Ask Ann: How to Split a Check Without Splitting Hairs

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Q: When splitting a check with multiple diners, there’s always someone who wants to break it evenly (most often the one who ordered the most) and someone who doesn’t (typically, someone who ordered frugally.) What’s the best way to settle this problem?

A: This can be an uncomfortable, even embarrassing situation. One solution is to ask, at the beginning of the meal, for separate checks. Or, you could ask the server to put your meal on a separate check (again, it’s preferable to do this as soon as you sit down). But if that seems tacky – or the restaurant won’t allow it or wants to charge a fee – you might consider simply telling your friends that you are curtailing your spending and unfortunately need to limit it to X amount. Another approach is to ask the big spender(s) in the group to flag what they ordered when the bill arrives. (Sometimes they don’t realize how big the disparity is until they see it!) Even if you aren’t personally reining it in, you’re helping out the people in the party who are.

In addition to keeping things equitable, I think it’s important to consider the server. To that end, when dining in a group I think it’s best for everyone to use their credit cards and clearly communicate to the server how much they’re contributing, rather than have multiple diners pay cash toward the total and ask for change.

An of-the-moment way to make this easier for everyone involved – including your server – is to use a mobile payment app like PayPal or Venmo, which you link up to a credit or debit card. If one person in the group pays the total bill, you can reimburse him or her before you even leave the table. Venmo is meant specifically for paying people you know (friends and family). All they need to do is create a Venmo account to claim the funds. ◆

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‘Ask Ann’ appears in the October 2017 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.