When dining with friends, when to treat and when to split the bill

Aneth Ng-Lim

Posted at Dec 16 2019 08:37 AM

As the holiday season draws near, you’ll find more and more reasons to catch up with friends. It’s as if you want to cram as many social occasions as possible before the year comes to an end. I am just as guilty so I am not complaining, especially since it’s quite enjoyable with everyone in high spirits. Something in the air, or maybe the bonus pay in their wallets, puts people in a much cheerful mood.

But if you attend one too many get-togethers, your wallet will soon feel the pinch. After all, it’s not just the food and the drinks bill, but also the customary exchange of gifts. It can leave a bad taste if you are the only one to show up empty handed.

So, how to handle that awkward situation when the dining and drinking are over and here comes the bill? Here are some battle-worthy strategies so you can win the war for your savings.

#1 Be careful how you word your invite.

If you’re the one who reached out, friends may assume you are the host and will pay. Avoid words like “invite” and “guests” because if you did the inviting and are treating them as your guests, they could mistake that you will pick up the tab. Instead of saying, “Are you free for lunch?” try “let’s meet for lunch,” and if you suggest a place, add “or we can go where you would like to go.” This way, all who are coming have a say in the time, place and price points for the restaurant.

#2 Set expectations before the date.

It’s good to give some warning when people are making plans over email or group chat. Once, a friend suggested we treat a couple of people in the group because they recently lost their jobs and all agreed. I did notice that two people ended up not going – maybe something came up or they did not really like the treat suggestion but were too polite to say so. The point is when you know ahead of time what to expect, you avoid a potentially uncomfortable discussion when the bill is presented.

#3 Try separate checks.

Most restaurants will say no, and it’s not easy to push for this when you are surrounded by friends. If you arrived earlier than the others, you can mention this to the waiter, or you can try calling the restaurant ahead to check if they can accommodate. Once, the waiter said yes when we were ordering, only to decline when we were about to pay, saying the cashier is too busy (the place was full) to handle it. Another time, the restaurant said they can only split the bill three ways. We were 12 so that just made it more complicated.

#4 Or let an App come to your rescue.

We were traveling and a friend used Venmo to calculate how much each of us should pay and it looked so easy! She decided to put the bill on her credit card so we all paid her with cash but she gave us the cost for each of our meals and we only had to pay for that amount. Awkwardness averted and those who could still afford gourmet coffee made another stop on their way home.

#5 Cash is your friend, especially small bills.

If you are planning to pay only for what you ate, but you only have P1000 bills, chances are you would be helping pay for someone else’s too. If you have smaller bills, you can pay as close to your share as possible so make sure you come with P100s, P50s, even P20s. If you offer to pay with your credit card, again you may be able to collect the right amount from all, so cash is your best friend in this scenario.

#6 There’s also mobile cash and online savings.

If you all have GCash or Paymaya, splitting the bill can be easier as you can just click to pay one another, or the restaurant. People who work together and have online payroll accounts can also conveniently credit each other with their share of the tab. I personally like the second option as you can calculate including the service charge, VAT and tip and quote the fair amount for all.

#7 Speak up or forever hold your peace.

I once had to pay 5x more than what I ate for a dinner with colleagues who all ordered steaks and finished several bottles of wine. I ate salmon and stuck to water and when they said we will split the bill at the end, I almost fainted. But it’s not easy to speak up to a table full of tipsy people. Don’t suffer that same expensive mistake and say what you have to say before they ask for the bill, or even before people start ordering, or when you are all planning the get together. It can be something as simple as saying that “Hey, not all of us drink so best to pay for your own drinks,” or “Some arrived late and missed the starters so let’s each pay for what we ate and drank.”

#8 What to do when one tries to skip.

Ah, this is even more awkward than well, awkward. Some friends like to join in on the fun, but always manage to pull a disappearing act when the bill comes. Some even stay on the table and manage not to show any reaction at all. Suggest you assign one friend to stay close to this person and specifically collect from him or her. If he or she offers an excuse of no cash ready, assign one person closest to him or her to pay for his or her share and to collect later. It’s harder to ignore a debt with one person versus owing an entire group. But make sure that friend is okay with this arrangement. 

* * *

Did all these tips make you feel getting-together is not worth the effort? I hope not! You just need to make sure you are splitting the bill in a way that makes you and the others feel comfortable. Take control of the situation by bringing up the topic in a polite, but direct way. This shouldn’t be difficult when you are with friends. In fact, you are making it easier for them to say yes or no, now that they know what they can look forward to.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.