When Should You Split The Check?
I remember distinctly as an undergrad in the dorms at University of Wisconsin the trauma inflicted on me when people ordered pizza. Invariably, it was a bunch of guys and a few girls. We all paid the same amount, but you already know what happened to me…I got about one slice because I ate slow and those guys snarfed. I learned my lesson.
Then I got a job in Chicago and our tennis group always went out in a big crowd with drinks and food. I didn’t order the snazzy, expensive cocktails, nor did I order all the hors d’oeuvres.
A year ago, I returned to Chicago on business and had food and drink with several colleagues. My tab was $75 — I had one glass of wine and one appetizer. Hate that story.
So, you see, law students, this dilemma NEVER goes away! How do you manage the check when you’re in a business meeting, with a large crowd, with others who order what they want and expect you to pay the same?
Kiplinger’s Personal Finance had an article on etiquette of splitting the check, which I read with great hope of finding the answer. The opening salvo, however, diminished my
hopes of a solid recommendation I could use in the future…”When it comes to matters of money,” says Lisa Gerstner, the writer, “tact is often in the eye of the beholder.”
There are several caveats when determining how you’re going to handle the check prior to ordering your food:
1. If you don’t meet frequently with the people you’re dining with, a manners and lifestyle expert quoted in the article says, it’s best to split the check evenly. (Make sure you order just as much as everyone else so you don’t feel like you’re footing the bill…that’s my thought, anyway.)
2. When you frequently dine with a group of people, go ahead and split the bill evenly. Any extras should eventually be a wash, or someone will pick up more another time. What also works well is if someone treats once and the others treat another time.
3. If you go out with a group notorious for ordering fancy this and that and it’s beyond your budget, then it’s OK to ask the server for a separate check before the meal. This advice comes from Daniel Post Senning of the Emily Post Institute…(I like this counsel!).
4. Bruce MacEwen, JD, president of JD Match and founder of Adam Smith, Esq., puts it this way, “Maybe it all comes down to this: Even if a specific meal/drinks isn’t accounted for fairly, is your overall relationship with the people you’re meeting “fair” on the overall work/life level? Is it reciprocal? Are you all giving and receiving in mutually satisfactory ratios—from the larger perspective and over time? That may count more than the price tag on a glass of the house wine vs. a magnum of vintage champagne.”
When I moved to Dayton, Ohio from Chicago, I was not accustomed to the common practice of servers asking parties whether they wanted one check or two. I was offended at first, but now I’ve grown to like it because I’m responsible for what I order and the rest at the table are, too.
How’s it going for you in school? Any of these experiences ring true yet? If not, expect to encounter these situations your entire career. When the law firm or employer is not footing the bill, that’s when you need to pay attention to situations and transactions like these after coffee and dessert.