Help! My friends expect me to split the restaurant bill even though I always order way less than they do. How do I approach this without looking like a cheapskate?
Etiquette tips on how to interact in today’s world. Have a question for Mister Manners? Send your queries to firstname.lastname@example.org and look for replies in the coming weeks.
READY TO SPLIT UP
Q: As restaurants in my state have started to reopen, I’m looking forward to dining out with many of my closest friends — but also wary. More than COVID-19, I’m concerned that their old habits will be back, ordering multiple cocktails and expensive dishes. Good for them, but they always presume we’ll split the check evenly despite the fact that I don’t drink, and usually order just a soup or a salad. How can I get them to see the injustice in this arrangement without looking like a cheapskate?
A: If I had a dollar for every time I receive this question, I could treat all of you to dinner for a year. It’s an issue that gives us much to chew on, for sure. In the ideal world, when a group dines out on a regular basis, any imbalance that favors your friends one time is righted by an imbalance that favors you the next time. In your scenario, however, the disproportion never adjusts, and—lucky you—you have the ongoing privilege of subsidizing your friends’ food and bar tabs.
In keeping with the currency theme, there are two sides to this coin.
In one respect, maintaining a running tally of how much each diner has ordered is tedious and can appear petty. It’s also inefficient. With the bulk of pricey dinners being paid for with plastic, “Split it five ways” is far easier for a server than “Put $56 on the green card; $32 on the blue card; $15 on the other blue card….”
And yet, you should not be taking a permanent hit to your wallet for the sake of a server’s convenience—or due to your friends’ lack of thoughtfulness.
As with any good restaurant menu, you have several options. One possibility is that you order last, selecting a meal and number of courses that more closely approximate what everyone else has chosen. But you may be watching your diet (or your wallet), in which case you’ll still order less than everyone else. If this is the more likely scenario, I advise you to have an advance word with whomever in the group is your closest friend. Ask them to speak up on your behalf when the check arrives, urging everyone to chip in a higher dollar amount and you, a lower one. Ideally, you should put in cash for your portion, which will come off the total before it is split evenly by everyone else. Just be sure not to undercalculate your share. Round up, and don’t neglect tax and tip.
This should help settle the score (and the tab), but if not, it may be time to forego dining with these oblivious epicures and find a set of compatriots whose ordering habits more closely match your own.
WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE?
Q: Do I need to follow a friend back on Instagram even if what she posts is boring to me?
A: Giving your friend a boost on social media costs you nothing. And if you can’t bear a tedious post popping up in your feed every now and again, what does that say about your ability to listen to her stories in person? In the realm of the thoughtful gestures we do for our friends, a “follow” is about as low a bar as you’ll encounter. As the Nike slogan advises, just do it.
Mister Manners, Thomas P. Farley, is a nationally regarded expert who appears regularly in the media to discuss modern-day etiquette dilemmas — from how to split a check fairly to how to get a word in edgewise. Follow Thomas on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And for more insights, listen to his brand-new podcast, “What Manners Most,” which will be focused exclusively on Coronavirus-related etiquette for the foreseeable future.