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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Splitting the dinner check

Probably everyone reading this has experienced the agony of attending a group dinner. Whether it was something personal like a birthday party or something serious like a business meeting, you may have felt the discomfort that these dinners can produce. Most of this comes during the awkward period after the check arrives. Since the process of paying for the evening is seldom discussed in advance, it can become the next closest thing to a sitcom as people fidget about what they owe on the bill.

A business friend in Kansas City once told me that every time the bill came for a dinner, his friend would have a "pocket full of fish hooks." I’ve met my share of that type, they just never want to chip in if they feel they an get away with it. Then there are the ones who want separate checks for everyone. That would be the most accurate way to handle it but that is quite an inconvenience for the restaurant.

When the contributions are handed in to the accountant of the group, you can bet there will not be enough money to cover the bill and give the waiter a decent tip. That’s when the excuses start: "I only ordered an appetizer", "I left a small tip because the waiter didn’t smile enough", "She drank way more than I did", "I don’t believe in tipping." These are usually the people who have the fish hooks in their pockets or have "short arm disease" when it’s time to reach for the wallet.

When I found myself in these situations, I always made sure I had cash broken down where I could throw the exact amount of what I owed into the pot plus cover my portion of the tip which I usually calculated at 20%. After that, it was up to the rest of the group to thrash it out. If there was a case of everyone having about the same meal and someone suggested dividing the bill evenly, I was able to live with that too. I also never complained if someone wanted to pick up the entire check although a few comments of "That’s not necessary" were almost obligatory to show that at least I TRIED to chip in.

Some groups are generous and not concerned with calculating everyone’s share to the penny while others will insist on accuracy. You may have seen them: they are the ones holding the check and shouting across the table, "Hey Mabel, was that a Heineken’s or a Budweiser you had?" Then there is the guy I used to work with who one day joined a group of us for a couple beers after work. It was a Friday so we were tossing down a few more than usual when I noticed he wasn’t buying any rounds. I asked him when he was going to pick up a round and he said "I’ll pay next time." After we told him "next time" was three rounds ago, he said, "I mean next time we go out."

Needless to say there was no "next time" for that guy!

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