Restaurant Etiquette – Splitting the Bill

I have been commenting on a post by Quit Work for Life, on when you should split the bill versus just pay for your own, or indeed be treated by someone else.

I have been to many ‘gatherings’ of work colleagues and families. Generally the rules of engagement seem to get set at the start. Someone says – ‘Are we splitting this between us’, at which time someone can say – I’d rather just pay my own as I am a)only eating 1 course cos I’m not hungry, or b)I’m not drinking etc. The rest can then split their tab, and the individual can ask for their own bill.

However, what do you do, when you are trying to save money, you assume you will only be paying for your own food, then right at the end the game changes? You’ve only eaten one course, only had 1 drink, but you are expected to take a full share in the tab, all of a sudden you have broken your budget. Even worse you haven’t had the same amount of food / drink as everybody else, so you’re effectively paying for theirs.  What can you do, but pay up, and learn the lesson to shout at the start?

However, take my recent experience. We are staying with family. He suggests going out for a meal with some other family. It is at his club. We naively assumed we were his guests. It didn’t matter, we were just a bit surprised when we discovered we had to pay our share.

However, using my rules, if I organise something, where I am taking family or guests out, instead of entertaining them in my own home, I assume I will pick up the bill for everyone. If I was tight for cash, I would just do the meal at home, with a large main dish, a huge salad, and plenty fresh bread, everyone would generally come with wine or offer a dessert in advance. Or do a pot luck supper if your family is big. It would cost a fraction of going out…..

The alternate scenario is that when the arrangements are being set, the position is very clear – it is £25 a head with drinks extra to be split at the end, or there are 4 of us taking Auntie x out, so the 4 of us will pay the bill including her share.

I would never expect in a group, that each individual or couple would ask for their own bills, and settle separately. In the UK, this is pretty rare. Sometimes the person dividing up the tab is aware and says A has only eaten one course, so we’ll take theirs off first then divide it. But in general, we just do a straight split. But all cultures are different. In NZ evidently this is not the usual way. (Now I am wondering if I have caused offence by assuming our hosts would pay…)




  1. Here in the US we definitely split the tab. Why pay for more than you ate or drank? Seems like a waste of money to be paying for things others are enjoying.

    1. thanks! I’ve obviously been too generous over the years….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *