Paying for a Piece of the Pizza: Techniques for Splitting the Bill

by Meg Favreau on 21 November 2011 2 comments
Photo: Nick Hubbard

Eating out with friends is one of my favorite indulgences. Few things are better than good company combined with delicious food and drink. But these fun evenings often chug to a near standstill when it comes time to pay the bill. Suddenly everyone is reduced to muttering and throwing piles of bills on the table, hoping that someone else will figure out how much we actually need to pay.

Yes, realistically, splitting a bill among several friends is not that hard. There are many more difficult things in life, like the LSATs, or training a cat to use the toilet. But that doesn't mean that divvying up the check can't get annoying or cause hurt feelings when one person doesn't pay his fair share.

Thus, I present several ways to split the bill among friends. Most of these are pretty straightforward, although there might be a couple of surprises. (See also: How to Save Money at Restaurants)

Separate Checks

If the restaurant you're at is willing to provide separate checks, seize the opportunity before you order. Then you don't have to bother with doing the math, being lazy and making that one friend who is good at math do it, or silently seethe about how some jerk in the group only put in for what he ordered and no tip, so you had to cover it because you are a good and righteous person.

Go Halvsies (or Thirdsies, or...)

It's certainly one of the easiest ways to split one check — everyone pays the same amount. Of course, this gets annoying when one person orders much more than everyone else. One solution to that? Head to fixed-price meals.

Cash and Card

One or more people pay cash, and then the rest gets put on someone's card. The cash can either go directly to the bill, or the person paying with a card can take the cash. It's like a fee-free friend ATM!

Get Change

If there's an excess of cash, ask your waiter or waitress if you can get change for a big bill, and divvy out what people are owed accordingly.

Get Paid Back Later

Sites like BillMonk allow you to keep track of what friends and family owe you. If you pay for everything, keep the itemized receipt from the meal, and simply go into BillMonk to enter what people owe you. This is a good technique if you're trying to take advantage of credit card rewards.

Take Turns Paying

If you go out with the same people often, you can all take turns paying. A variation of this is to always pay for the meal when you're the one who invites people out (just make sure your friends toss out an invite every now and then as well).

Play Credit Card Roulette

Daniel Packer wrote about credit card roulette back in February. Basically, everyone at the meal provides his or her credit card to the waitress. The waitress then picks one card at random, and that person pays for the entire meal. If you like taking your chances, this could be the technique for you. Sure, you might be stuck with the full bill, but you might also get your entire meal for free.

How do you split the bill?

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Don't Quit Your Day Job's picture

"Cash and Card" - It's best to wait until the last possible second and produce your card. It's especially effective when you pocket 5% rewards on restaurants... so be sneaky about it.

"Credit Card Roulette" is hilarious. We play sometimes just to mess with people, but we usually end up buying that person drinks later out of pity, haha. Using it on company cards is best because then it's just one person filling out expense reports.

Ashley Watson's picture

"...or silently seethe about how some jerk in the group only put in for what he ordered and no tip, so you had to cover it because you are a good and righteous person."

Can't tell you how many times I've been there. Great suggestions!