Who’s Paying Anyway? – Tips On Splitting The Bill

A bunch of friends go out to dinner to a classy restaurant, and they order wine, appetizers, a main course and some dessert. All throughout dinner there’s sounds of laughter and glasses clinking. They’re all engaged in zealous conversation and there are smiles on everyone’s faces. At the end of dinner, the waiter comes bearing the check and suddenly there’s an awkward silence. Quite hesitantly, the person seated closest to the waiter takes the check glancing at his friends across the table. Some feeble and unconvincing voices are heard saying “Let me pay” but the person holding the check and who by now has his card/cash out says “That’s okay, you’re paying next time!” I bet we’ve all been in similar situations before. We’ve either been the one picking up the check or the ones looking away when the check arrives or slipping away to the restroom before it does.

Such social situations arise not just when you’re with friends, it happens with colleagues, family, clients and even when you’re out on a date. Then how do you decide who is to pay? Few believe that it’s only fair that the person who suggested the plan pays the bill but isn’t It unfair to expect the same person to pick-up the tab each time? Some believe that the bill should be split equally, however most people feel uncomfortable splitting the bill in public. Perhaps we’ll never be able to establish a set of ground rules to avoid getting ourselves into such embarrassing situations, but what we could do is follow a set of etiquettes which will go a long way in having more pleasant experiences the next time we’re out with company.  Let’s look at these etiquettes in the context of the situations, shall we?

While you’re out with friends from college/school, you can adopt the ‘Dutch’, ‘PWYC’ or ‘Payback’ methods without having to feel ashamed. At this age, you’re all socially equal and nobody expects you to pay for the entire group, unless of course you’re treating them on a special occasion. Dutch is where the group equally splits the bill. PFWYC is where you only pay for what you’ve consumed and Payback is where one person pays the whole bill and collects from the group later.

So what’s the right thing to do when you’re out on a date? Well, it’s only chivalrous of the man to pick up the check on your first date. However, it’s unfair to expect the man to pay every time. It’s increasingly becoming common for couples to go Dutch, especially in circumstances where both the man and woman are earning. You could even choose to take turns paying the bill, if you’re seeing each other regularly. A word of caution for the men though, some women like to be pampered and you’ll not be seeing her again if you ask her to foot the bill.

Traditionally in families, the elders normally used to pay the bill and with the immediate family, it was the ‘man of the house’. With changing times, these trends have changed as well. In some cases, it’s the highest wage earner who pays while in the rest, it’s normally the ones who made the plans. However, there’s no reason why a different family member shouldn’t cover the tab each time.

When you’re out wining and dining with a client, let there not even be an itsy-bitsy doubt in your mind as to who should pay; it’s always gotta be you! This is unless the client has explicitly offered to treat you beforehand. An important thing to remember while you’re with clients is to never sound frugal or judgmental. You can always get yourself reimbursed for whatever you’ve spent while dining with a client.

I would club friends and colleagues into the same silo since both form such an integral part of our social ecosystem. With these two kinds of people, situations often become tricky and for various reasons. However, it’s in everybody’s interest that there is a code established when it comes to dining out. This code ensures that there is an understanding between everybody in the group and so that nobody feels like they’re being taken advantage of. If you’re a young group, the PWYC and Dutch models may work. But if you’re an older group, it would make sense for you take turns paying the bill or using the Payback model. Being tactful may not always produce desired results, so it’s better to talk about these things and laydown a few rules for next time. A model that may work in a particular country or region may not necessarily be very effective elsewhere. Hence it becomes extremely important to judge the dynamics of a group before making any announcements that may offend others in the group.

While it’s okay to assume that the boss would always pay, it doesn’t quite work the same way with managers. Unless the manager has invited you to join them for drinks, do not assume that they’ll pay and moreover a gesture from someone else in the team to pay, improves the bonding between the team. Having said that, there are a few basic etiquettes everybody in the group/team needs to bear in mind:

  • If everyone else is ordering beer, it’s not polite for you to order a bottle of wine separately. Order a mocktail if you’ve to.
  • Order for only as much food as you need. Do not binge just because you’re going Dutch. It’s unfair to the rest.
  • Do not continue to persuade somebody to share a dish with you despite them having turned down the offer the first time.
  • Always carry cash and that too in all possible denominations.
  • Do not invite the group to a restaurant which may be too expensive for some in the group, unless you intend to foot the bill yourself.

At the end of the day, dining with friends and family is meant to be a pleasant experience. Once you have the nitty-gritties out of the way, you could start to have more fun at these get-togethers. It’s okay to turn a blind eye towards certain things but in the long run it’s better to have them out in the open. Concealing things or holding a grudge is not going to help. Also, let’s try and be a bit more considerate to others.

Any thoughts?

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