awkwardness over paying the bill at a dinner with coworkers

A reader writes:

I had an awkward group “per diem dinner” moment with three unfamiliar work colleagues not long ago and thought I’d see how you would have handled it.

Four employees each get a set per diem (let’s say $30) for dinner while they’re out of town, to be expensed later. At a group dinner, two of the four — let’s call them Tightwads A and B — duly spend at the per diem cap, while two others — let’s call them Spendthrifts C and D — enjoy a couple glasses of alcohol apiece and go over the per diem.

Bill comes; awkward calculator math ensues. After a few minutes, Spendthrift C says maybe it’s just best to split the bill evenly four ways. Tightwad A pipes up and mentions he’d consciously stayed under the per diem and would rather just pay his part of the bill because money is tight. Tightwad B says nothing, but his body language seems to indicate he agrees with A.

So Spendthrift C suggests still splitting the bill evenly but having C and D give some cash to A and B to help even things out. But D balks at giving cash for unstated reasons, quite possibly because he’s tired of fussing over $15-$20 changing hands in one direction or another. What was the right way to have handled this?

(Spoiler alert: It ended up getting handled in about the most awkward way possible. Spendthrift C gave back both C and D’s portion of the overage to Tightwads A and B.)

I’m with the Tightwads on this. (And I’m assuming we’re using Tightwads/Spendthrifts as amusing shorthand, not because we think really they’re either of those things.)

If someone says clearly that they’d rather not pay for someone else’s meal, no one should balk at that, especially in a situation where you’ve got four coworkers eating together during a business trip, as opposed to a social occasion among friends. The group should have immediately acquiesed and had people pay for their own meals.

It’s totally reasonable for people not to want to pay for their coworkers’ drinks (or desserts, or more expensive entree, or whatever.) No one should even have to explain their reasons for that, but when someone explicitly says that money is tight, it’s the height of rudeness to do anything other than make it easy and comfortable for them to stick to their own food bill.

And sure, in social situations, many groups do split everything relatively evenly. But that’s different, because (a) it’s a social situation, not a work one, and no one is obligated to be there, (b) people often find it easier to speak up when there’s no potential workplace cost to doing so (people shouldn’t have to risk causing tensions with coworkers just to keep their own wallets from being raided for someone else’s meal), and (c) the norms among social group are often different than among work groups — there’s a greater emphasis on conviviality, for one thing.

Meals in a work context are different. People should really pay their own costs unless there’s a clear group agreement to split it evenly and you know everyone well enough to know no one is agreeing just because they feel pressure to. The minute you see someone balk or even hesitate, that’s a sign that you really need to switch gears and have people cover their own costs.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 444 comments… read them below }

    1. Julia*

      I go out to eat quite often in work situations, on travel usually, and we always ask for separate checks. I’ve never been to a restaurant that couldn’t accomodate that.

      1. Koko*

        I’ve eaten at countless places that won’t split a check between more than 2 cards. It seems to be a more common policy at pubs where large groups of unrelated people frequently gather with staggered arrival/leaving times, but I’ve seen it at regular restaurants as well.

        1. Rayner*

          Maybe I’ve got confused, but isn’t what people are talking about when they say separate checks actually having their own bill for just one person. Not splitting the bill across different cards,

          1. Koko*

            The pubs I know of that have a no check-splitting policy consider that one and the same. They won’t print more than 2 tabs per table and they won’t apply more than 2 cards to the same table.

            1. hayling*

              I think if you ask nicely and explain that you’re on a work trip servers might be more obliging.

              1. Bea W*

                The trick is you need to ask before they take your order. Once the order is in the system it’s difficult or too annoying to split.

            2. Valar M.*

              I’ve lived in a place where if more than 4 people are eating together, at most places they absolutely refuse to do separate bills. It all has to be one. I assume this is so they can do a mandatory tip charge of 18%, and if they split it up they couldn’t. The only way they’d let us split the check is if someone that didn’t work there sat down and wrote the last four digits of each card, and the amount they wanted on that card. It was bonkers, and super irritating to go out with more than just a couple people, but it seemed to be par for the course there.

            3. Adam V*

              That might be the kind of thing where you’d call the restaurant ahead of time, or ask the hostess when you first arrive – “we’re in town on company business and we need to be able to split checks so everyone pays their own way; is that okay?”

            4. Dan*

              Splitting checks is not a difficult thing for a pub/restaurant. Faced with that situation, I would take my business elsewhere :-/

              1. Koko*

                It just depends on the area. Around here it’s so common I’d be ruling out 50% of the places I like to go if I considered check-splitting non-negotiable. For me it’s easier just to carry cash and have the full range of options available.

              2. CanadianKat*

                Where I work (downtown Ottawa), we’ve never had to even mention splitting bills – the servers always do it without asking (we go out in a group of 10-12). Maybe it’s because it’s a government area, so they know the employer won’t cover the meal. In the high-tech area of the city, they might ask, because there’s at least a possibility that the company will pay.

                1. CanadianKat*

                  Also, we don’t ever order shared dishes. If there’s a shared dish, it would be reasonable for the restaurant to put it on one person’s bill (they can ask whose), and let the group figure out how to handle it.

          2. Bea W*

            That’s correct. Having a separate check for each diner is literally putting the order and the charges on separate checks whether that’s a hand written slip they use at the local greasy spoon or entering it into the computerized system as separate orders so that at the end you have 5 separate bills instead of one bill with everyone’s meal on it that then has to be split. I’ve yet to run into a place that won’t do separate bills if they know before the fact to place the orders as separate bills. Splitting gets funky. There are some systems that won’t allow it.

      2. A tightwad*

        I can think of at least one place where that won’t fly: I lived in New York City for years and restaurants will *never* do it and look at you like a loser with two heads for even asking. I always had to bring stacks of cash (in various denominations) when I went out to avoid splitting checks evenly across credit cards with Spendthrifty friends. It is soooo refreshing to travel elsewhere in the country where they do this without blinking. On the West Coast, I’ve even had servers *offer* to split appetizers between two people on a four-person bill and complicated stuff like that.

        1. TNTT*

          Same – Chicago has gotten really obnoxious about it lately. I’m always so happy when we’re traveling and a server offers to split it up.

          1. illini02*

            Really? I live in Chicago, and I almost never have a problem with this. I mean, there are a few places, but most are more than accomodating

              1. Gene*

                If I ask at the start of the meal and get the sigh *eyeroll*, I reflect it on their tip and tell them why. Dude, it’s a service job.

                A little attitude if I forget to ask until the check is done is fine, that’s on me.

              2. Valar M.*

                I’ve had this happen to me in Chicago too. Maybe its because it was in touristy areas whenever I visited. I don’t know. Also, this was a few years ago, but I remember they had a rule that after 9PM you had to agree to a minimum 18% tip to eat there, and if you didn’t spend more than $50 dollars you couldn’t charge it. I seriously hope that place got broken of this habit or went out of business.

            1. LawBee*

              Yeah, I never had that problem when I lived there (very recently). Actually, if my friends and I ordered similar-priced food, we just gave the server all the cards with the bill, and they split it without a second thought.

              Or we said separate checks ahead of time, which is the easiest and most obvious solution.

        2. Taylor*

          Really? In LA you get the “loser with two heads” thing too. I’ve had servers sigh, drop their heads and walk away without a word to do this INCREDIBLY tedious task that takes them less than 2 minutes (I try to just ask at the beginning of the meal now).

          1. Rita*

            If the system isn’t set up well to split checks, yes it is a pain to do and can take more than 2 minutes. And when you’re a waiter, 2 minutes is something you don’t have.

            1. Vicki*

              No it’s not.
              You simply file the orders separately.

              We go to a diner where everything is added up by hand and they’re willing and able to do multiple checks.

          2. PowerStruggles*

            As a former server I can tell you depending on how modern their computer system is it can be the easiest thing or hardest. But it’s always best to ask first not afterwards when it’s difficult to suss out who had what and who pays for the apps wine etc.

            1. Zahra*

              Of course, POS system or not, always ask at the beginning. Written checks are even easier (though they probably take longer to calculate) to do. You just create the separate checks as you take the orders.

            2. puddin*

              Always ask first, not when the check arrives – agreed! I have never encountered resistance when it is asked beforehand – in NYC, LA and everywhere in between.

          3. INTP*

            The attitude might be because you could have saved them that hassle by asking for the separate checks up front. Sometimes servers don’t realize this isn’t universal knowledge and think you were just too inconsiderate to bother telling them ASAP.

            1. bridget*

              Although I will go to my grave insisting that the proper “default” should be separate checks, not a single check (especially where it’s clearly not a romantic date, like a work group would be). WAY easier to say “oh I’ll pick up the tab for this one” after the server brings two checks. The server can just run your card for both. On the other hand, pointing out that you’d rather be separate after a joint check has been presented has the potential for awkwardness.

              As to splitting the entire bill evenly, I find it ridiculous that this is ever a situation that people use. If I’m not completely treating or being treated, I wouldn’t ever opt for the middle road of subsidizing/being subsidized. All of these opinions may be colored by being from the sort of place that doesn’t insist on evenly splitting checks.

              1. doreen*

                I expect it’s also colored by the situations you’re used to. I wouldn’t generally consider splitting the check evenly in a purely work situation but social situations are different. There’s one group I’m in that goes on a few trips a year together , and we always split the check evenly unless we’re at a buffet or fast-food place. But – we have neither the guy who orders a steak when everyone else orders burgers nor the one ordering salad when everyone else gets a meal. And often the way we order just doesn’t lend itself to separate checks – if we order multiple appetizers for a table of ten or are at a restaurant that serves family style it would just get ridiculous to have to figure out that Joe didn’t eat any of food #1 so that price should be split 9 ways, while only Joe and Diane ate food #2 so they should each pay half for that…

              2. Sunshine*

                I just want to say this is genius – separate checks unless otherwise advised. Especially if there is a large group or multiple adults. Why is this not The Way It Is Done?

                1. Hannah*

                  Every time a credit card is run the restaurant is charged a fee by the credit processing company they use. I suspect that’s why.

                2. Zahra*

                  Hannah, over here, the fee is a percentage of the bill. The credit card fees have nothing to do with it (in Canada, at least). Of course, running 10 people’s cards take 10 times as much time as running the one person, but then, those ten people are spending that time at the table splitting the bill, so you can’t turnover that table. It’s a wash, by my calculation (not a server and not playing one on TV).

                3. Dan*

                  Agreed that it’s a percentage of the bill, but wanted to comment on 10 cards taking longer. Yes, it’s a hassle, but it’s the price one has to pay to keep customers happy and coming back instead of being annoyed with the lack of service and going elsewhere.

                4. Judy*

                  I think the fees are percent of bill with a minimum per transaction. So as long as the charges are (IIRC) $10-$15, then it’s the same whether it’s 5 x $20 or 1 X $100. It does take some more time to run separate cards, though.

                5. Koko*

                  “it’s the price one has to pay to keep customers happy and coming back instead of being annoyed with the lack of service and going elsewhere”

                  Which means in a busy restaurant where the server always has a full section, there’s not only no incentive to give people special treatment, there may even be a motivation to process tables as fast as possible and to discourage tables from taking up too much server time. The places I know that won’t split checks are all VERY busy – maybe they’re busy in spite of their policy, or maybe they have that policy because they’re so busy that they would rather be seating a new table or paying customers than running 10 cards.

        3. Zillah*

          Really? I’m also in NYC. I don’t eat out super often, but I haven’t had an issue when I have and I’ve requested separate bills, as long as I did so at the beginning of the meal.

          1. A tightwad*

            Well, I moved away about a year ago. But I ate out all the time for years, mostly trendy Brooklyn and Manhattan below 23rd. I can’t recall it ever working, although I eventually stopped asking and I’m not sure how much of a difference it makes to ask in advance.

            1. Zillah*

              I think it probably makes a big difference – I can imagine that depending on the situation, how busy you are, and the computer system, it could be easy to separate a bill or it could be really difficult. If you’re keeping different bills from the start, I suspect a lot of that goes away,

              1. AvonLady Barksdale*

                Until I moved out of NYC, I never got a separate check. It was never offered, never given when asked. I remember one meal with 15 people and a list of credit card numbers (last 4 digits) on the back of the bill. About 5 people had cash, 10 had cards, all different amounts of food so we didn’t want to do an even split. This was never a problem with smaller parties, like when I went out for brunch with girlfriends; we always, always just split the check evenly and figured there was $20 floating among the five of us at any given time.

                Then I moved to the south, and not only are they more than willing to separate checks, they ask you AFTER the meal is over! They will even ask me and my bf if we want one check or two! It is amazing. Once we went out for a guy’s birthday and split the bill 9 ways and split HIS meal across the 9 checks. I think I paid 75 cents for his appetizer.

                I don’t know why it’s so different here, but I would guess there are several factors at play– NYC restaurants tend to be much busier, but they also tend to have more expenses and therefore can’t always budget for POS systems that separate checks easily (I’m guessing here). Either way, A Tightwad’s experience has been mine too– especially the part about no longer asking because it was always such a hassle and we usually just worked it out among ourselves anyway.

                1. YaH*

                  I’m in the South too, and I’ve noticed that pretty much every single time I go out to eat with my parents, the server asks at the end of the meal if it will be separate checks. It’s very interesting.

                2. Melissa*

                  That’s also been my experience. I lived in NYC for 6 years and still travel there frequently, and servers never offer to split the check and always act like it’s a huge burden to do it. Now I live in central PA and servers here always ask if we would like to split the check at the end of the meal, and always come back with it split correctly.

        4. Cath in Canada*

          I’m so thankful that separate cheques are a standard thing here in Vancouver – I thought that was true everywhere these days! They’ll do 50/50 or even 33/33/33 splits on shared appies or pitchers without even being asked. It’s great for those of us with actual tightwad friends who undertip – we used to have to overtip almost every time to compensate for them back in the days of shared cheques.

          1. Koko*

            This is one of my big pet peeves. I’ve worked for tips before so I always tip generously. But I hate when folks just want to throw cash into a general pool and whoever is sitting closest to the check counts up to make sure there’s “enough” and discovers the group hasn’t even met the pre-tip total yet and has to coax an extra few dollars out of everyone.

            Nowadays I tend to put down my total including tax, but not tip, and hold my tip cash at my seat until after the bill has been paid, and then leave it behind on the table. I try to encourage others to do the same so that nobody’s generous tips are subsidizing someone else who thinks they can get away with not paying tax or tipping at all.

            1. Zillah*

              Worst experience eating out ever: I was with a group of people I didn’t know that well, and when they started talking about going out to eat, I said it wasn’t in my budget but I’d see them later. They insisted that they’d treat, it would be fine, don’t worry about it… so I went and I got a soup, which was both cheap and good.

              Then the check came.

              The bill was well over $100, the service had been good, and we’d been sitting there for a couple hours. They left a $3 tip. I was mortified, but I literally didn’t have the money to make up for it or to pay for my soup, so I didn’t feel like I could say anything but “I think it’s customary to leave a 20% tip.” The waiter actually stopped one guy on our way out, and he came out complaining about having to give the waiter an extra $5.

              I have never eaten out with people I don’t know well again.

                1. ThursdaysGeek*

                  On the other hand, depending on the state, it may not have brought his pay up to minimum wage for that day.

                2. davey1983*

                  If tips don’t bring someone up to minimum wage, then the employer has to make up the difference.

                3. Dan*

                  No matter what the tip, we cannot have waiters stopping patrons on the way out. It sucks, but allowing it will just lead to problems. Who’s going to decide when it’s ok for the waiter to complain and when it’s not?

                4. Zillah*

                  Given how demanding the people I was with were (who I avoided thereafter, for the record) and that they gave him a $3 tip for a meal that was well over $100, I’m really not fussed. I’m not sure what the “we” in your comment is about, Dan – not everything is a slippery slope.

              1. ella*

                I was out with a big group once and the waiter chased after us, because due to a miscommunication we basically didn’t tip him at all–it was almost all cash and one card, and he didn’t hear my friend say, “$XX goes on the card,” and we didn’t think to hold back any cash as a separate tip pool (there was plenty cash to cover everyone’s meals and tip, minus the one person without cash). So he rang through all the cash as part of the bill, and then the remainder on the card, expecting that my friend would sign for the tip for the whole group. She tipped 20% of HER bill, not realizing he’d applied the cash that we’d intended for tip to the bill. In effect, he got about $4 for dealing with a twelve-top. We didn’t work out what must have happened until we were well away from the restaurant, and in the moment were completely confused and defensive about why he’d chased us asking for more money (because we thought we’d tipped him plenty). I still feel bad about that waiter and how we must have ruined his day.

                1. ThursdaysGeek*

                  I had a server chase us out after a large group too, perhaps 20 people for dinner. The upper manager put it on his card, and we were all leaving. Then the server realized the manager forgot to sign the receipt. He ran out asking if Mr. X was still there. We hesitated, and then one of the men said, “Sure, I’ll be Mr. X” and he signed the receipt.

            2. Connie-Lynne*

              Shortly after I dropped out of college due to financial problems, some friends of mine and I went out to dinner. I went out regularly with this group and noticed that the bill had a tendency to come up short, and that one of our recently-graduated friends with an awesome job would just cover.

              That night, our generous friend was not with us. As I was on a tight budget, I ordered soup and one glass of wine, for a grand total of about $5. I put in $10. I watched as others put in, and then I counted up the bill … yep, we were short of the total, not even considering a decent tip. I announced that I was not going to put in more than twice my bill considering that I had budgeted, and a couple people, not the ones who had ordered wine, apps, AND dessert tossed in an extra dollar.

              At which point I in all of my 19-year-old angry righteousness proceeded to go around the table, querying people as to what they had put in, and then pointing out that they appeared to have left out this or that item and that they certainly hadn’t tipped. It was very uncomfortable, but we were a table of 15 and some of these folks had been demanding of the waitress, as well. At the end, we had enough to pay the bill and leave a 15% tip.

              I never went out to eat with those people again unless Generous Friend was accompanying us.

              Contrasting this to a moment, many years later, when my community of artists and engineers went out for an impromptu New Year breakfast after an all night event. The restaurant opened a separate room for us *and* somehow managed to accomodate a surprise group of 57 people. This time I assumed I and a few others were likely to have to take the role of “Generous Friend” because a lot of folks in the group tended toward not having reliable incomes. Instead, not only did the bill come up on the first count with a 25% tip, but $200 over on top of that. That group of folks I’ll eat with any day.

            1. Zahra*

              I’m in Quebec. Looks like it’s the norm in Canada, if Cath in Canada (from Vancouver) says it’s common over there too.

              1. Sleepyhead*

                I’m in central Canada and its the norm here too. The only time I’ve gone out and not split the cheque is if it’s someone’s birthday and I’m paying for their meal too. There was an old friends episode about this and I thought it was a ridiculous problem even back then – who the heck would agree to split the cheque evenly when your personal meals all had different costs?

                1. Sif*

                  I’m also in central Canada (smallish city) and, yeah, typically the server will ask if the cheques are separate after everyone’s finished eating, and it’s no hassle one way or the other.

              2. Astor*

                Yup! I’ve lived/travelled in multiple Canadian cities where it’s been the norm for years, and then I get thrown off while in vacation in the US. I suspect that it’s basically included in any POS that calculates GST and has been changing between PST, HST, and etc. Super easy splits, including splitting individual items across multiple people.

            2. Jason*

              I’m fairly sure it’s the norm in most of the US also. Everywhere I’ve traveled in the US other than NYC has split checks by default.

              1. jordanjay29*

                Unless you look like you’re on a date. So if you happen to be out with a friend of the opposite gender, you have to be pretty specific up front.

            3. Calgary Recruiter*

              Some of the trendier places in Calgary won’t, but this is usually well-advertised at the front of the restaurant and/or on the menu. And some of the more touristy places in Banff and Canmore will give you a hard time about it.

          2. Lisa*

            We have a friend that makes a big deal that we undertip, but we have to because he always under paid. But then claimed a big tip on top. We funded most of his drinks to the point, where I stopped eating when we went out so he couldn’t lump me in as she got that $9 and his gf got that $15, but the same drink so we ended up always being ‘even’ though I got only 1 drink, she got 2 and my meal was less expensive. He moved out of state, but is coming back so this should be fun paying for him again, when he makes 3x as much as us.

              1. Malissa*

                When I go out with friends I just assume I will be paying. this makes for much less hassle. If they pick up all or part of a check then I’m thrilled.

            1. Revanche*

              This is a major DQ for a friend. Who does that??

              I like my friends best: we assume we’re each paying our own way, period. No fuss, no muss.

          3. Katieinthemountains*

            Right, I’m in the South, and if the grouping is anything other than one couple, the server usually asks, “And how would you like the checks this evening?” A lot of times the person who ordered the appetizer pays for it, but sometimes I ask to split it and I’ve never encountered a problem.
            I would be so mad if I had to subsidize other people’s pricy entrees and drinks when I generally order on the lower end and rarely drink anything but water.

            1. Revanche*

              Same- I have relatives who jump to order multiple appetizers and make a stink if you don’t eat it, but they’re not always paying! Yet they always order like they are. I hate eating out with them.

            2. NoPantsFridays*

              I too am a big fan of separate checks and refuse to subsidize others’ drinks and food. I also only drink water with dinner (carbonated water if I want to live on the edge, lol). Other than that it’s coffee and tea, but not much. I don’t drink alcohol and restaurant portions are more than I eat in a whole day at home, so I usually get “just” a soup or salad. If I split an appetizer, I’m already full. So, yeah, I’d be really pissed if I had to split a check especially with coworkers. (I’ve never had this issue with friends as we get separate checks regardless!)

              1. NoPantsFridays*

                The weird part is I’m OK with treating people. But not a split bill, which forces me to partially treat without getting credit for it. I don’t expect people to be indebted to me for buying them food (of course not), but there is at least some gratitude/”thanks for dinner!” towards the treater. Subsidizing is the worst of both worlds — you buy other people food, AND they don’t even say thanks because they perceive it as “even” or “fair” when it’s really uneven. If I’m going to treat, I want it recognized that it is uneven and that I have paid more than my share!

                1. Revanche*

                  You know, that’s a fair point too. Your over-payment (usually it’s overage) is unnoticed by others but it sure does still come out of your pocket!

          4. NoPantsFridays*

            I used to live in Toronto and was the norm there too.

            Now I live in the US and it’s not the norm in my area, but they will do it if you ask, and they usually react like it’s a normal request so it must not be unusual.

            Once a waiter assumed my brother and I (female) were a couple on a date. I was actually paying since he’s a college student, but the assumption seemed to be that he would pay (because, you know, men must pay /sarcasm). I feel like they should ask “separate or together?” first and not just assume ‘date’ or ‘friends’.

          5. Sally Forth*

            Thanks, Cath! I live in Vancouver, too, and was reading this and at first couldn’t figure out what the conflict was. Most places just assume that two women out at lunch, for example, need separate cheques and you don’t even need to ask.

        5. AdAgencyChick*

          Agree. Many restaurants will split the bill evenly down the middle on two cards, but many won’t — and you definitely get the stink eye if you propose that the server separate the checks by who had what. (Splitting by more than two can also be a problem.)

        6. Beebs*

          I once went to a sort of tapas style place, my friend and I each ordered one drink and one food item. When it came time to pay we asked for separate bills, and they said that they don’t accommodate that because their food is intended to be shared. *blank stare* You mean to tell me you can’t pretend like we came here as individuals and put two items on one bill, and the other two items on another?

          1. Kay*


            I guess I think about this from the standpoint of restaurants being a service-based industry. What if no one has cash and no one is willing to pay the whole bill? Would the restaurant manager rather have a table create a stink and possibly have to comp something for the “trouble” than just split the checks out.

            1. Koko*

              I’m pretty sure the restaurant would say it’s your problem to figure out how to pay for food you ate. They aren’t going to comp your meal because you didn’t plan ahead about how to pay–they comp when they’ve done something wrong. I can’t imagine a table simply refusing to pay because no one wants to cover the others and the management just says, “Oh, sure, your food is free.”

          2. jordanjay29*

            That’s what always gets me. If my dinnermates and I had all come in as separate guests, sat at separate tables and ordered, we would all get separate checks. But we didn’t, we sat at one table, had a great conversation, and allowed the restaurant to use several other tables and waitstaff for other customers. Is it so much to ask for the courtesy of a separate check?

        7. sam*

          weird. I’ve lived in NYC for over 15 years and have never had a problem splitting the check among multiple people. And while more of a burgers and beers girl when given my own choice in the matter, I’ve been to enough birthday dinners and work lunches at fancy-shmance and/or trendy places that I’ve run the gamut. But we generally split evenly, or at the very least don’t make the waitstaff do the math (trust me, there’s an iphone app for everything!). I’ve found waitstaff to be even particularly happy about it when one tablemate wants to pay cash and that piece of the contribution turns into the bulk of the tip. It’s all about how you approach it (i.e., not being an entitled jerk and recognizing that it involves work, so take the work burden off your server as much as possible. Also, being a pleasant customer generally is a nice way to move through life, and reaps a lot of pleasant rewards).

        8. Womanhattan*

          I’m a life-long New Yorker AND a foodie that hangs with a crew of foodies. We’ve never had that issue when someone asked that. I think smart restaurants want to encourage repeat customers. That said, we’re not spending $500 a plat at our tables. Don’t know what a super high-end establishment feels.

          1. Womanhattan*

            I don’t drink alcohol, so if my bill is $40 and everyone else’s is $75 or whatever, they can’t expect me to pay for their drinking—or when I do, it’s because we’re at a pub or something and I offer to buy a round.

        9. Joe*

          I don’t know when you lived in NYC, but I live there now, and I constantly split checks, use multiple cards on a single check, and even use multiple cards for different amounts on a single check, and nobody bats an eyelash at it any more. I can’t remember the last time a restaurant refused to do any of these things for us. So things may have changed since you last lived here.

          1. Kat M*

            I think it was the computer system they were using, but I never asked (I was nineteen and needed a job). Most people either split a bill evenly or they were coming as a couple or as a company group (where one person would pay anyway). It didn’t pose too much of an issue.

      3. ThursdaysGeek*

        That wasn’t an option in any New Orleans restaurant when I was there (25 years ago). It was especially an issue when I was standing to get into a restaurant and started talking to a couple other people, one who was attending the same conference as me, one attending a different one. The server suggested we share a table and we agreed. It was a fun dinner until the single check came. We all had expense accounts from separate companies. I think they finally agreed to make copies so we each had a copy of the bill, and at least 2 of us managed to come up with cash to pay our part.

      4. Annonymouse*

        I think the issue isn’t so much “can the restaurant do split checks”

        As it is
        “Spendthrift D (and a little of C) totally thought Tightwads A & B would cover their meal.”

        Um, how about no?

        Let’s say the per diem is $30. A spends $20, B spends $25 (equalling $15 “extra”).
        C spends $35 and D goes for $40.

        Technically there is enough per diem to go around but really? You don’t get part of someone’s money because they’re better at budgeting.

        Or A & B come in just under ($28-$30) and C & D go way over. ($40 – $50+).
        No way would I want to split. You’re now taking money directly out of my pocket. Rude.

        Also is it just me or did it seem like D didn’t pay their fair share?

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      This is why I hate when a restaurant won’t give you separate checks. I get it — I get that it’s a pain for the waiter to keep track of multiple separate bills, especially for a large party. Thankfully, I’ve cut out of my life most of the people who abuse the friendly gesture of “hey, let’s all split the bill” in my nonwork life, because the ones who order an extra bottle of wine and surf-n-turf and never balance it out by paying extra when they’ve ordered only a salad tend to be annoying in other ways. But if I were friends with such a person, I’d insist on separate bills or else that we not go out to dinner together. (Plus, sometimes I like to visit friends if I’m traveling for business to a city where I know someone, and in that case I need a separate check so as to expense my dinner without driving the finance gurus up the wall.)

      OP’s situation would make my head explode, because a business trip should not cost OP money, *especially* when it’s a coworker’s decision to go outside the limits that leads to the expense.

      1. puddin*

        The Spendthrifts should have asked for a separate bar bill. Even if restaurants will not split checks, you can ask for your drinks and close the tab out right away. I do this as a matter of habit when expensing. Cocktails always on a sep check – always.

      2. Aunt Vixen*

        In my social circles the rule is that the person who would owe the least if the bill were divided accurately gets to be the one to decide if it’s easier to just divide it equally. (That is, if I owe $16 and you owe $12, you’re the one who says if we each throw in $14–not me.)

        1. Pooski*

          That’s a great system! I might just steal it!

          I’m glad that my group of friends is generally okay with sometimes paying a bit more, and sometimes getting covered. I would always just pay a few more dollar to not have to deal with bill sharing and figuring out who owes what extra. To me it’s worth the money to not have the hassle.

          1. Zillah*

            I think this works provided it evens out – if one person has a smaller appetite or consistently gets cheaper things, though, I can see it causing resentment.

        2. Kate M*

          That’s usually how my friends do it too. I usually have a smaller portion because I can’t really drink more than one drink at a time and most of my friends can drink 2+, but I still usually say that we should split it evenly (it’ll work out eventually). And then my friends come back and say that they’ll take care of all the tip to make it even out more. So it generally works out.

    3. yup*

      A suggestion I haven’t seen yet is:

      Take the alcoholic drinks off the food bill and give it to C & D to split.

      Just for humour, it would be funny to see them squirm over splitting an unevenly consumed alcohol bill and failing to see the irony. I.E. C had 2 expensive cocktails and D had 2 tap beers.

  1. Natalie*

    If at all possible, avoid this situation entirely by asking for separate checks at the beginning. Most modern POS systems can easily split the bill (my favorite ones list each seat separately automatically) and your server probably prefers it to a list of instructions, whether delivered verbally or scribbled on the back on the ticket.

  2. IT Kat*

    I’ve done travel on per diem before with coworkers, and we all asked for separate bills – granted, there usually is only two or three of us (I understand that separate bills are an issue with larger parties, but 2-4 people seem reasonable for separate bills). I’m confused why separate bills weren’t requested of the wait staff?

    1. Alistair*

      Heck, friends from choir and I sometimes go out, and we all get separate bills, and I think our largest party was about 15 people. If Applebee’s can split that many, they can split 4. Just make it clear before ordering, and you’re off to the (food) races.

      1. Andy*

        and from now on, for the rest of my life, if a server ever tells me they can’t split a check I will let them know that Applebee’s can do it, and for the love of Mike if Applebees can do it so can you.

        1. Alistair*

          Laughing at that almost hurt! As much as I like Applebee’s, I am very aware of their bland reputation…

    2. Val*

      Because it appears at least one spendthrift (freeloader?) wanted two other people who were eating/drinking less to cover them instead of paying what they owed.

      1. annonymouse*

        Exactly. What makes it worse is that it is a per diem work expense. A & B were responsible and stuck to the budget, C & D didn’t.

        That is so rude and it’s going to cause problems if it puts all 4 of them over the amount. Or even just assuming that “hey, we can run the bill up to $120 total and they’ll cover it! Incredibly unfair if A & B only spend $20 each and C & D spend $40.

  3. J-nonymous*

    I have to agree with Alison here. Many companies reimburse expenses quite a while after those expenses are incurred. Asking people to pay more than what they’ve bought, regardless of whether the expense is reimbursed later, puts people in an awkward situation. As a colleague, I shouldn’t have to explain to my coworkers that money is too tight to chip in for your alcohol; I shouldn’t be asked to do that in the first place.

    1. yasmara*

      No, it’s because a per diem is actually that. An amount of money per day. In the example used, the per diem is $30. So each employee gets $30 from the company for that day, no matter if they spend $25 or $50. It’s a way for the company to get out of the business of managing meal/drink expenses. The good part for the employee is no more saving receipts, scanning them (or gasp! mailing them), etc. and if you are a tightwad, you can spend as little as you want for food. The bad part is if you’re in an expensive area, even if the per diem is adjusted, it’s usually fairly stingy.

      1. fposte*

        Right, but why can’t the people spending above the per diem just pay for what they bought and understand they’re absorbing the excess? I get a per diem when traveling and that’s always what I do if I go over.

      2. blu*

        This isn’t always true. My old organization set a per diem (and referred to it as such) and you would be reimbursed up to that amount but nothing more. You also had to submit receipts and regardless of the amount of your per diem left, they would not reimburse alcohol or tips over 20%.

      3. RP*

        So each employee gets $30 from the company for that day, no matter if they spend $25 or $50.

        That is definitely not how it worked at my last job.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          That’s how it works at my job – you get the per diem amount, no matter what you actually spent. And unless you worked pretty hard at it, you probably spent more.

  4. fposte*

    Maybe this has something to do with how the employer handles expenses, but I don’t understand the outcome: “It ended up getting handled in about the most awkward way possible. Spendthrift C gave back both C and D’s portion of the overage to Tightwads A and B.” Why couldn’t A, B, C, and D just pay what they owed and C and D just don’t get reimbursed for the overage?

    And why the heck are you buying a fox anyway, and doesn’t it need food if you don’t want it to eat the chicken on the other side of the river?

    1. Alistair*

      Always loved that puzzle, even if it makes no sense. Why do you even have a fox in the first place? Do they do something awesome for farmers/peasants that I just don’t know about?

      Wait, was it Swift? Was David with him?

      1. Three Thousand*

        Maybe a dog would make more sense, but it might not be believable that your dog would be poorly-trained enough to eat your livestock when you’re not around.

    2. Koko*

      “Why couldn’t A, B, C, and D just pay what they owed and C and D just don’t get reimbursed for the overage?”

      Because apparently C felt that was too hard: “Bill comes; awkward calculator math ensues. After a few minutes, Spendthrift C says maybe it’s just best to split the bill evenly four ways. ”

      I agree with you, though. It’s not very difficult to add up the cost of each person’s order and multiply by the tax rate (found by dividing the total bill tax by the total bill amount). Even rounding to the nearest dollar or something people balk at decimal points, my friends and I routinely do this and it’s not that difficult. I find it awfully convenient that it was one of the people who ate/drank more who found it too difficult to calculate his share of the tab.

      1. Jen RO*

        Coming from a country where splitting the bill evenly is extremely uncommon… I just don’t get the fuss. You get the check, take your phone out, add up what you had… and pay!

        1. INTP*

          In the US, sales tax and gratuity are not covered under the menu price. It still shouldn’t be hard to figure that out with a calculator but there’s always someone who hands over the menu price of their meal when they owe 25 percent above that, and someone with a conscience usually covers for them.

          1. CMartin*

            “someone with a conscience usually covers for them”

            You rang?

            Being “the one who works in a restaurant” as well as “the one who is good at math” I was always the designated person to tell people what they owed/collect the money and tell the server what to do. I was also always the one who, upon counting what everyone gave me and asking “this does include tax and tip, right?” and receiving affirmative answers, ended up putting in anywhere from 150% of my share to 500% of what I intended to spend that evening in order to make sure the server got an appropriate tip.

            After the third time that happened, since I am “the one who works in a restaurant” I am now in charge of groups of 4+ of just telling the server we’ll need separate tabs up front.

            1. Valar M.*

              I’ve been this person on many occasion. Mostly because it embarrasses me when I’m with a group of people splitting a bill and the combined tip amounts to something like 5% because someone just “doesn’t get math”. UGH!

            2. StacyM*

              In that situation, I do the math for people, and ask them what percentage they are tipping, and then tell them what they owe. Many are too embarrassed to say “ten percent” which helps. But I will not let a server get screwed. I’ve never had to work any service job, but I have a lot of empathy for people who work without a guaranteed wage which depends on the whims of the average person…

              1. Tax Nerd*

                I’ve often ended up doing the math, because I’m a CPA, and because I didn’t want some server getting a 4% tip because math is hard. (Once, someone else insisted on doing the math because they’d ordered the more expensive things, but as I mentally calculated in my head, I realized we’d left a 2% or so tip. So I ran back in and handed our server a twenty. I decided that I’d insist on doing the math after that, rather than grumble about it.)

                I realized that most people I knew managed to forget about sales tax and/or non-alcoholic beverages. Forgetting sales tax means that generous tip that you thought you left got cut in half, and the diet Coke is $3.50, not free at the chichi place you picked.

          2. Melissa*

            Ugh, that person is often me. Particularly since I am usually the one in charge of collecting money and counting to be sure there’s enough. I’ve taken to announcing loudly that everyone needs to add $X for tax and tip to their bill.

          3. Jen RO*

            Taxes are included here, but tips aren’t, and I would be shocked if someone claimed math inability to get out of paying his/her share. 10% is not that difficult to figure out, and in the US it just needs to be multiplied by two…

        2. JoJo*

          Sometimes people develop amnesia about what they just had for dinner. I’ve been out with people who swear they didn’t eat the steak and gobble the entire appetizer by themselves.

      2. OhNo*

        Yeah, I found that a bit weird, too. It’s been my policy personally that I never suggest splitting the bill evenly if I suspect I would otherwise be paying more than whoever I’m with.

        Then again, I was raised to believe that you should always try to pay your fair share when dining out, even if someone else offers to cover, and it still makes me uncomfortable to not pay for my own purchases myself. So maybe my perspective isn’t very common.

        1. AnonAnalyst*

          Co-sign. I used to do a lot of business travel where there was a per diem, and I often went out to eat with coworkers but we only would discuss splitting the bill evenly if what everyone got was roughly the same cost (i.e., within a couple of dollars). Otherwise, everyone paid for what they ordered.

          I would have felt really guilty if I ended up paying a lot less that what I had owed. This is also true when I go out socially, although it seems like I usually end up with a bill for about the same amount as whoever I’m with. Sometimes if someone’s really insistent I’ll pick up the tip or get them a drink later in the night (or the next time I see them) to try to make things come out a bit more even.

          I’m still baffled by the incredibly awkward solution to this one, in any case!

      3. Student*

        I know all my co-workers have cell phones with calculators in them. Even flip-phones like mine have calculators. This is not hard math if the server refuses to do it for you.

  5. Hmmm*

    In any situation, be it social or work, if I am working hard to stay within the confines of a budget, I would be mad if someone asked me to split the check in any way that result in my paying more than what I actually spent. Budgets are nothing to scoff at.

    1. annonymouse*

      I only split a check when:
      It’s going between 2 couples
      we can either separate the food items and drinks easily or we ordered the same price range (I.e I got an extra app and they got a cocktail that are about the same price)

      Admittedly this is easier where I’m from because GST (tax) is on everything and tipping isn’t customary. Wait staff earn decent hourly wage and tips are bonuses not the main part of their income.

  6. Oryx*

    This reminds me of going out with a group and one person orders a bottle of wine and manages to drink the majority of it then asks for the checks to be split evenly so they don’t have to pay for the whole bottle. It’s like eating their cake and having it too.

    If A & B (and I refuse to go along with the Tightwad nicknames, even if meant as a joke) made an effort to stay under their budget they should not have to overextend that budget just to compensate C &D for going over theirs.

  7. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

    Maybe I just have a more reasonable group of friends and coworkers, but I have never once been expected to split a bill evenly instead of each paying for their own meals +tip (unless it’s something like pizza or family-style dishes, or we all ordered something within a few cents in price). It just doesn’t even come up. You pay for what you ordered and consumed. Period. If I ordered a steak and a smoothie and dessert while my friend ordered a salad and water, I’m paying more, and chipping in more for the tip. Even when we don’t have the server split the checks, it still works that way. And considering how many of us are carrying more computing power computers in our pockets than what sent men to the moon, the math isn’t even that hard (and this is coming from an English major).

    1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

      . . . and of course I didn’t remove that extra “computers” when revising my last sentence. I claim being looped on painkillers from my sprained ankle as excuse for my lapse.

    2. esra*

      When I was just starting out, our team’s director suggested we all split evenly after ordering the most expensive entree and two glasses of wine. She was making upwards of 5-6x what the worst paid among us were (hello!), and we had the cheapest entrees and water.

      I spoke up, because f that noise.

        1. esra*

          She sniffed and was nonplussed, but the managers beneath her had the good sense to course correct and divide things per order. At which point she was outnumbered. She was notoriously cheap. I don’t know if pawning costs off on subordinates who made substantially less was a power trip or what.

          I know a lot of people aren’t comfortable speaking up, but I’m not really good at not saying anything. Which has worked for me so far?

    3. 1967 memories*

      When I was in 5th grade, I saved up a few bucks from my paper route and a friend and I went to lunch at a local HoJo’s. He said, “Let’s just split the bill.” I said, “Sure” and ordered something reasonable on the menu. He ordered the seafood combo that was much more expensive. I was too shy to object and paid half, but we weren’t friends after that. Yes, I’m talking about you Alan Levy, you a**hole.

      ps I’ll get over it soon.

      1. Zillah*

        I think this is something that these sorts of people just don’t even comprehend – suggesting you just split the bill without being absolutely sure that the person or people that you’re dining with are okay with it can lead to major resentment and ruin friendships. Yes, even when it just happens once – even when it’s not being really tight on money, the principle is highly offensive.

  8. super anon*

    Add on question, would it not be appropriate for one coworker to volunteer to pay the entire bill if it had not ? My only experience with situations like have been in Chinese culture, and there’s it’s always a race to see who can pay the entire bill first (and it’s a very entertaining sight to watch go down – the wallet fight at the end of dinner is honestly my favourite part of the meal). However, I’m not sure if it would be appropriate in a Western business situation where per diems are involved.

    1. Andy*

      I definitely need to see a wallet fight now! I just pictured my boss smacking someone with a billfold and oh my gosh I’m out-loud giggling and my co worker just looked over…

      1. Revanche*

        Not in a professional sense but we’ve been privy to some seriously epic wallet and bill fights. There was one time a bill for stolen six times and culminated in a tucked under the arm like a football drive to the cashier in the end zone situation. Hilarious but mortifying to see a twelve top behaving like a pack of teenage monkeys high on meth.

    2. Green*

      Depends on company. Mine didn’t have per diems and we all wanted the credit card cash back/rewards points, so we had to alternate. :)

    3. Agile Phalanges*

      Yeah, the company I used to work for allowed for group dinners to be paid for by (and reimbursed to) just one person, as long as it was (one of) the most senior who paid. That was to ensure that someone who wasn’t AT the meal ultimately approved it–if an underling submitted it for reimbursement and it went to their manager, who had also been at the meal, for approval, then accounting would be the only non-dining eyes to see it.

      However, the OP’s company does per diems, which mine didn’t, which does complicate it. But they would likely have the option of forgoing the per diem on a meal in which you were treated, whether it was by a vendor or by a co-worker, right?

    4. Kyrielle*

      If they wanted to, sure – but why would they want to?

      At my company, we get per diem when traveling. I can get at most $X for my dinner … and in fact I get exactly that for my dinner whether I spend it or not … but I can’t go over and I can’t, even if I pay for you, dip into your $X.

      I could buy dinner for everyone and expense it (and then they couldn’t use their per diem), BUT only with the expense approval process and only if it was a *working* dinner (usually, you need a client present for it to count, though in some cases working steadily through the meal discussing something counts) – and if it wasn’t preapproved, I may not get reimbursed if they decide it doesn’t meet the “working meal” requirements.

      Why would I do that? It simply doesn’t make sense (or cents :).

      Also, it sounds like everyone was short on money and/or acting like it – if A and B couldn’t afford to pick up part of the extra for C and D, and C and D were also trying to avoid their responsibility, no one at the table had money freely available to cover everything anyway.

      1. Kyrielle*

        That said, if it was a coworker I know and trust, and I had the money and bandwidth available, I’d totally cover up to $X worth of food for them on the promise that they’d give me back the amount I spent when they got reimbursed. But that’s an entirely different scenario. Here, someone spent $X+$Y, knowing the company will never cover $Y, and is asking a coworker who stayed within $X to cover $Y/2 so they won’t be out as much money…for their decision, for wine/food they enjoyed, that the person who would be helping pay didn’t.

    5. Sydney Bristow*

      In my personal life this comes up sometimes. A friend and I seem to race because we both want the points or airline miles. Whoever doesn’t put it on their card hands over cash for their portion (which is based on what each person individually ordered).

  9. NYCRedhead*

    I am going poke a stick in the beehive and say Spendthrift D is the worst one here. What kind of a person orders more and then refuses to pony up cash for their share?

    (But this makes me grateful for my company’s policy that would allow anyone to pay and then list the other attendees on their expense report.)

    1. LizNYC*

      Definitely. When I go out with friends or coworkers (socially), if someone obviously had a more expensive meal (like everyone got salad and 1 person got the porterhouse) or had a few cocktails, that person always offers to pony up more if we’re splitting things evenly. But maybe I just have reasonable friends and coworkers.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Yup, with my friends too. We generally order the same kinds of stuff and don’t sweat a few bucks here and there, but we have ALL said, “No, wait– I had four drinks and you had one, I owe more than you.”

      2. JoJo*

        You’re lucky. I’ve had the misfortune of dining with people who ordered steak dinners while I ate a cheese sandwich with a glass of tap water because I was broke, then they expected me to split the bill evenly with them and whined that I was cheap because I refused. No, they didn’t offer me any of their food.

        1. Book Person*

          This mindset always baffles me. How would YOU be the one who was cheap in that scenario when they were asking you to subsidize THEIR meals?

        2. StacyM*

          So cheap! Yes, it’s not cheap to expect someone else to pay for your part of the meal though, of course….

    2. Observer*

      Except that D wasn’t the one who suggested splitting the bill. Nor did D push the issue when the others indicated that this was not a good idea.

      1. Zillah*

        But in the end, D didn’t end up paying for their food. C did. Whether or not D dislikes giving cash to cover the difference, they should not have seen that solution as okay.

        1. Observer*

          I don’t disagree. On the other hand, without knowing how insistent C was being it’s hard to know for sure.

          1. Zillah*

            I… don’t really see how? I mean, I’m not clear on how C’s insistence changes things – D didn’t object to getting his coworkers to cover the extra expenses (and D should have!), and D also allowed C to pay for some of his food + alcohol rather than do it himself. It’s not like he was an innocent lamb led to the slaughter by a domineering and insistent C – D actually made out the best in this situation.

  10. Dan*

    Is it me, or does it always seem like the ones to suggest splitting it evenly are the ones who spent the most? I’ve never seen the tightwad suggest splitting it evenly.*

    *I’m usually the tightwad, but don’t mind splitting it evenly when everything comes out within a couple of bucks of each other.

    The one social setting that truly put me over the edge was when I went to a wine dinner with some acquaintances up in NYC. I had plans for dinner itself elsewhere, and made it clear that I would show up late for drinks only. Dinner was like $70. The bill comes, they decide to split evenly. I protested, saying I did not have dinner, and that I should only have to pay for the little bit of wine that I did drink. They told me tough sh!t. I was livid. For one thing, if you would have told me I could have gotten a second gourmet dinner for $6, I would have done so.

    I can’t remember how I resolved that, other than never hanging out with that group again.

    1. Frances*

      I’ve been the “tightwad” who suggests splitting, but only with a group of friends I go out to eat with often – with them I know it will even out eventually. Would never do it with coworkers!

    2. A tightwad*

      Ha! I commented about NYC above. It’s totally the culture there, although these people were particularly outrageous considering you didn’t even eat. I think my record was a birthday (groan) dinner with about 6 friends and my husband when I was in grad school. The instigator of the group ordered multiple appetizer trays including foods I’m allergic to, and kept asking for more wine. I think the bill per couple (four couples) was about $250. I was so used to it that I was only really mad because I was in a poor grad student phase.

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        OMFG, the birthdays are the worst.

        My ex had a friend like this. Said friend had a birthday dinner at an expensive steakhouse. He and his boyfriend ordered lots of wine and huge seafood platters on top of their steaks, side dishes, and desserts. Then they LEFT BEFORE THE CHECK DROPPED. I mean, I realize when you go to a birthday dinner, you very likely will be chipping in for the birthday boy’s meal. But his boyfriend’s also? And that dinner includes rivers of expensive wine and piles of lobster and steak when all of the “guests” (I guess we were really the hosts!) are in their early 20s and making zippo? Yeah, even if I were still with that guy I would have insisted we never go out with THOSE friends again.

        1. Koko*

          I’m getting the vapors over this! Yeah, usually in my circle the other guests chip in to cover Birthday’s meal – and in fact, Birthday’s significant other has from time to time contributed a little bit more than the others (usually negotiated up front when choosing a restaurant, “Birthday will love this place, it’s a bit expensive but I’ll cover half their meal to make it workable.”)

        2. Vladimir*

          This is really quite horrible behaviour. What I find interesting though is that how customs are different in different countries. In my country when you have birthday and invite people to restaurant the either everyone pays for themselves, or mor often the person celebrating pays for others. It happens that guests order some drinks (vodka, whisky etc..) for the celebrating person, but never chip in for their meal, at least I never heard of it.

          1. JB*

            That’s how it used to be in the US, and that’s how it’s supposed to be if you are following etiquette rules. But we’ve turned into a “I command you celebrate me” culture. That’s probably an overly-harsh way of putting it, but that’s basically what it is when you think about it. “I want to throw myself a birthday party, but I don’t want to have to have it at my house because that’s work, so I’ll arrange a dinner at a restaurant. But I don’t want to have to pay for it, so I’ll arrange everything and the guests can pay their own way–and if I’m lucky, mine, too.” That’s like charging an entrance fee when you have a party at your house. Not generous. But that’s how we do things now.

            1. Zahra*

              What I say is “I’m going to X restaurant for my birthday. You’re welcome to join us, just let me know by Y so I can reserve a bigger table if needed”. It’s clear that I’m not paying and it’s clear that I don’t expect others to pay for me. I’m not overly surprised if they pay my bill (but that depends on the circles of friends/colleagues. It’s far from universal in Quebec), but I don’t take it as a given.
              If they do pay my bill, I am grateful and will sincerely thank them (although I won’t make a fuss of them paying when I feel I should pay).

            2. So late to the game*

              I’m a year late but I HAD to reply to your comment- you literally-LITERALLY! took the words out of my mouth!! I say this all the time – if someone MUST celebrate themselves by organizing a night to be worshipped on the anniversary of the day they were born, how about a nice dinner and drinks at the b-day person ‘s home, or if they absolutely need to go to a restaurant, especially when it’s an expensive one, THEY should foot the bill, or the b-day person’s significant other should pay. That used to be the norm!! I can’t imagine telling a group of friends that everyone is going out to a restaurant to celebrate my birthday but everyone is paying and I don’t even want to pay for my own meal. I just can’t even imagine doing that, but I detest large group dinners anyway, Due to the whole check issue and other reasons. I usually start the night being pissed off because I know specific people who order the $150 porterhouse steak and three drinks at $18 per drink, and appetizer for $35 and two desserts for $15 each yet when the bill comes they want to pay about $100 because that sounds like a logical amount of money for a dinner and it “seems about right.” Why do I have to go out with 20 people I may or may not even LIKE and spend $100-$200 on a dinner for someone? And I feel like I am always stuck with figuring out the bill and making sure everyone pays enough and gives enough tip (being a former server and all) because somehow during group dinners people manage to forget about that third & fourth $15 Margarita they ordered. I live in Los Angeles and a single drink at some of the restaurants my friends choose for the birthday celebrations costs more than what I like to spend on a dinner !!

              I could go on about the subject forever, because of the entitlement involved and the fact that no matter how much money people make, when you’re collecting money from 20 people to cover their portion of a bill, never ever do you get too much money in the total, it’s always wayyyy under what the total should be and that’s clearly more than just one Person is not paying what their fair amount is. Ugh.

              End of curmudgeonly rant.

              And believe it or not, I actually like to have a good time! Only not with unfair fellow diners or people who will always “pay me back later”

      2. MK*

        I find this custom inexplicable, because in my country birthday celebrations aren’t something others throw for the birthday person, it’s something the birthday person invites people to. They are the host, they pay.

        Anyway, I think common sense dictates that the person who is paying should choose the restaurant and handle the order (with input from their guests); in that way they can control the cost. But even if the host urges everyone to get whatever they want, reasonable people don’t go on a bender.

        1. Jen RO*

          Coming from a country with a similar culture, these discussions are weird indeed! But to me the American way makes more sense – it’s my birthday and I still have to pay?

          1. MK*

            Well, you don’t have to; celebrating birthdays is not obligatory. Or you can organize something inexpensive. And the same could be said for other occasions, like a wedding; you are inviting your friends to be happy with and for you, you are the hast. You are probably already getting presents (close friends give me presents even when I don’t have a celebration); why should you get a free party on top of that?

            But the main problem with the American way is practical: it’s like having a party with many hosts and one guest, where the guest gets to dictate many things. It sounds like a nightmare and, from what I have read, it leads to resentment more often than not. I ‘d rather pay than have some of my friends feel pressured to pay more than they can afford for an activity they perhaps don’t like all that much; not to mention that, if they try to find a compromise or don’t get the birthday person’s whishes right, it could end up in a situation where nobody is pleased.

          2. De (Germany)*

            On the other hand (and in Germany, the host pays as well), the birthday person is usually the one setting a time and date and deciding who is invited – it would feel really weird to say “hey, guess what? you are lucky enough to be allowed to pay for my fancy dinner!”

        2. StacyM*

          Yeah I don’t think any of my friends would take advantage of me in that way.

          It is definitely cultural. If anything, if I invited people out to dinner for my birthday, they would pay their own share. But usually people chip in for the birthday person.

          1. MK*

            Cultural it is. I fail to see why they would be taking advantage of you, if you had chosen to invite them to something and paid for it. It’s inviting people to an activity that they have had no hand in choosing and with the expectation that they will not only get me presents, but will also pay for me, that sounds like “taking advantage” to me. It’s a totaly different thing when other people take the initiative to organize the celebration, but in that case, people are throwing a party for you; they are the hosts, you are the guest of honor.

            It’s more general than birthdays. Inviting people to something makes you the host; you pay. Inviting people to something when everyone will pay their own is not really an invitation, in my opinion; it’s a suggestion to do something together, but then people have a right to turn it down or make alternate suggestions (which would be awkward if it’s a birthday). There is a difference between “I ‘d like to invite you to dinner” and “How about us having dinner?”.

      3. Melissa*

        I stopped going out with anyone other than very, very close friends for birthdays in NYC. Since no restaurants split checks plus the culture being to split evenly…I remember one time I went to a birthday dinner for someone I wasn’t even really that close to, and she had invited like 12 friends. Four of us – the four least close to her – ended up splitting most of the bill amongst ourselves because the other friends either left without paying at all or left without paying enough.

      4. StacyM*

        Wait, did you have to pay for all of your friends to get drunk and full for your birthday? That’s terrible..

    3. My two cents...*

      they’re usually the same folks who orders the pitcher of beer/margarita/whatever “for the whole table”.

    4. AdAgencyChick*

      “Is it me, or does it always seem like the ones to suggest splitting it evenly are the ones who spent the most? I’ve never seen the tightwad suggest splitting it evenly.”

      No, but as I mentioned above, I’ve done a pretty good job of cutting out the people I used to hang out with who abused the policy. I now have a pretty reasonable group of friends who are perfectly willing to skip doing extra math, even if that means paying a little more here and there, knowing that it will all even out in the end.

      The situation you describe would make my head explode. I’m pretty sure I would have fumed and paid, all the while wishing I had the cojones to say, “Tough sh!t? Well, tough sh!t, here’s the ten bucks I actually owe, bye.”

      1. Anlyn*

        About the only time I do have cojones is when it comes to money. I’m actually more of a Spendthrift; I would have been the one to order the drink (though wouldn’t have expected anyone to help pay for it). But if someone tried to tell me “tough shit, you’re paying”, you bet your sweet ass I’ll suddenly become a Tightwad. What are they going to do, call the cops?

      2. HR Manager*

        I don’t mind splitting either, and because I don’t drink, I almost always have a lower tab than what others in the dining party have had. Aside from when there is excessive drinking, it has never been an issue for me as I am almost always with good friends on these occasions. I’m not inclined to subsidize a coworker’s or a drinks though, let alone a coworker I barely know.

      3. Koko*

        Just out of college I had a group of friends I *loved* eating out with. Everyone carried cash and tipped more than appropriately. The bill would come, everyone would throw cash into the center, someone would count it and it’d be at least a 25% tip every time on the first collection. Done and done. None of this, “We’re short. How much did you put in? What did you put in? Did anyone pay for the appetizer? Only your first drink was on happy hour, I think you owe $3 more for the second one,” etc. Whenever it starts down that road I know we’re barely going to scrape together 15% for the server.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          I’d go out with my spouse and his siblings, and we’d offer to pay for the group. They’d agree, but then throw in some money to help cover it ($20 for a $11 dollar meal, that sort of thing). I’d count the cash and end up with WAY too much money, so that I wasn’t even paying for my own meal and would have cash left over after leaving a 20-25% tip. It was almost a guaranteed way to get some money if I was low at the time!

      4. TL -*

        Yeah, I would’ve not paid. I don’t have the kind of money and I can’t make that kind of money appear. (Luckily, all my friends are in about the same financial boat I’m in, so it’s never an issue.)

    5. fposte*

      I had one of those. What amused me was that the big wine-orderer also was the person who, when the check came, said something like “Ugh, let’s not do that stupid futzing around with who owes what, let’s just split it equally.” Dude, if you spent $100 more than me, the way you get around futzing with who owes what is by picking up the whole check; if that’s not what you’re willing to do, I’m going to assume your objecting isn’t to the futzing but to paying your fair share.

      1. Kelly L.*

        The time I almost got “futzed” the worst was actually in innocence, amusingly enough. There were three of us eating. I was being really careful with my budget and got one of the cheapest things on the menu. Other Lady was being moderately careful with her budget and got something a little pricier. And then Dude got about ten cows’ worth of steak. And then Other Lady didn’t notice, and said “Hey, why don’t we split it evenly?” Dude got major points for catching the moment of panic that flashed across my eyes and saying that no, he got a ton of food, he’d pay for himself.

    6. INTP*

      Yes, it’s usually the people who benefit that suggest this. And they usually consistently order more, and then act like the consistent vegetarian entree orderers, light drinkers, appetizer and dessert eschewers are tightwads because it will all even out in the end, you know.

      1. Zillah*

        +1 gazillion. Because as a vegetarian and a light drinker, I get super, super resentful when people say “Let’s split the check!” No. Let’s not.

        1. TL -*

          My friends and I split the bill evenly when it’s hard to split otherwise – like, if there’s four of us, and I got a Coke but everyone else got water, but they split an appetizer three ways, whereas I couldn’t eat any of it, but two of them split a dessert…

          It works well when you are all on the same budget and will randomly pick up meals for each other – or I’m the only driver, so they don’t always reimburse for gas but’ll pick up my meal. But it has to be in friend groups that are a) generous b) on more or less the same budget and c) eat together often enough to trust that it’ll even out in the end.

          1. Neptune Resident*

            Yeah, I’m comfortable enough doing this with specific friends, where I’ll get the check one time, and they’ll get it another and sometimes we split it evenly but it’s usually within a couple of quid so it averages out over time. But if I ordered the steak and wine and they had a salad and a water, there is NO WAY I am pulling the “let’s just split the bill” nonsense.

      2. AcademiaNut*

        I think there can also be a mismatch based on what people think is a significant cost difference, when you have a wide range of financial situations.

        So for the broke student, the dinner might be a special treat, and they’re squeezing money from other things to be able to afford it, and carefully ordering based on price (mid-ranged entree, no appetizer or dessert, one drink). For them, an extra $30 is a big deal and a real hardship to pay. But for the high earning professional who is used to dropping a couple hundred dollars on meal, that $30 is small change, and not worth fussing over. And they may not have been paying attention to what everyone was ordering. So in that case it’s more thoughtlessness than maliciousness.

        I’ve seen the “don’t be a cheapskate and split the bill evenly” philosophy pushed by people who honestly don’t understand that some people just can’t afford to do that, and that this approach means that they are unable to risk going out for a group dinner.

        I’m very glad that I currently live in a country with no tax, no tip, and restaurants that are happy to let you each pay for your own food when you take the bill to the the cash. I am also happy that I tend to work and socialize with people who can do complex math while oxygen deprived (an occasional job requirement), and generally have no trouble splitting up a bill.

    7. Kelly*

      That sounds a lot like some of my dad’s family. They go out to eat with my parents and want to split the check four ways. Problem is that they usually order drinks and neither of my parents drink. Their alcohol tab isn’t one or two drinks per person – it’s usually a bottle of wine plus a beer and several mixed drinks. That adds another $50 to the bill. They’re in the Midwest, so splitting tabs usually isn’t an issue, but it causes my aunt to get out of shape about it.

      1. Artemesia*

        The fair way to handle this is to separate the alcohol tab and the food tab. I have been with several groups who do this. The drinkers pay the alcohol tab and everyone splits the food tab. It tends to work out more or less fairly.

  11. Zahra*

    I’m with the choir. Ask for separate bills. Actually, it’s standard practice in most restaurants I’ve been at to ask if the bills should be split and how. With POS systems, it’s very, very easy to split bills. I’ve never worked with any and saw servers do it. I’m sure that a quick (under an hour) training would be enough for me to know how to split a bill without split items. Knowing which items go on each bill is the server’s job, though. ;)

  12. Anoners*

    This reminds me of that Friend’s episode over splitting cheques. Perhaps the letter writer is Ross ?

  13. Kali*

    Oh dear, this reminds me of the worst conference meal ever. The staff attending was invited to dinner by the director. In the past, when this happened, the director always paid for the staff’s meal (and handled reimbursement through the company). This time, we were at a family-style Thai restaurant, half the people ordered alcohol, the director deferred to the waiter as far as what to order (big surprise, he suggested the most expensive items), only two dishes were vegetarian (three vegetarians on the team, one vegan) and they were both deep fried. Then, when the check came, the director looked around (and she was quite tipsy by this point) and asked, “How do we split this up?”

    I ended up splitting the check because I’m good at math and my boss was one of the vegetarians; I could tell she would not be happy if she had to subsidize everyone’s meat dishes and cocktails. A happy boss makes a happy worker.

    Luckily, I was non-exempt, so I got to charge time and a half for the loooong meal and make some of my expense back.

  14. Rayner*

    I’m also with the Tightwads. If someone wants to go over their allowance for a meal, that is entirely up to them but only them. Asking to split the check evenly is just plain rude in those situations. What they’re saying is, “I’m too lazy to do maths or to ask for separate checks. Pay for my wine because it’s polite.”

    As a matter of course, even in social situations, when someone has been outspending me (for example, ordering expensive wine when the others in the group have had soft drinks with their meal), I feel no shame in saying that I want separate checks. It’s only fair to split everything equally when everyone has had a meal of roughly equal cost.

    I think the right way to handle it is to say separate bills at the start, and ask for it proactively. If you end up in a situation like this unexpectedly, I just like to laugh and play it off as a joke,nut possible, or just say :”no thanks – I’d prefer to pay for myself, so I know what reimbursement to put in for!”

    1. yup*

      Agree with just about all the folks on Tightwads side. Per diem dinners are just that, you have “X” dollars and you can go over it as much as you want, but wow asking other people to HELP YOU? be a lush is just rude.

      That’s like the guy on the corner getting mad because you didn’t buy him a beer instead of buying yourself lunch.

  15. jhhj*

    With friends, if we order nearly the same amount but one person ate a bit more (or we ordered family style but only one person is taking home leftovers, etc), that is generally solved by splitting the cheque evenly but having that person pay both sides of the tip.

  16. Lily in NYC*

    Team Tightwad! And I never mind paying more than my share; I would be more than willing to pay a few bucks more in this situation. But you just don’t know who is on a strict budget and what is just a “few bucks” to me might be a hardship to someone else.
    Somewhat related: a few people where I work have chosen very expensive bars for their farewell happy hours recently. The cheapest drink on the menu at the last one we went to was $15. I could see a few of our junior employees looking very uncomfortable so I bought the first round, saying it was tradition for me to do so (complete lie!). It set me back a pretty penny and I think I am going to say something next time someone chooses that bar.

    1. Helka*

      As a tight-budget junior employee, you are an angel. I can just see myself being in that uncomfortable and unhappy position. Thankfully, I haven’t been there yet, but there but for the grace of God…

    2. ZSD*

      I’m glad the bar at least advertised their prices, apparently! A lot of times you go to a bar and order a drink having no idea what it’s going to cost you.

      1. AVP*

        My friend accidentally ordered a $20 margarita in Midtown a few weeks ago. Just a normal margarita, not at a special tequila or cocktail bar! When the bill came her eyes popped.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          I’ll bet I know where it was, too. I once ordered an $18 margarita that tasted like it came from a Chili’s. I worked nearby, which is the only reason I went there, but the big rule of thumb is and always will be “Don’t drink in Times Square EVER.” I have gladly paid $15 for an excellent craft cocktail, though.

      2. INTP*

        Agreed – and then you get dirty looks from the bartender if you are vulgar enough to actually ask how much something costs. I usually ask “do you have a wine list?” It doesn’t get you labeled as cheap and ignored by the bartender and beer prices are printed on it as well.

    3. AVP*

      It’s crazy how there are now total neighborhoods in NYC (and not even the particularly nice ones) where almost every bar has taken on that price point! $10 for beer, $15 for everything else. Makes me want to open a Brother Jimmy’s next door.

      1. puddin*

        If you charge more than $4 for any beer (pint, draft) in most Milwaukee neighborhoods, you could possibly face pitchforks, tar and feathers. You will not just go out of business, you will be run out of town on a rail. Typical price is $2.50-$3. If its beer you crave, we can help you out – you betcha!

    4. OhNo*

      As someone who is a junior employee myself, can I just say that it was really nice of you to notice their discomfort and put yourself out to purchase the first round? Little acts of kindness like that can make a big difference to people on the lower rungs of the ladder.

      My boss’ boss did something similar at our recent foray to an “employee development” happy hour, and it was a really nice gesture.

      1. Katiedid*

        +1000! I still remember being an UNPAID intern while in law school and going to a business lunch where the cheapest item on the menu – by far – was a $10 Caprese salad (and I hate raw tomatoes). I ordered just that with waterm while the other very senior attorneys ordered full meals and drinks (non-alcoholic, but still not free). Then *we* decided to just split the bill. I almost started crying at the table! Amen to you for being thoughtful enough to notice those who were feeling uncomfortable about it!! As someone who’s been through it, I assure you that they noticed and appreciated it!

        1. INTP*

          I had a similar experience as an intern. I brought my weekly lunches out budget, a $20 bill, to a coworker’s birthday lunch and ordered a $10 Mac and cheese. Then I was asked for $26 to split the bill. I just handed over what I had. I got to both be embarrassed at not being able to pay what I was asked and to blow my budget on other people’s food. Yippee!

        2. V.V.*

          I recall also being an intern living on a 50$ a week stipend (which was taxed so I only received 44$), housed with other interns who had means other than the stipend.

          I found out that our team leader had instructed my housemates to spy on me and report back my eating habits, because when they would be out ordering 20$ burgers and cocktails for dinner I would be home eating ramen and drinking “super american grape flavoured drink mix”

          His brilliant reasoning of “we all get paid the same so why couldn’t I afford it”, led this genius to believe I was “an anorexic”.

          I really appreciated having to order and pay 4 dollars for gourmet meals such as “toast,” getting dirty looks from the server that I was just having “water thank you,” to be told I was “embarassing everyone,” when I had no absolutely no say in which restaurant we stopped at for lunch.

          If I had been able to repay the stipend, I would have quit.

            1. V.V.*

              The team justified it as concern for me, like if he didn’t do these things it meant he didn’t care. Frankly there is no love lost between us, if I needed his recommendation for my dream job, I’d almost rather dig ditches for minimum the rest of my life.

              I complained once to another intern about how I couldn’t afford the constant eating out, to have her chastise me for “not planning my internship budget ahead of time,” as if the team’s penchant for eating at overpriced tourist dives on an almost daily basis was something I could have anticipated.

              Unfortunately, had I quit I would have had to delay my graduation another year; additionally my contract held me liable for my transportation and stipend expenses, which if I couldn’t afford to eat out, I darn well couldn’t afford to pay back.

              To this day I find it difficult not to resent people who go around inflicting unnecessary expenses on their colleagues, subordinates etc. without a thought for their budgets.

              1. Revanche*

                Well I think we both know they’re full of you-know-what. I had a coworker try to pull that on me, he would creepily stand by the blinds and watch me when I went to lunch to see where I was going, what I was getting and who I was eating lunch with. He’d announce it to the office at large, declaiming it a thing you do because “we’re all family here, we have no secrets!” I had a sitdown with my manager immediately. Because, no.

                1. V.V.*

                  Oy Vay! I am sooooo sick of “we’re all family here,” line. Did he do that with everyone or just you?

                  Ooo ooo! Or how about when a coworker knows your spouse and decides to report your every move to them whether they are interested or not? Or your parents… when you are 25.

                  Home life is at home, and I don’t remember inviting these people home.

    5. blackcat*

      People like you are the best.

      I was at an academic conference when a big group of grad students and young faculty went out to a bar one night. Two of the young faculty made it clear that they were aware that they made 2-3x what we did, and they were paying. It was so, so nice, and all us grad students were super grateful.

      1. Melissa*

        I have found that academics tend to be pretty good about that – in grad school I got a lot of free meals at conferences from friendly faculty who have taken me out for lunch or dinner. If ever I eat with a professor I know they are not going to let me pay for the food.

        1. Morthy*

          Sadly that only worked for us when my husband was actually a student. As soon as he got his first post-doc position, it seemed most professors, except the ones really close to us, thought his salary was more than enough to pay for expensive dinners. Which is not, but that is not related to this conversation.

          Most of the time we split evenly, unless it was a special invitation. I specially remember one dinner at a conference, with other professors and their significant others: some of them we have never met before, although everyone was introduced with name and position, so all knew who was who. Most people ordered water and salads or burgers, just one plate. Then this big professor and his SO order wine, appetizers, entrée and dessert. I don’t drink alcohol, so when we split the bill, I paid more than double of what I ate. We were the younger ones and got too embarrassed to say anything. It wasn’t a matter of money, we could pay the bill. It was more a thing how these big guys never stop to think about their post-docs, and they know how it is! We were disappointed of our own boss: he was there, he knew what we earned and he didn’t think of how unfair the whole thing was.

  17. Amanda*

    My work has a per diem and also a policy that in a group meals, whoever is the highest-ranking pays. (Makes sense esp. in boss+direct report situations.) Splitting four ways wouldn’t really work, because we’re supposed to submit itemized receipts. (With tips being within the standard 15-20%, of course.) However, in a group where everybody’s at the same level? I’d be asking for a separate check.

    Another point: It could be that the “spendthrifts” figured the “tightwads” never drink or whatever, so they’d have money left in the per diem that could cover the spendthrifts’ overages. But you know what? That’s not cool to do. It’s slightly less egregious if the spendthrifts ask first, as in, “Hey, do you expect to have money left in your per diem? If so, would you mind splitting the check so my drink is covered?” But I think you need to have a warm relationship with your peers for that to fly, and it definitely needs to come up BEFORE anyone orders anything.

    1. Judy*

      How does that work? If you’re given the per diem of $50/day, and you’re travelling with your boss, does that mean you get to keep the $50 and she has to pay for you?

      1. Judy*

        On second thought, I think you mean that you have a spending limit on your expenses?

        A per diem is a stipend you get no matter what you spend.

        1. Judy*

          OK, I re-read that and I think you may be right, the values are expensed, rather than just getting a stipend.

    2. Kyrielle*

      And depends on your company policy. Our (private) company pays the per diem regardless of what was spent and without need for receipts. And some employees with tight finances have perfected the art of eating _way_ under that per diem, and pocketing the difference. (And just to be clear, that’s an expected and okay perk, at least at the present time, at our company.)

      Even if they had money left over in their per diem, sometimes they’re counting on the extra money from per diem travel to cover expenses (sometimes related to the travel but not something the company reimburses – helping with pet sitters, for example).

      1. AnonAnalyst*

        Yes. This was what my old company did. It was $X per day, period, paid out before the trip. Spend more, it’s on you; spend less, keep the difference. I wasn’t making very much at the time and since I was used to finding cheap options at restaurants, it was a way I could pick up a little bit of money, either to use toward other travel expenses (such as transit – the company would give you $Y each way for cabs, etc., to and from the airport, but it often didn’t cover the full fare for me to get home), or just to have a little extra money after the trip.

    3. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

      Covering your alcohol with another employee’s per diem wouldn’t work at my employer (a state agency in a conservative state), because per diems can’t be used to cover alcohol, no matter what. If you want to drink on a business trip, it’s on your own dime (and drinking can never, ever be done while working, so if it’s a working or business meal, it’s soda for you).

      1. Julia*

        When we travel, we get a per diem of $53 or so. However, it also includes taxis, tips for maids, hotel laundry, etc. so it doesn’t go that far! Separate checks always and I quite often don’t go out to eat at night with the others, at the risk of being antisocial, preferring to have takeout in my room or something like that.

    4. vox de causa*

      I’ve seen this one before and I like it best – highest ranking pays, and they report everyone who attended by name/title so that company knows the basic breakdown of the meal. It eliminates the awkwardness and uncomfortable math, plus only one person has to submit that expense, rather than four people spending time on it and someone having to work all of those extra submissions.

  18. CaliCali*

    C’s suggestion seems to make perfect sense — they all split it card-wise, but C and D contribute cash to A and B to make up for the difference in the total bill, so that way A and B have not blown their budget. It’s D and D alone really being a…D here. That being said, any time I’ve traveled for work, I’ve gotten a separate check.

    1. Zillah*

      Maybe I’m just cynical, but while C’s suggestion could work, it would make me feel super uncomfortable, especially if they weren’t going to give me to money right then and there. I’ve been on the side of “We’ll pay you back” where it never happened way too many times.

      1. TL -*

        Yeah, I’ll put things on my card if people have cash – because I get points, so I get a little extra for “spending” other people’s money – but ONLY if people have cash. Otherwise, I usually end up eating the money or feeling like a jerk because I’m constantly asking them to pay me back.

    2. ReanaZ*

      I feel like this is a suggestion made by someone who has never really had to be careful with money. Or whose needed be extremely conscientious about how much money comes out of your bank account so all of your bills back home can be paid while you’re spending more money than you have to waste on a business trip that won’t be reimbursed for several weeks. Cash given to me in another city won’t pay my rent or water bill.

      Also, I pretty much don’t trust that someone who thinks the math of splitting checks is too hard and that it’s okay to ask my coworkers to subsidize my meal will actually give me the correct amount of money in the end.

      1. fposte*

        “Cash given to me in another city won’t pay my rent or water bill.” Won’t it, though? I mean, I’m still thinking it would be simpler just for people to pay for what they owe, but cash in hand is pretty fungible, and they’re not pulling an “I’ll pay you later.” Or is this because so many people don’t use cash and don’t have access to deposit it anywhere (I don’t think the phone apps allow you a deposit with a picture of cash yet :-))?

        1. Helka*

          Cash in hand is useless for paying most bills. Your power company isn’t going to take “I can pay you $95 on the card and then mail you a fiver…”

          1. fposte*

            Well, some are fine with that, but that wasn’t what I was thinking of. I was thinking that you then put the cash in the bank, or the cash becomes what you use instead of the cash you were going to take out of the bank for Motrin or churros or whatever. If you’re not in a cash-friendly lifestyle I get that the cash is no longer fungible, but I think for people who still use physical banks and sometimes pay in cash it translates fine. I just don’t know what the demographics are on that money style these days.

            1. De Minimis*

              My bank is actually closing a lot of its branches due to lack of use. The bank is the most prominent one in our city and isn’t having any problems, but they said so few people actually utilize the tellers anymore that they’re replacing a lot of the branches [mainly the ones located in places like supermarkets] with ATMs.

              1. fposte*

                Yeah, that’s what I was figuring; it’ll take my town longer to do that than big cities, but it’s still trimming down (and no longer accepts deposits at ATMs, which is annoying).

                So what do people who owe each other small amounts of money do if they’re operating cashless? Cashless people would seem to be pretty check-averse as well–can you use something like Apple Pay, or do you just get a drink for them next time?

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  When my friend’s daughter visits her, sometimes the daughter needs cash. My friend gets the money from the bank. The daughter picks out one of my friend’s monthly bills close to the loan amount and pays it using her cell phone.

                  I thought this was very clever.

                2. Cat*

                  I learned from the young people in my office that there’s an app called Venmo that not only lets you transfer money to your friends via your phone but has a Facebook-like feed that shows you what all your friends have been sending each other money for. All of us over-30s were horrified, but it does seem like it solves the cash problem.

                3. Koko*

                  29 year old here. All my 25 and 26 year old friends are into Venmo and I can’t get them to stop trying to pay me with it. It’s a nightmare. Every time one of them pays me with it I have to make a payment back to them and say, “Please, this can wait, just give me cash or check the next time you see me.”

                  Paypal already has my bank account information and I really try to limit my exposure on that front, so I’m not giving it to an upstart young company that just some of what Paypal does so they can get hacked and have my identity stolen. Paypal at least is accepted by retailers so if I hadn’t linked my bank account and someone paid me there I could use it for online shopping, but when my friends try to Venmo me I tell them I’m not interested in having money just sitting in a Venmo account waiting until I owe another friend money and perpetually having some amount of my money tied up in Venmo.

                4. fposte*

                  It’s like the world is increasingly designed so money is only for companies to send to companies. I’m not very cash-happy myself, but I think this is weird.

                5. Kelly L.*

                  Yeah–it’s kind of bringing home the idea that money is really just a symbol we all agree on. It was anyway, but the last decade or so, it’s been more readily obvious.

                6. Collarbone High*

                  This is one of those situations that Japan has solved brilliantly, and I wish the U.S. would adopt. Japanese banks (at least the ones my friends and I used, when I lived there) let you transfer money, through an ATM, to up to 99 preset accounts, even at other banks. My friends and I all had each other’s accounts set up, and if we owed each other money, we’d just stop at the ATM, do a 30-second transaction, and the money was moved instantly. No worry of identity theft. It’s also how I paid my rent.

            2. Melissa*

              I don’t use physical banks and that would still work fine for me. I just use the cash on hand to pay for small incidentals and my bank account still has enough money to cover my rent and bills that come out automatically.

              Also, you can deposit cash in ATMs these days, so you don’t have to go by the bank during open hours to do so. Still, I simply don’t deposit cash – I put it in my wallet and spend it on coffee or whatever. And I definitely don’t have a lifestyle where I don’t have to worry about money.

        2. Elsajeni*

          I think that’s part of it, but the other part is timing and the fact that so many people set up auto-draft for their bills. Even as a person whose bank has a physical location and who sometimes uses cash, it’s likely to take me a few days to get cash deposited, especially if I’m away from home (my bank is regional and doesn’t have a ton of locations); if I were operating on a very tight budget, and I knew I had an automatic payment coming out of my account in the next week or so, I’d be reluctant to take the “you put it on your card, I’ll pay you back in cash” deal, because I need that money to be on the card when the auto-draft hits.

          1. ReanaZ*

            This was pretty much my point. Also, if you have a family at home who needs that money while you’re out of town, you’re pretty SOL on getting it to them if it’s cash.

        3. Observer*

          It won’t if your water / electric / whatever bill gets automatically drawn out of your bank account.

      2. TL -*

        I have to be really careful with money, but I basically put everything – and I do mean EVERYTHING – I can on my credit card (my limit is high compared to my monthly expenditures) – and so putting things on my card is no big deal as long as you give me cash.

        Cash goes in the bank account, which is used to pay off the credit card at the end of the month.

        This, I realize, doesn’t work for a lot of people, but I actually really like it.

    3. Helka*

      It doesn’t make sense in a situation where the card balance is going to be what’s under scrutiny, or what’s important to maintain. Cash in wallet is not the same as available card balance and the difference can be pretty important.

    4. Observer*

      No. For one thing the original suggestion was to split the bill without reimbursing the others. Once he got some push back, he should have let it go. It’s not clear why D refused to go along with the second suggestion, but I can see some reasons for it. And, he’s not obligated to explain. The fact that even then C insisted on the “even” 4 way split tells me that there may very well be something else going on.

      1. Elsajeni*

        I can understand not wanting to deal with C’s suggested plan — it doesn’t even save you the effort of doing the math, so what’s the point? — but I cannot get behind the solution D appears to have settled on, which was “Ignore the people telling me they’re on tight budgets and can’t cover my overage until someone else pays it for me.”

        1. Observer*

          That doesn’t seem to have been D’s solution – he seems to have been fine with just paying his share. It was C who wanted to split it “evenly”.

          1. Elsajeni*

            But he didn’t pay his share — he went along with the even split, then let C be the one to pay back the overage for both of them. I agree that C started the problem by pushing for an even split, but if D was happy to pay his share, but not willing to hand over cash to A and B, then he should have said “No, you guys can do it that way if you want, but I’ll just get a separate check for mine.”

  19. Molly*

    My office actually has a policy where if more than 2 employees are eating together, the most senior employee automatically picks up the expense and adds it to their expense report. There is a specified budget based on the location of the trip and number of employees that are at that meal. But we also are provided corporate credit cards so the senior employees isn’t actually floating this expense..and I know that’s not always the case for every business so this may not be feasible.

    But maybe see if there is an area of your organization’s policies that explicitly states what to do in this situation and that might help you solve the issue.

  20. HR Manager*

    I’m also with the Tightwads; this was an expense-able meal, and so abiding by the policy would have been prudent. Going over is your own choice, and even if you are willing to pay out of pocket for that overage, it is not appropriate to make your colleagues, who were more diligent about this, to treat this as their going over the policy limit as well. Most companies poo-poo this since the employee is willing to cover it, but in some circumstances, I know consistent overage of meal limits has been brought to my attention (usually when there are other concerns involved).

    I do think asking for separate checks is wise for any expense situation – makes it easy for the expense report later, rather than asking an AP clerk who’s inundated with receipts to double-check that no one is submitting the same meal twice.

    1. CaliCali*

      I would only be good with that if the total split bill was under each person’s per diem allowance.

      1. Judy*

        If you get $50 per diem and you choose to eat such that you have $10 left, why should you give it to your co-worker?

        It’s not an expense allowance where you can get reimbursed up to that amount. It’s a stipend that you get paid that amount no matter how much you spend. (At least that’s how the companies I’ve worked for had per diems.)

        1. CaliCali*

          That varies things — where I’ve worked, it’s been an expense allowance. We were reimbursed for actuals, not for the total value of the per diem. You couldn’t pocket the difference. So in that scenario, it would be kind of a wash, and really no skin off your back. We’d regularly split bills evenly for group meals out if on business travel, although often people were spending relatively evenly and no one would have exceeded the per diem.

          1. Judy*

            I’ve either gotten a per diem, which was mine to keep no matter what, or I’ve gotten an expense allowance that was averaged over the entire trip. There’s not been a hard stop on a per meal basis, but over the trip, so I could choose to go to the Brazillian steakhouse one of the 5 nights and then eat less expensively the other nights, if I chose.

            I guess I’ve not heard per diem used for a system where you got reimbursed based on actuals.

          2. Koko*

            At my last job it was like this. We all got reimbursed up to a daily maximum, so as long as the total bill was less than Diners x Allowance we just split everything evenly.

        2. HR Manager*

          It’s an expense allowance in my companies too. You do not get that money if you don’t spend it.

      2. Amtelope*

        I agree, it’s okay only if it’s under the per diem, or if there isn’t a per diem. My job reimburses actual meal expenses based on receipts, so it doesn’t ultimately matter if we split checks or everyone pays their own way or one person pays for everybody. But if there is a per diem, people who didn’t spend more than they’ll be reimbursed for shouldn’t have to subsidize people who did.

      3. The IT Manager*

        That does not make sense because “per diem” means per day. We’re discussing dinner cost, but your per diem also covers the cost of breakfast and lunch that day.

        In my business travel experiennce, you get your per diem to spend as you wish. If you eat cheap you save the cash; if you overspend, you pay out of pocket.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, the term’s meaning has been changed in many offices to mean “we’ll reimburse up to this amount.” It no longer always means “you get $X per day, regardless of what you spend.”

          1. Not So NewReader*

            This is what I have seen. Per diem is not a hand out, it’s a cap. You can spend up to $30 per day. You must have receipts for everything. If you are frugal and you spend less than that, the money is gone. You do not get that money. In addition to the usual restrictions (alcohol, tips), you are not allowed to pay for someone else’s food.

            This is why OP’s question kind of threw me. I would not want to be caught paying for someone else’s food if that was against company policy.

            C and D in this story sound pretty cavalier about everything. But I would be pretty upset if they were asking me to do something that would cost me my job. And that would be prime motivation for me to speak up and speak verrry clearly.

    2. jhhj*

      I’d love to hear C or D come in and explain why they wanted to split equally. Have A/B often done the reverse and only whine when they are on the short end of the stick? (C seems to have not realised it was an issue and then stepped up when it became an issue.)

      1. Jen S. 2.0*

        When I’ve been on the short end of this kind of thing, it’s always someone saying dismissively that they “hate quibbling over a few dollars,” or like the person upthread, they hate “futzing over the bill.” **eyeroll** It’s almost always phrased as faster and more convenient for everyone, with the added bonus of calling out the people getting the short end as being cheap.

        1. TL -*

          I mean, I’ve done it to avoid futzing over the bill – sometimes a last minute split is annoying, especially if there were multiple shared dishes. But I’ve always done it with people the same age/money range with people who I can generally expect to pay me back in a general sort of way.

          I wouldn’t do it for an official business dinner or if I was eating way more expensively than the other people, but there are times when it makes sense.

          1. Jen S. 2.0*

            I agree, and I usually split the bill with friends/family, or when it’s within a few bucks. I am not one to quibble over 5 dollars.

            But just as there are times when it indeed makes sense, there are just as many times when it doesn’t, and if someone wants to add up their items, that should win over A) someone who thinks it’s easier not to bother and doesn’t want to be annoyed for 3 minutes, or, as discussed often on this thread, B) someone who is pushing for an extremely unfair split in their favor.

            Just because it’s easier doesn’t mean it’s fair, and if 3 minutes of math can make it fair, then 3 minutes of math it should be.

            1. TL -*

              I’ve been on the short end when it honestly is just people being tired and I haven’t minded or pushed back.
              I’ve also been on the “winning” end when it was some else’s idea in the same group of friends, so it evened out in the end.

              But, yeah, if one person looks uncomfortable, then you need to immediately take the time to do your math.

    3. Rayner*

      If everybody was a high roller or at least comfortably off, and the division of the bill came to something reasonable, and all the workers were fairly close as colleagues, maybe I could see it. But not normally.

    4. illini02*

      I guess it depends on how much of a difference it was. We don’t really have that info. The spendthrifts may have ordered a cheaper entree but a couple of drinks, putting their total at $33 a piece, whereas the others order a more expensive entree that went right up to the $30 limit. If that were the case, I could see just saying lets split it. If the difference is huge, then absolutely not.

      1. Zillah*

        I don’t know – I think we can guess at that info, even if we don’t know it. The cost of entrees can differ, but alcohol is generally super expensive – I’d bet that the difference was a lot more than $3.

        1. illini02*

          I don’t really know that you can. We don’t know the type of restaurant or anything about the people. I mean, you get like a salad or pasta, that can be a big difference in price from a steak. So I can easily see how someone who ordered a salad and 2-3 beers could spend pretty close to someone else ordering a steak and a soft drink

          1. Kelly L.*

            Where are you getting this? What we know from the OP is that the Tightwads both spent “at the per diem cap” while the Spendthrifts “go over the per diem.” It’s right there in the OP, and I think we should believe the OP and not think she’s hiding a secret megasteak ordered by the Tightwads. She explicitly says the Tightwads didn’t go over and the Spendthrifts did.

            1. doreen*

              Yes, but the OP didn’t say how much over the Spendthrifts went. Only that the Tightwads were at the $30 limit and that the Spendthrifts were over and had a couple of drinks. I’ve been places where the prices are such that a steak and a soft drink might be $30 and a burger and two beers might be $33. $33 is more than $30, but some people will have a different opinion about a $3 difference than a $10 or $20 difference.

              1. Zillah*

                I think that OP likely would have mentioned it if it was a difference of only a couple dollars, and regardless, it’s not really C or D’s place to decide what even a few dollars means to someone else.

              2. illini02*

                Thats exactly my point. OP doesn’t say they went “significantly over”, just that they went over. Some people I know are very “frugal” and would make a big deal over a $3, other people would just say, lets split it evenly. Its not that I’m not taking the OP at their word, its just that we don’t know realistically how big of a difference this was, so that makes it a bit harder for me to say “absolutely not”. Like Doreen said, a $3 is a very different situation than $20.

                1. Zillah*

                  A couple things, though:

                  1) From the OP’s letter:

                  But D balks at giving cash for unstated reasons, quite possibly because he’s tired of fussing over $15-$20 changing hands in one direction or another.

                  The OP specifically mentions $15-$20 changing hands in both directions. That indicates to me that A and B did not go right up to the $30 limit, and it also indicates to me that the difference was much larger than $3. Based on the information the OP gave us, the scenario you and Doreen are talking about – A and B spent $30, C and D spent $33 – could not have happened.

                  2) I can see thinking that a matter of a few dollars isn’t a big deal and suggesting splitting it, but if someone says that money is tight and he’d specifically stayed under per diem because of that, you need to respect that, not continue to push – and it seems to me that C did continue to push, even though there were other options available. After all, if there weren’t, this would have been a different question – C wouldn’t have suggested splitting the bill, they would have had to do so. I’ve been in the position where a few dollars would have been a huge deal for me; $3 is only different from $20 if the people involved say it is.

                2. Morthy*

                  One of the most horrific times of my life was one month when we didn’t have enough money to pay the rent. My husband was in a conference and he had his per diem (it was a fixed amount of money and he could keep what he didn’t use). He ate as cheap as possible so we could use that money for the rent. So while I agree with you that $3 is different from $20, you never know when those $3 are extremely important for somebody. Nobody could have guessed how short of money we were at that time and if C continued pushing, yeah, we would have paid, just of sheer embarrassment, but we would have been very complicated afterwards.

    5. A tightwad*

      I think defaulting to splitting evenly only makes sense among people who (a) know each other well enough to suss out whether everyone’s truly okay with it and (b) go out together often enough that it’s likely to balance out in the long run anyway. I don’t see that either of those things is true here…

      1. LBK*

        I agree with this, with the additional c) everyone got more or less the same amount of stuff. If someone didn’t drink and didn’t eat any of the appetizers so we’re talking a potential $30-40 difference in their bill, yeah, it probably will still balance out in the long run but I wouldn’t make them take the hit right now.

    6. fposte*

      In this situation? No. I do it with longtime friends in the industry; we also will take turns treating. But we’re not at entry level budgets and we always are going over our per diems.

    7. A Jane*

      I’d agree with the spendthrifts if this meal happened after a very long, tiring day of work. After some meetings, all I want to do is eat and go sleep. Sometimes, you just want to make things as simple as possible.

      1. fposte*

        I would understand the impulse in such a situation, and understand that when people are that tired they may not remember that other people have more need for money than simplicity. But I still think it’s not fair to do without advance agreement.

        1. Zillah*

          Agreed. And it’s also the principle of the thing – it’s not necessarily so much about the actual money as feeling taken advantage of and resentful that you had to cover your coworkers’ more expensive habits.

        2. StacyM*

          If someone is that tired that splitting the check is too complicated, they can overestimate to an even number and throw that towards the bill then. That is their issue (being tired) so they can pay for it. Otherwise, it is expecting someone else to do the same (pay more than they should), but through no fault of their own.

      2. Chriama*

        If I were in that group, I wouldn’t think your desire to relax after a long day of work trumped my desire to keep my finances in check. Going by who has the most potential to suffer harm, I would first feel uncomfortable about having to share so much about my finances and then resentful if you implied that *I’m* making things difficult for *you*. I think it would really depend on the social dynamics you had with your coworkers.

    8. Mitchell*

      I think you can split the bill fairly or you can split the bill generously, but if you suggest splitting the bill in your favor, you are taking advantage of your companions.

      In other words, the tightwads could have suggested splitting the bill evenly because that would have been generous, but the spendthrifts can’t suggest it.

    9. Lizzy*

      No. As others have mentioned, I would only equally split if I were in a group of friends, we shared the wine and appetizers communally, and the difference between our entrees was a few dollars. And from my personal experience, most people don’t mind splitting equally when in a group of close friends. Amongst coworkers you aren’t very close with? I don’t blame the tightwads and I imagine most people would agree.

    10. Melissa*

      Under general circumstances I would side with the spendthrifts – I am in favor of splitting bills equally as long as everyone was within a few dollars of each other, and everyone was okay with it. What makes me not side with them in this case is because half the attendees were clearly uncomfortable with the idea, and because there seems to be a larger disparity in how much each person spent.

      I generally prefer splitting bills evenly, but I don’t suggest it unless I spent less or we spent the same amount.

    11. ReanaZ*

      The only time I would ever just split the bill evenly with coworkers is if we’re sharing the entire meal, like a family-style place or pizza or whatever. Actually, I think I’ve only done this once on an expensible business trip (maybe a few other times at non-expensible things, like people’s birthday lunches), at a cash-only dumpling place during a training. (It actually ended up being a problem to get reimbursed, because the place would only give us one (handwritten, mostly not in English) receipt, but it worked out in the end.)

      But in this scenario, we had agreed upfront that we were going to split, we all ate all of the things ordered, we kept our budgets in mind while ordering, and no one got something super expensive (like multiple alcoholic drinks?!) and expected someone else to subsidise them. There might have been a dollar or two difference in some people getting sodas and others just water. But a very, very different situation than the ones the Spendthrifts tried to force on their coworkers.

  21. Rebecca*

    I’m with the Tightwads, although I prefer the word “frugal”. I am old school, and while I haven’t had to go on business trips for over 4 years now, I never spent the entire allotment I was given. I always gave some money back to the company when I filed my expense report. Once I stopped for tacos at Taco Bell, because I wasn’t really hungry, and the VP over my division called to discuss my expense report. I thought – yikes what did I do? – but he reminded me I was allowed to spend more than $3 of $4 for a meal. I explained that I wasn’t that hungry, and he understood.

    I feel like since it’s not my money, I need to be a good steward over it.

    1. YWD*

      “I feel like since it’s not my money, I need to be a good steward over it.”

      I wish more people thought like you at my company. They hear ‘the company is picking this up’ and think it means order the most expensive entrees and wine on the menu. I have to keep a close eye when I take my team out for dinner.

    2. Kelly*

      My sister worked as a server in a rural Midwest steakhouse-type restaurant for a couple years between college and grad school. It was considered one of the nicer places in town, so it was a popular destination for business meals. Out of town corporate visitors from my dad’s company went out to eat and my sister happened to be assigned to their party. My dad wasn’t present because he had other plans for the evening, which was good in the long run. The most senior person, a woman, ordered the most expensive steak on the menu plus multiple bottles of wine and the other members of the party followed her lead. Normally, most corporate groups tipped above the gratuity, but they didn’t. My sister also commented that this woman was very much on the demanding side, so the extra tip would have been appreciated. Sister comes home and is in a very bad mood because her tips were low for the night. The woman is fired within six months, reasons not officially disclosed, but the rumor mill was that she was abusing her expense account.

      Since then about three years ago, my dad has commented at how expense accounts are audited much more closely than they were before. He’s more on the frugal side and using some fiscal restraint, especially when there are layoffs occurring at the factory levels. He was very pleased this year when the annual corporate meetings were not held in Florida, with financial reasons being cited. Instead, they were held either via Skype or webinars.

  22. PowerStruggles*

    My first thought here was were they all the same level? Two companies Ive worked at had a policy the senior most person put it on their company card.

  23. soitgoes*

    So the Spendthrifts knowingly ordered drinks under the assumption that their coworkers would help them pay for them? That’s sort of terrible.

  24. BethRA*

    I am a Spendthrift AND a Boozebag – and I would never expect the other half of the table to subsidize my decision to imbibe, even in a social situation. I don’t mind and extra couple of bucks one way or the other on entrees, but alcoholic beverages in particular can quickly add up to as much or more than the cost of the food. That’s just not reasonable, imo.

    1. LBK*

      +1 from a fellow Boozebag. A normal dinner out for me includes probably a minimum of 3 drinks, so I don’t expect anyone to subsidize the $25-40 that will cost.

  25. Interviewer*

    I think it’s the ethics of the matter that bother me. C&D decided to use some of A&B’s money without telling them first. It’s not the company’s intent of sending a group to a meal, and C&D should think twice before putting their co-workers in that position. What would they have done if A&B were not there, and C&D both went over their limit? Whatever the answer is, that’s what they should have done in this same situation.

  26. Patricia*

    If I have a glass of wine (or 1 whatever) with my company meal, I expense it. If I have another, I ask the wait staff to start a new check. I don’t expect my company to fund my drinking. Most establishments are totally used to this. It has never been a problem. Maybe that’s just my personal ethics.

  27. JAL*

    My BIGGEST pet peeve is when people spend tons of money on alcohol and ask you to split the bill – work situation or not. I’ve never been out to eat with my coworkers but this often happens when I go out to eat with my family. I’m not incredibly close with my entire family and it’s awkward saying you don’t want to pay for their alcohol. I totally agree with Allison on this.

      1. BethRA*

        I do drink, and I’m with you on this – we have friends who don’t drink and we always subtract the cost of alcohol before splitting out their share of the bill.

    1. yup*

      I don’t think it’s awkward to speak up. The people who are pushing for others to pay for them have entitlement issues.

      1. MK*

        I find it awkward, not because I have a problem with people knowing I am not willing to pay for other people’s meal/drinks or have them pay mine, but because of the implication that the person who spend more is being unethical.

    2. Mena*

      This can work both ways though … I don’t eat appetizers or dessert but will have a glass of wine. I was once dining with other couples; one person in one couple was quite loud about not splitting the bill because she didn’t drink alcohol. Sure, let’s divide is up based on what each person ordered – turned out the ‘worried woman’ owed the most (2 appetizers, expensive entree, dessert, latte). THEN she was miffed that her portion was so high … yeah, we didn’t dine with them again.

      1. Adam V*

        Don’t see why you shouldn’t dine with them again – as long as they insist people pay their own way, it seemed that it works out in your favor.

        1. Adam V*

          (Although if your point is just that she turned a fun evening into a sour one, I completely agree.)

        2. TL -*

          Generally, if people are fussing over money – not just, “hey, I actually really don’t want to split the bill,” or “this is dutch treat, okay?” but actually fussing over money, I don’t want to deal with that.

          I’ve had friends who are very broke before, who couldn’t afford anything but what they ordered and were perfectly lovely to eat out with – so much so that I’d often take them out to Subway or something and pick up the tab.

          I’ve had other people who fuss and fuss and make such a big deal out of the bill that I never want to eat out with them again. Arguing about money is one of my least favorite ways to spend time.

  28. Tris Prior*

    Am I the only one whose (creative and very liberal) company does not allow us to use our per diem on alcohol at all? If we want to drink at dinner when we’re out of town on business that is fine but we have to pay for it with our own money.

    1. De Minimis*

      I’d guess that federal employees can’t do it either, but in practice I don’t know if they could really tell what people spent their per diem on…many employees where I work don’t bother with the government charge card and just get their per diem direct deposited after their travel is over. Even with the card they have a oddball way of doing the per diem, the employee has to go to the ATM every day and withdraw the per diem in cash. There would be nothing to say they couldn’t spend it on alcohol since it’s cash and they don’t have to mess with receipts for the per diem.

      1. Enjay*

        In my agency no one uses their card for meals. We’re allowed a cash advance from the card (I don’t remember, something like 80% of M&IE) but most people don’t do that either. You just spend your own money and get your full per diem come voucher time.

        1. De Minimis*

          It seems like the cards are a big hassle, and employees at all levels seem to handle it the way you mention. I know our executive director doesn’t even have the government card.

    2. TOC*

      My workplace (public university) also doesn’t reimburse for alcohol while traveling or dining out. You can order alcohol (when appropriate, of course) but you have to pay for it yourself. And we’re reimbursed based on actual expenses up to the “per diem” limit, so we don’t get to pocket any extra cash if we don’t hit the limit.

      1. Tris Prior*

        Yeah, we have to give back what we do not use (otherwise I’d eat lightly and pocket the cash!) and turn in receipts.

    3. Judy*

      I’ve only worked at one company that allowed alcohol purchases on expenses. Interestingly, they had a slightly lower daily food allowance than companies that didn’t allow alcohol.

    4. Cath in Canada*

      Not only that, but we can’t be reimbursed for food if there’s any alcohol listed on the same bill – even if we’re not trying to claim for the alcohol. So if you want to have a glass of wine with dinner you can, but you have to a) pay for it yourself, and b) make sure it’s on a separate bill, otherwise you’re on the hook for the cost of the food as well. I find a to be perfectly reasonable, and b rather less so, even for a government employer.

      Two jobs ago we were allowed to claim for an “appropriate and reasonable” amount of alcohol with meals, but it was never really explained what that meant. “One glass less than the most senior person there” seemed to serve me well.

      1. ReanaZ*

        Ha! I feel like “one glass less than the most senior person” is a good maximum drinking policy to have around coworkers in any case.

    5. Mena*

      I have never (in 25 years) worked for a company that didn’t allow alcohol to be expensed. There was always a daily ‘target’ of expenditure limit but how you spent that amount, not the employers’ concern at all.

      1. Artemesia*

        We not only couldn’t have alcohol payed for but if we submitted any restaurant bill it had to be itemized to assure that this didn’t happen. So yes, my McDonald’s receipt got sent back for me to verify that no alcohol was involved in that 6.95 bill.

    6. Koko*

      My last couple of jobs will reimburse for alcohol, but I work for nonprofits with pretty meager daily allowances so there’s not a lot of room in the allowance for alcohol unless you didn’t order much food.

      My personal rule of thumb is that I will expense no more than one alcoholic beverage per meal. If there was no meal or if I ordered multiple drinks, I pay for those out of my own pocket. I see a categorical difference between having a glass of wine with my food and remains under the daily allowance and just asking my employer to fund my drinking-for-entertainment.

    7. Melissa*

      Nope, you’re not. I’m funded on federal funds and I have never been able to use my per diem on (or get reimbursed for) alcohol. I have to get a separate receipt for alcoholic beverages so I can submit a receipt with just the food and soft drinks on it.

    8. Jen RO*

      My company doesn’t lets us pay for alcohol using our per diem – but I don’t know if this applies to the US offices too.

    9. ReanaZ*

      Yeah, I have worked for several places where it was Not Allowed and one place where it wasn’t explicitly against the rules but wasn’t really encouraged either. I would occasionally submit receipts for like, a single cider if it wasn’t super clear from the receipt whether it was alcohol or not, and never had any problems. I think that company didn’t mind if higher-ups did it but frowned on lower-level staff doing it (in fairness, higher-level staff were more likely to say, be boozing potential funders over lunch, whereas I was just grabbing a sandwich alone while out of town.)

      I bet the consulting company I worked for would have allowed (encouraged?) it, but I never did any business travel out of the city for them.

  29. Patrick*

    Completely agree with the response. Everyone should be responsible for what they ate or drank at dinner. I am a bit surprised about the feedback regarding getting separate checks. From my experience, this has never been an issue and with the systems restaurants have in place it appears to be relatively easy.

  30. periwinkle*

    1. We always ask for separate checks right at the beginning. Each of us has a corporate card for travel expenses and it’s way easier to track payments that way.
    2. My employer has a generous per diem for food. They’ll cover for my overpriced latte at the airport. They’ll pay for my colleague to load up on sugar right before getting on a non-stop flight. They will NOT pay for alcohol, period. You want booze, you spend your own money and don’t use the corporate card. Since the booze purchase would be flagged on the card or a submitted receipt, splitting the OP’s check evenly would get all four people audited. Bleep that.

  31. De Minimis*

    I used to work for a professional services firm and I think it was perfectly okay to put booze on the corporate card, though that may have just been a perk for higher-ups. I know partners would routinely charge happy hour drinks on the corporate card.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      Yeah, in advertising, I think any agency that tried to limit alcohol on business trips would quickly find itself lacking in employees willing to go on business trips!

      It’s not quite “Mad Men” levels of drunkenness, but it can get pretty rowdy when the clients aren’t around.

    2. Jack K*

      My current employer provides very lavishly when it comes to business trips. Dinners in good steakhouses, truly excessive quantities of alcohol, even cigarettes and strip club visits. It’s all very old-fashioned and certainly makes me feel valued as an employee and look forward to trips, but at the same time, given that this must constitute a fairly hefty proportion of the travel budget, seems rather unfair to nonsmokers, teetotalers, and people who for a vast variety of reasons would rather not go to a strip club…

  32. Language Lover*

    When I was much younger, about two decades ago, and first entering the work force, I had my first/worst holiday party experience because of a similar situation.

    I was six months into my first professional job and my department decided to go out to dinner to celebrate the holidays. My director chose a restaurant which was not in the town where we taught. It was a cute restaurant but somewhat on the pricier side.

    When I got there, half the department and their spouses were ordering appetizers and alcoholic beverages. They offered to let us “try” the apps but mainly bought them for their pleasure. I avoided even trying them because I didn’t want to imply in any way that I was willing to pay for them.

    When it came to ordering, I tried to keep it sensible by ordering a salad. About 1/3 of the others did this as well. I didn’t order any alcohol. The other members of the party ordered entrees and alcohol. I had pre-determined that a salad and a soda would be $20. More than I usually wanted to spend for that type of meal but it would fit into my budget. When the bill came, however, one of the spendthrifts decided we should split the bill. The math on that meant the salad-folk had to pay over twice the amount of their meal.

    I was too young and too new to feel like I had much authority to say something the way I’d speak up today. It’s silly but it still irks me and I resented my department chair, who was a salad-eater, for not calling for a more equitable solution.

    To make a long story short–I think splitting is fine when people order similarly priced meals. If we all order two glasses of wine and a sandwich, then a split is smart because the difference is likely only a few bucks. But when half the group is a tightwad and the other half is spendthrift, it’s absurd and thoughtless for the spendthrift to expect people split the bill.

    1. AB*

      When I was first married (and we were very broke), my family decided to go our for Father’s day. My hubby and I (for whom eating out at McDonald’s was a treat) looked at the menu ahead of time so we could plan and order the cheapest things. When we got there, my parents had already order a family-style meal, and then my brother-in-law decided he didn’t want what was on the family-style meal and ordered his own meal, my oldest sister ordered meals for her 4 kids because she didn’t think they would eat the main course, and my parents decided to order a couple bottles of wine (which my husband and I didn’t drink). I almost started crying when my parents insisted that we split the check evenly among the five couples. That $70 was most of our food budget for the month. I still get all riled up about that bill.

      1. Adam V*

        Honestly, I kind of point the finger at your parents for that one – if they plan to do the big family-style meal, then presumably they can figure out everyone’s share ahead of time and tell them “you’ll owe $X; if you want drinks or something else off the menu, that goes on your portion, but you still owe $X for the family-style food”.

        Pretty crappy of your siblings to make you have to subsidize their meals in that situation (especially when your sister had 4 kids she was feeding, and you split it evenly??).

      2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        I have totally been in a situation like this. So, so frustrating. Had no budget for eating out, and knew it had to come out of the grocery budget which was TIGHT. It’s sort of….socially shameful (although it shouldn’t be) to say at that point that you don’t have enough. Also had another awkward situation with friends where I had to split a ridiculously small entree with my date because we didn’t anticipate they would choose a lunch place with $28 entrees. I thought we we’re going to Chipotle!

  33. OP*

    Original poster here. Tried to frame the question as objectively as possible (mostly to retain anonymity), but let’s just say I agree that both members of Team Tightwad probably should have been more assertive about just asking the waiter for their (lone) item to be put on a separate check. Lessons learned all around for next time! Enjoying the discussion here.

    1. Sadsack*

      Well, the others should have been responsible and paid for what they owed without putting the “tightwads” in the awkward position of having to demand it.

    2. abby*

      Sorry, OP, but you really can’t put this on “Team Tightwad’s” failure to request separate checks. While this would have made things much easier, no reasonable person would expect to subsidize a co-worker’s alcohol consumption when using per diem funds to be expensed later.

    3. Oryx*

      Yeah, no.
      The onus was on the Spendthrifts to not assume their coworkers would be okay subsidizing their alcohol consumption.

    4. Chriama*

      The moral of the story is that coworker D is a jerk. Deliberately spending over the per diem and then leaving someone else to make up the difference when your coworkers make it clear that they can’t afford to subsidize you? Unless D didn’t have cash on hand and explicitly promised to pay C back, this is a total d-bag move.

      But yes, the advice for A & B is sound (as I’ve learned from this thread!).

    5. LBK*

      I thought Team Tightwad was actually pretty assertive as it is, since some people wouldn’t even be comfortable saying they didn’t want to split the bill. That should’ve been more than enough, especially since for a lot of restaurants getting separate checks isn’t an option, especially once the bill has already come.

      Once the issue was raised, all pushback from Team Spendthrift was rude and inappropriate.

  34. Nervous accountant*

    I can’t believe there are people who would insist that someone pay for their meal ESP after being told $$ is tight !!!! What kind of special snowflake does that??!!!!!

    Reminds me of a work situation a while back…..went out w some coworkers, myself 2 females and 1 male. The girls had ordered drinks, I had a dessert and appetizer and the guy didn’t have a lot. Bill came and we were going to pay what we owed…..for the 3 of it more or less equalled out but his portion of the bill was significantly lower (bc well he ordered less)….the girls insisted that he pay the tax and a huge tip so that his portion was more equal to ours bc he’s the guy…..they were being pretty insistent and adamant on that. I thought that was pretty unfair and crappy of them to do.

    1. Observer*

      Really? I hope these “girls” never have the nerve to complain about sexism again. That’s just ugly.

      1. Nervous accountant*

        Meh it was a pretty crappy group of people, they were absolutely horrible to work with and be around (I’m sure theyd say the same about me).

      2. Zillah*

        They were ridiculous and out of line, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve forever relinquished their right to complain about sexism. That’s actually a kind of disturbing comment, even if it is mostly tongue-in-cheek.

        1. a*

          Yeah, I agree. That statement sort of has implications of “sexism isn’t real.”

          But in my experience, women who tend to use gender roles in that way aren’t usually the type to talk much about feminism in a serious way in any case. Most women I know who would call out sexism wouldn’t insist that a man pay more than his fair share, because the notion that a woman shouldn’t or can’t pay for her own meal comes from a sexist place itself.

          1. Observer*

            No. Sexism is VERY real. But you don’t get to act like a total jerk and then complain when someone does the EXACT SAME THING.

            To take an example from life. I know someone who is quite insistent on his privacy, but has no hesitation in invading other’s privacy, even going so far as to eavesdrop. I told him that as long as he is willing to eavesdrop on people (a totally reprehensible habit), he has no business complaining about people doing that to him.

            You want respect? Treat people with respect. And that goes in all directions.

            1. Zillah*

              Except that eavesdropping is not a rampant problem in our society, nor is it something that many people, even (especially?) those disadvantaged by it, are taught to internalize.

              Sexism is.

              Look, these women behaved badly. There’s no question. But the idea that being insistent and unfair due to sexist ideas over lunch removes your ability to complain about issues like street harassment, rape culture, pay inequity, or strangers’ presumptuousness over your pregnancy is gross and disproportionate.

            2. Tau*

              I think part of the reason you’re getting so much backlash is that you’re really not comparing like to like – sexism is much, much more wideranging with effects far more severe than just payment expectations at dinner – and so “they’re not allowed to complain about sexism” just sounds massively disproportionate and your comparison to eavesdropping doesn’t hold up. Like, if you’d said something like “if they ever want to complain about the man demanding to pay on a date/a man’s assumptions about them because they expect him to pay, they should take a long hard look at themselves and their actions”, I don’t think you’d have faced nearly the same amount of pushback. But “they shouldn’t complain about sexism ever again”? To jump back to the eavesdropping example, that strikes me as claiming that because someone eavesdrops, they’re not allowed to complain if someone hacks their computer or if they get hit by identity theft – after all, these are all invasions of privacy!

          2. Observer*

            because the notion that a woman shouldn’t or can’t pay for her own meal comes from a sexist place itself.

            I agree with that. Which is the OTHER reason why I think that if someone pulls this kind of thing they are in a bad spot to complain about it. If you call yourself stupid all the time, why would you expect others to see as smart? And you can’t reasonably expect people to be sexist when it suits you, but otherwise non-sexist.

          1. Zillah*

            Still no.

            They made inappropriate, sexist remarks and should have been called on it. But you’re essentially saying that because they stiffed a coworker for $20 (or whatever) over lunch based on sexist ideas, they can’t protest if any of the following happen:
            – they get groped on the bus
            – they get sexually assaulted by a coworker
            – they are unable to access affordable birth control

            …. etc.

            1. Observer*

              Not at all. Assault is assault, regardless of whether it’s based in sexism or not.

              As fro affordable birth control – well, why do you get to insist that guys have to pay more than their fair share and women don’t? Oh, you didn’t realize tht’s the same thing? Well grow up, and realize!

              1. Zillah*

                … I just don’t get how you don’t see “They can never complain about sexism again because of a very rude but relatively minor incident” is pretty disproportionate.

                Because yes: what you’re saying is that they can’t complain about street harassment, lack of maternity leave, inaccessible health care, slut-shaming, objectification, rape culture, thousands of dollars in lost pay, lack of representation in popular culture, fewer career opportunities… and on and on, because they were jerks with that guy at lunch that one time (or even those many times). And, by extension, you’re arguing that women who act sexist should actually face far harsher consequences than men who do. If we’re going to go down that road, why don’t we just say that any women who ever act in a sexist way should be jettisoned back to the 1950s to be a housewife?

                They acted badly. Can we keep it at that, rather than making broad statements about how women need to be perfectly unsexist at all times or forever relinquish their rights to ever complain about anything?

                (Also: given how many men rely on birth control to keep their partners from becoming pregnant, often to the exclusion of all other form of birth control, I’d argue that your examples aren’t even parallel.)

                1. Observer*

                  I didn’t say any of the things you are putting in my mouth.

                  As long as they are insisting that others pay an unfair share based on sex, they have no standing to complain when it hits them. If they ever wake up, that’s a different story. And, by the way, if someone is expected to pay for other people’s expenses, it’s a bit lame to complain that they have better opportunities to make more money than those other people.

                  As for assault, harassment etc. I don’t even see how that comes into the picture. As I said, these things are a problem regardless of their basis. Are you saying that if someone harrases someone because of gender it’s not ok, but it is ok if he’s just being an equal opportunity harasser? People shouldn’t be harassed, touched when they don’t want, or assaulted regardless of gender.

                  This is not about “being perfectly unsexist”.

  35. Artemesia*

    When I was a grad student I would go to dinner at conferences with other grad students and faculty in small groups. Inevitably faculty would order wine, appetizers, desserts etc while impoverished grad students had the salisbury steak or a salad and then they would grandly declare that ‘it is just easier to split the bill.’ It is hard to push back when these people determine whether you get a job or not.

    After a few of these a friend and I decided we would go with the flow and order appetizers, and what we wanted on the menu — The first time we did this — two of us and two faculty, one of the faculty members complained that the ‘dinners seem a lot more expensive this year.’ Well duh.

    It has made me a crusader for the tightwads and for people with moocher relatives. When we dine out with friends we just split the bill as usually we are on more or less the same page — if someone grossly spends out ahead, they kick in extra automatically. But in business situations — separate checks unless someone is paying for the rest.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      This thread has so many stories that make me angry. This is one of them. Clueless boors are bad enough. Clueless boors who have power over you are blood-boiling.

    2. Adam V*

      > After a few of these a friend and I decided we would go with the flow and order appetizers, and what we wanted on the menu — The first time we did this — two of us and two faculty, one of the faculty members complained that the ‘dinners seem a lot more expensive this year.’ Well duh.

      You could’ve said “we’re splitting the bill four ways, right?”, and when they say “yes”, responded “great! I’ve always wanted to try the lobster-and-filet-mignon meal.” That might’ve ended that practice right quick. :)

      1. Artemesia*

        LOL. These guys were always have the coquille san jacque appetizer and then the steak and lobster. And perhaps the souflet for dessert. My friend and I saved up and did the same (we had been paying so much for these meal splits that it wasn’t that much more expensive — we had a muffin in our room for breakfast and an apple and a granola bar for lunch and then just ordered big in New Orleans.

        The one that really burned me was the big shot who insisted on ordering wine for the table that ‘he was treating’ and then it appeared on the bill that was split and he didn’t say a thing.

        He came to a bad end which gave me immense schadenfreude.

        1. Zillah*

          The one that really burned me was the big shot who insisted on ordering wine for the table that ‘he was treating’ and then it appeared on the bill that was split and he didn’t say a thing.

          I’ve bumped into this, too – it’s so gross.

    3. Tomato Frog*

      WHAT. That is totally against the faculty-student social contract. I never had a professor who let me pay for anything.

      1. Artemesia*

        If a prof takes a student for lunch, they pay — but this was a group of colleagues — faculty and students going out to dinner at a conference.

        Yeah it sucked.

    4. Morthy*

      Oh, yes, Artemesia. I posted my horror story several threads above this one, but my husband’s and my experience are more or less the same. Unless it is lunch or a special dinner with a professor you know personally, we would find ourselves paying for other people’s food. For me it has become an indicator of how good/bad that professor is as possible boss: they have been in our shoes, they know how hard and complicated is this life, so if they can’t have that small gesture (for them, with their salaries), I suspect they pay poorly or they make their people work weekends and so. It was true for my last boss and a couple of my friends bosses.

  36. Dani X*

    How come it was too hard to figure out who owed what when it came down to paying the bill, but it was easy to figure out who owed what when it came to reimbursing people?

  37. Prolific Scribbler*

    My old job offered us the per diem or the option to expense our meals with itemized receipts – no limit. We used corporate cards.

    When we would drink (though allowed), we’d often ask beforehand to have the alcohol on a separate check because, let’s face it, who really wants to submit receipts for a week’s worth of alcohol during a really stressful trip? We’d take turns paying the alcohol bill with our personal cards.

    I’m learning I’ve been really lucky with my logical and generous colleagues :-)

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I have been lucky, too. I have been out with family or friends and they would ask before we sat down, “Are you able to do separate checks?” If no, we would leave.

      Although it is awkward to have that conversation of who pays what before a meal, it does make the rest of the meal more relaxed because there is an agreed plan. I still find that conversation a little awkward for some folks, but it beats the heck out of surprises at the end.

      The behavior of some leaches in the stories here, is pretty sad. (Leaches. What else do you call it when someone manipulates people into paying for that is their own responsibility?) It just shows that someone can appear to be an adult, but they aren’t really adults.

    2. MT*

      I always expense the meals using a credit card. Luckily we are allowed to expense our drinks. Company policy says most senior person at dinner has to pick up the tab. When we travel with the big guy, he picks the restaurants based on the beer selection, he only drinks high end beers. I would hate to see what those tabs run. Usually there are 4-8 of us out with several rounds each plus dinner.

  38. Alex*

    I’m just shocked that people still do the “split the check evenly” thing in any context. I am usually the person who orders a milkshake, dessert, or appetizer (sometimes all three!) and would be horrified to think someone else had to pay for part of my meal. I would have pushed back really hard.

    1. MK*

      That’s going too far; it’s not that shocking. Spliting the check is the norm for me, but then again 9 times our of 10 the difference would be insignificant. If someone orders something extra/too expensive, they pay the difference.

    2. a*

      Eh, when I go out with my friends usually there is a slight difference in the prices of what we order, and we don’t really bother splitting the checks, because it evens out over time. I don’t think it’s shocking or horrifying in that context.

      But yes, with work-related situations or people with a significant income differential, it’s unreasonable.

  39. EvilQueenRegina*

    That just reminded me of the time at a former job where someone was leaving and we all went out for a leaving meal. At the time, everyone paid just for what they ordered, but when we added it all up, we were still quite a bit short of what the bill said. No one could understand how there was such a big difference, and in the end we all just split the cost of the difference between us. We found out in the end how it happened – one coworker’s husband had joined us very late on. As by the time he got there we’d almost finished our main courses, he ordered, sat with us but thought he would be automatically given a separate bill. Instead, hubby’s meal got added on to our bill, and coworker and hubby were about the only people who hadn’t heard any of what was going on. They only realised when hubby went to pay and was told we already covered it! I can’t remember what happened about getting paid back.

  40. Chriama*

    I’m surprised by 2 things here
    1) restaurants that can’t split the bill. Every single restaurant I’ve ever been asks *at the end of the meal* if we want separate or single cheques. Even in cases where they add a mandatory gratuity because of the size of our group, they split that among the cheques. I honestly can’t imagine going to a restaurant that insists they can only do 1 bill – I would never go back there, because that’s just bad customer service
    2) evenly splitting the bill in social situations. Maybe I just have cheap friends, or maybe this is directly related to point 1 – we’ve always been able to get separate cheques, so splitting the bill is not an issue. In a place like dim sum or sushi we do split the bill since we’re sharing multiple plates, but no one has ever ordered alcohol. I guess if restaurants only ever issued 1 cheque around here I would feel differently, but I’m so uncomfortable subsidizing the cost of your steak and beer when I just had a limp salad.

    Well you learn something new every day!

    1. dragonzflame*

      Me too. I guess here in New Zealand it’s different, but there is never, ever any issue with splitting. Normally you don’t even ask for the bill to be brought to you – you just go up to the counter and settle it there. (I hated going to restaurants in America and having my credit card taken away from me and the transaction performed out of sight.) If you’ve got a party of people paying separately, you take it in turns to say “I had the ravioli, the Coke, and the side salad.” Done. It probably does help that we don’t do tipping here.

      That said, if we go out with friends we’ll often just split evenly for simplicity if our meals are all about the same. If one set of people has a starter and wine, and the other doesn’t, then no, but usually all the meals are within a couple of dollars of each other, at least at the places we tend to go.

      1. Chriama*

        I’m guessing the “split the cheque” phenomen arises from going to restaurants that can’t or won’t split the bill. I’ve always been asked if it’s a single or separate bill, so splitting a single bill would actually be *more* effort (in terms of doing the math) than everyone paying for themselves. I could only imagine that happening if it was someone’s birthday and we wanted to cover their meal.

        1. Judy*

          I’m not sure it’s that much more effort. Many of the itemized bills these days (the computer ones) have the food already split per person, even when you have one bill. It’s just a different button click to print out separate bills.

          Even the local craft brewery pizza place with one location does that and is also willing to put 1/2 of a pizza on one bill and 1/2 on another.

      2. Myrin*

        If you’ve got a party of people paying separately, you take it in turns to say “I had the ravioli, the Coke, and the side salad.”

        OMG, thank you for saying this! I’ve read all of the comments up until this one and became more and more confused as to why no one said this before I realised that this seems to be pretty unthinkable in the US apparently (is it? I don’t know, it’s just what I take from no one mentioning it). We do the very same thing here and there’s never, as far as I can remember, been any problems with it in any of the groups I’ve eaten out with (we do tip, though, but not excessively, it’s more like rounding up to the nearest euro or 50 cents).

        1. techandwine*

          I think that’s because in a lot of European countries I’ve been to (and I’m assuming New Zealand may be the same based on how you’ve worded this) the server has brought the hand held machine to the table to ring out the check. In America the server drops the check, you place your card in the holder, the server picks it back up and goes to run it through the machine. Since they have to carry the cards and the bill back to the register they wouldn’t be able to remember what each person told them if we were to simply hand them our card and state what we ordered.

          Typically we would simply say “I had the salad, coke, and pie” when we ask for our separate checks and they mark that off on their pad in order to bring out the individual bills. However, this doesn’t work when the place has a policy in place that doesn’t allow for separate checks.

  41. Nerd Girl*

    I am a tightwad. I have friends who are spendthrifts. I hate going out to eat with all of them because of this situation. Recently a friend celebrated her birthday at a restaurant I never would have eaten at. I went because it was a birthday thing but had verified ahead of time that we were all paying for ourselves. I got a soda and an entree. List price for both including tax and generous tip worked out to $20 which was my budget. The bill came. For 7 people it was almost $300!!! Everyone had gotten drinks except me. Everyone got these huge meals except me. They actually tried to split up the bill 7 ways and I was all HELL NO! And I could see another friend on a budget reaching into her wallet because she wasn’t going to say a word about it. It’s not MY job to pay for another person’s drinks or food, especially when I came with a budget and ordered within the budget. For me $5 is a lot of money right now. I’m working on paying down debt and saving for a house. A $20 meal was a luxury that I had to save and budget for. I was not popular with the group while pointing that out at the meal but I did get a nice thank you email from my other on a budget friend later on for saying something. My resolution when dining with friends this year is to always ask for a separate check!

      1. Student*

        I think the underlying problem is that only some of the Spendthrifts are really thoughtless. Some are pretending to be thoughtless while they actually enjoy taking advantage of someone else. It’s often hard to tell which is which, but as I get older I suspect more and more of them are the latter than the former.

    1. elikit*

      Thanks you for being that friend.

      I’ve got a friend who is about ten years older, coupled up with a good earner, and so much more well off than I am, and she takes on that role when I go out to eat with her and her friends, and subtly steers the evening when one of the big spenders is all, “Let’s just order 27 items and split them.”

      She is a lifesaver.

      1. LisaS*

        One of my friends does that – he makes considerably more than some of us and also likes to drink better wines, so when we’re all out together, he will often cover the wine (and its share of the tip) for the table in addition to his meal. His point is that he doesn’t want to drink cheap wine but he also understands that some of us don’t have the budgetary freedom to say that, so it’s his compromise… regardless, it’s not only fair but gracious.

  42. Purr purr purr*

    I’m also with the tightwads. I’d prefer to pay for what I ate instead of paying for what someone else ate. I experienced this same situation at my first job. A group of us went out to a pizzeria. The wine flowed but I had a single Coke. The others ordered pizza but also loads of starters for themselves, I had just my pizza. The bill came and I should have spent just 12 Euros but instead ended up paying 30 for ‘my share.’ I was only 23 back then and very shy so I said nothing, even though I was irritated, but I would *definitely* say something about it now. I’m not here to subsidise someone else, just like the ‘tightwads’ weren’t there to subsidise the ‘spendthrifts.’

    Out of curiosity, is OP spendthrift C? OP mentioned they went to lunch with three others but four people were described in the situation. I can’t imagine anyone calling themselves ‘tightwad’ because it seems derogatory in the way the question was written and it also seems like OP isn’t a big fan of person D so….

    1. Kelly L.*

      “Spendthrift” is kind of an insult too, so it seems like the OP is being equal-opportunity with the snark. ;) And there was once a newsletter called the Tightwad Gazette.

      1. Purr purr purr*

        Maybe it depends on where a person lives then. Spendthrift isn’t particularly insulting here but tightwad would be offensive.

        Sounds like a gazette I should sign up to! ;)

        1. Kelly L.*

          Maybe. I think spendthrift may be a little bit of an old-fashioned word, and I don’t hear people use it much in everyday speech. It mostly calls to my mind Dante’s Inferno, where it was one of the categories of sin. :D I think of it as meaning “spends way too much, foolishly.”

  43. dangitmegan*

    On tour we eat out pretty much every meal and I normally eat with the same handful of people and we are all pretty much on the same page when paying. But we have to be really careful when adding more people to meals especially when we do “family dinners” (all 20 of us usually when we’re out at Thanksgiving or end of tour). The performers always always always order multiple cocktails or bottles of wine or sparking water then only ever seem to pay for their food leaving others to pay for their drinks and tax and tip. My coworkers and I got burned really badly once. We were in Europe and someone arranged for a restaurant to stay open late after a show for our dinner. Everyone went ahead while the crew stayed behind to finish loading the trucks and things and by the time we got there everyone but two people had finished and gone. We ordered our food and were presented with a HUGE bill that included several bottles of wine and water plus table shared appetizers (none were left by the time we got there) and a cake that apparently someone ordered and took with them. None of us had much extra so I ended up having to put it all on a credit card. I tried to get people to pitch in money and a few did but the majority stood fast and swore they’d paid more than their fair share already. It was a nightmare. One of the other staff members ended up finding out who the ringleaders were and told them she was going to dock their future per diem (not something she could actually do but they didn’t know that) until they had paid me back if they didn’t get everyone to pitch in the cover my credit card bill.
    Lesson learned. If we ever go out with them now I always tell the servers I have to have my own check as soon as I arrive. I have no problem speaking up about only paying for my own now.

  44. Ck*

    So… I’ve never experienced a server refusing to split the bill. I mean, they want to get the customers out as soon as possible, and the customer is always right, right? What options do they possibly have when the customer insists? Let the situation stalemate forever?

    I’m asking because this is so far out of the norm of my understanding. It would be similar to “Oh we don’t take cash here” or “Ketchup? Never heard of it.”

  45. CAndy*

    I’d just give the bill-payer my $30/per day amount and say, “I’m off for a drink at the bar… hope you’ll all join me in a minute or two”.

  46. RP*

    Oh man, I’m having flashbacks to old Consumerist posts.

    I remain baffled that there STILL remain places that refuse to split the bill. What, precisely, is the difference between four people at one table ordering food and four people at four separate tables ordering food? And if it’s because the system is too old to handle it then it’s definitely too old to be secure enough to trust with anybody’s credit/debit card information.

  47. elikit*

    I like (not) the idea that there’s Person A who doesn’t want to pay for things they did actually eat and drink, and Person B who only wants to pay for the things they did eat and drink, and somehow Person B is the one with a character flaw.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Same. Like I said upthread, spendthrift isn’t a compliment either–I think she was being a little tongue-in-cheek with both names.

      1. Elikit*

        Just meant in general, not this particular circumstance. People in this thread have been mad decent. Not so much in real life! (Last time this happened in real life I had a girl staring at me as if I’d shat in a shoe repeating 2-3 times, “Oh, so you only want to pay for what you paid for?” Awwwwwkward.)

    1. JoJo*

      Yeah, I don’t get that either. How the hell am I the cheapskate because I refuse to pay for your food?

  48. StacyM*

    Money is not tight at all for me, but I will not pay for some coworker’s drink. How entitled do you have to be to expect others to pay for your choice of more expensive items and drinks? I find it to be incredibly rude and manipulative, I’m sure they knew exactly what they were doing.

    If I’m with my friends, it is very different. But if it turns out to be one sided consistently, usually there are other issues with the person as well…

  49. Cassie*

    We don’t require receipts for meal reimbursement but technically speaking, each employee would need to have their own receipt.

    One thing I really really hate when eating with other people is the whole mess about how to pay the bill, split the bill, etc. Just today, my coworkers asked me to pick up lunch and when I came back, 1 of them was just going to pay me the cost of her meal until I reminded her about the tax. And the other coworker told me to keep the change which I felt bad about (it was like 20 cents, but still).

    1. Kelly L.*

      This was absolutely rampant at one former place. “OK, the sandwich I got was 4.99, so this five dollar bill should cover my tax and tip, right?” Nooooope.

  50. Purple Jello*

    I remember going out to lunch with coworkers at my first job way back when we were all making minimum wage or a few cents over it: we would calculate each person’s amount of the bill TO THE PENNY and then each was responsible for leaving their own tip.

    I think that those who want to make it “easier” by splitting the bill don’t always consider that some people just don’t have the money, and only order what they can afford to pay for.

  51. Bea W*

    In cases where you are expending and need to submit the receipt, an even split doesn’t work well.

    We have a policy at work for group meals which is the most senior person pays (preferably on the corporate card) and submits the full expense for reimbursement.

  52. Wee*

    I was a server for years – separate checks are usually not a problem as long as you ask in the beginning. Patience required on your part when your party of 20 with separate checks wants to pay all at once (this has happened!). The “Spendthrifts” in this scenario sound incredibly obnoxious.

    1. Zahra*

      Yeah, between 4 and 15 of us regularly go to a place close to work for lunch. We usually leave at the same time, and are pretty patient about waiting in line to pay by card. When I do have cash (even better, the exact amount I owe, including tip), I sometimes cut line and pay the waiter without waiting for all the card payments.

  53. Mander*

    Oh, I haaaate it when you go out to dinner with a group of colleagues and then people want to split the bill evenly! This happened not infrequently when I was a graduate student. The professors making £70k would order the most expensive meal and wine, and I’d very carefully order something that I could afford, given that I had no income at all and would have to ask my husband for a bit of extra money for the occasion. (Not that he objected or anything, just that I didn’t have any extra money at hand to pay for other peoples’ meals with.)

    It was a real problem for me when everyone in the group then wanted to split the bill evenly, and I only had £30 in my wallet but the total including the fancy appetizers and cocktails that other people ordered came out to £40+ per person. It didn’t help that I went to a university that is well known for attracting wealthy students so calling attention to the fact that I was poor only increased my sense of being an outsider.

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