In any group of friends who dine together, people likely have different budgets, different appetites, and different attitudes toward shared spending.
You may be one of those people who, for the sake of expediency, likes to divide things equally for everyone.
But what about when the food is grossly uneven? You might realize that you’re not smart enough to subsidize your friend’s porterhouse and three martinis when you’ve only had a salad.
Then the check comes, and everyone freezes. Who will cover what? Or worse: your friends are all checking their cards when you didn’t want any part of the bottle of Dom Perignon they ordered.
“The last thing you want is the situation when the bill comes across your desk,” Daniel Postsening, co-author of “Emily Post Manners, Sentinel Edition,” tells CNBC.
Here are three strategies etiquette experts recommend to ensure you can share food without hurting anyone’s feelings — or financial losses.
Communication is key: ‘Sooner is better’
Say you’re out with an eclectic group of vegetarians and the plan is to share a bunch of small plates. Or maybe you’re a non-drinker with a growing crowd of alcoholics. If you’re worried you’re walking into an inappropriate part of the bill, speak up early, Senning says.
“The key to good manners is good communication,” he says. “Sooner is better.”
This means you don’t have to worry about the distribution of the check before you enter your order. “Hey, I wonder how we plan to split it up – anyone have any ideas?” Senning suggests that as a possible script. Or, “I’m going to keep things really small tonight, so I’m going to ask for a separate check.”
When the Bill Comes: ‘We Must Be Vigilant Advocates for Ourselves’
Perhaps you had every intention of splitting things up during the meeting, but the bill became increasingly uneven as the meal went on. When the server approaches your table with the check, address them directly, says Diane Gottesman, etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas.
“Don’t look at your friends or your neighbor at the table,” he says. Say, ‘I cover both of these’ – that way you’re telling the server, not the table.
If it’s a group you’re close to, feel free to tell your friends directly, Gottesman says. Either way, communicating your intentions clearly and politely is the best way to avoid resentment or misunderstanding.
“We have to be careful advocates for ourselves—both for our comfort level and our budget,” says Gottsman.
Setting up with friends: find the ‘best place’
Peer-to-peer payment apps, like Venmo and the Cash app, have made it easier than ever to split the bill evenly, especially in places where splitting a check is a hassle. Often, one person covers the sum and asks his fellow diners to pay back their fair share.
As easy as this arrangement sounds, it introduces another rank etiquette: lending money.
Credit cards. com according to a recent survey about 61% of US adults have taken out a personal loan or paid for a group expense with the expectation of being repaid. Among them, 59% reported a negative experience in losing money, damaging relationships or physical altercations.
If one of your friends is generous enough to pay the group bill, try to pay it back as soon as possible, says Thomas Farley, an etiquette expert and author of the “Mealtime with Mister Manners” column on Today.com.
“People might put their phones away anyway,” he says. “You can pay when you’re leaving the restaurant. Take it off your plate, get it out of your mind, and pay immediately.”
And make sure you pay the right amount. “Cover your expenses, including tax and tip,” Gottesman says. “They’ll come back to you and say you’re $6 short.” This is someone who can change in a short time.”
If you are the one covering for the group, don’t harass your friends for money. “The best place to start is to pay people back before they ask you to,” Senning says. “The money is returned before it is imposed on the person who owes it.”
This means that it might come off as rude if you invite your friends on the way to the parking lot, before they have a chance to pay you. “Let it breathe for a minute,” Senning says.
And if it’s a few days before you get your money back, reach out to your friends, ideally face-to-face or over the phone, to remind them what they’re owed. Don’t be afraid to collect minute dollars. “It’s not what you think” or “I’m sorry,” Gottesman says, “be direct and friendly.”
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