Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions


You Had Lobster And I Had Chicken--The Etiquette Of Splitting The Bill

Two couples were out to dinner. One of the couples ordered a $120 bottle of wine. They drank it themselves. The other couple wasn’t drinking. When the bill came, the first couple didn’t provide extra for their wine and assumed the restaurant bill would be split in half.

People have gotten annoyed at friends, neighbors, coworkers, and even relatives when they are dining together and one party orders significantly more costly items than the other, and then doesn’t offer to contribute more to the bill. One woman told me she is not going out with another couple because they always order the most expensive items and expect them to share the costs.

Lately I have been getting asked a lot about sharing bills at restaurants. And since more and more people socialize with coworkers outside of work, I thought I would offer some suggestions when dining with others and splitting the bill:

1. Pay attention. I don’t believe that most people are trying to take advantage of their friends, they simply aren’t paying attention. Notice the cost of the items you are ordering and the number of courses ordered and compare them to the other diners. But you don’t want to be a nit-picker. A $16 entree is similar to a $19 entree, but not a $32 entrée. Also, there is a difference if you order an appetizer, salad, main course, coffee and dessert and everyone else just orders entrees and desserts. This applies to drinks, too.

2. Be cautious with specials. Specials usually cost more than comparable menu items, and many times waiters don’t provide their cost, unless asked. When you are with friends, you can ask the waiter the price of the item. I wouldn’t recommend doing this when dining for business.

3. Offer to pay more, if you ordered more expensive items than the rest of the group. Calculate quickly your additional share--it doesn’t have to be exact to the penny! The other couple doesn’t have to accept your offer, but what is important is that you asked. And often couples that socialize frequently have a tacit understanding that over time the cost differences balance out between them.

4. Separate checks aren’t always a solution. They can make your meal seem more like a business arrangement, instead of a social outing with friends. And, some restaurants don’t want to provide them, especially when they are busy.

5. Let it go or say something. If the other couple’s share is significantly more than yours and they don’t offer to contribute more, you can chose to speak up politely. When you look at the bill, you can say something like, “Your share is actually more than half. Why don’t you pick up the tip?” People have told me that they would never say something; they would rather just stop seeing the couple. I respond that when you are ready to end a relationship, what do you have to lose by saying something?


  1. Anonymous1/11/2011

    What's your suggestion on your example of the $120 bottle of wine. That's not friendly to me. And I don't believe their attention is the issue. What would you say, "you can leave the tip"?
    Personally I would simply be honest and direct. Or ask them if they needed help paying for their wine?

  2. Thank you for your comments. I agree. I would be honest, direct and polite, and say something like, "Let's split the meals, and you guys put in for the wine, since we didn't drink."