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Your Take: Splitting Checks

Reading this brief post on Alpha Consumer on money etiquette [3] brought on a thought about a weekend several weeks ago with a bunch of friends. I spent part of Saturday afternoon at a local Baltimore bar called Lime drinking some margaritas with some of my friends, BS’ing about the week, and drinking some more margaritas. (That place has this thing called a Birdbath, three margaritas in one huge cup/bowl for $13… can’t beat it) Anyway, several hours later we go to split up the check and somehow the bill is short. Short by a lot. We eventually figured out that it was just that someone had left and misjudged their part of the bill and everything was settled later on, but it got me thinking about how splitting checks always seems to end badly 9 out of 10 times.

I’m a fan of splitting checks evenly as long as it’s reasonably equitable. If one person gets a rack of lamb and a bottle wine while another person gets a grilled cheese sandwich, then splitting the check evenly just isn’t going to be fair. However, in cases where it’s hard to gauge who got what (like at bars, which are exasperated by a larger crowd), I think splitting it evenly just makes it easier to take care of. Ultimately, if the difference is a few bucks, I would argue that most people are okay with overpaying a few dollars.

However, you almost never have the case where the inequity is so apparent. If there are two people and one person gets lamb and another gets a grilled cheese, I would hope the person with the rack of lamb wouldn’t be so obtuse that they would ask to split the check 50-50 (if they are, I recommend never eating with them because they obviously suck). It’s always something a little grayer, like 10 people and everyone is about the same and 1 person got there late (or something like that). In those cases, I think it’s fair for that one person to pipe up and say “Hey guys, I got here later and I only had one margarita, I think that should run me only about $x.xx.” Hopefully no one is looking for a free ride, it’s just a matter of simplicity.

What’s your take on this sticky wicket? Is the onus on the person who should pay less or on the person who obviously got the more expensive drink or meal? A little of both? I realize it’s one of those gray area type questions with no real answer but I’m curious what all of you think.