your friends until you’ve had a chance to get your money back. “Let him breathe for a minute,” says Senning.
If it’s been a few days before you get your money back, contact your friends face-to-face or over the phone to remind them of what they owe. Don’t be afraid to come up with an exact dollar figure. “It’s not ‘if you don’t mind’ or ‘I’m sorry, but,'” says Gottsman. “Be direct and kind.”
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