coworkers didn’t leave enough money for the bill after a group dinner

A reader writes:

Last night, a group from my department went out to celebrate another employee. It was a happy hour/dinner at a karaoke bar. There were seven of us total from my dept. The seven employees included two managers (including myself), three other senior employees (not managers), and one lower level employee [who is not my direct report; her girlfriend was also in attendance (not a member of my department)].

Four people left the dinner early and left money for the bill. When the bill came, it was a bit higher than anticipated and those who left the dinner earlier hadn’t left enough money. I hate when things get messy when the bill comes. It was obvious that no one was going to pony up the money needed to cover the remainder of the bill, and so I did it, just to get the thing settled so we could go. I ended up paying more than double what I should have paid. During the bill settling, the lower level employee was texting one of the senior employees who had left early to inform her about the bill issues.

What would be the best way to approach this with coworkers to try to recoup some of the additional money put out? If this was a $20 situation, I wouldn’t pursue it, but overall I paid $80+ more than I should have. I fretted all night and during my commute in on how to address this. I figured an email BCC’ing those involved with some sort of statement that this is uncomfortable to approach, but I’d like to resolve the situation, might work. My brother suggested a direct and short email such as “Hey, I wanted to clear up the bill from last night. I ended up paying $160 for dinner and would really like to balance this out a little more.” I thought that was a great approach. He and I agreed it’s also very touchy when not dealt with immediately, but you can imagine the challenge of trying to resolve this in real-time, with people who have been drinking for a few hours, and are all very tired and want to go home.

As it turns out, when I got to work this morning, a few of those who had left early recognized their shortcoming on the bill (due to lower level employee’s texts) and paid me back, which, of course, I am extremely happy with. But what if I didn’t work with such a self-aware group of extremely reasonable people? I’m sure this comes up a lot.

I think the original statement you were thinking of — “this is uncomfortable to approach, but I’d like to resolve the situation” — actually makes it more awkward than it needs to be. Approaching it so gingerly is almost kind of insulting to them, because it implies that you think they wouldn’t just immediately pay up once they hear what happened.

The way to go in situations like this is to just be totally matter-of-fact. Work from the assumption that of course as soon as they have all the info about the situation, they’ll want to pay the remaining amount the owe (because that’s generally going to be true). That means that you can just say it this way: “Hey, wanted to let you know that the bill last night came to $X and we didn’t have enough from the money y’all left behind to cover your shares. I ended up putting in $160 to cover it — can you settle up with me in the next few days? Thanks!”

Of course, that assumes that the people who left first really do owe money. If they all had one drink each and those of you who stayed longer had three, it’s not fair to ask them to split the bill equally.

{ 141 comments… read them below }

  1. Cambridge Comma*

    I’ve found when going out in large groups of colleagues that people often leave their share of the food but not of the tip. That can add up pretty fast, as well as the side-effects of drunk maths.
    And also once people leave, it’s hard to tell whether the restaurant has made a mistake or not.
    For this reason, when I go out with my colleagues, we settle the bill immediately after dinner if the waitstaff don’t mind, and those who stay order more drinks after that. It seems to reduce the issues.

    1. Anon7*

      That’s a good idea that I might suggest next time I’m out with friends – we seem to have this same issue of bad math/insufficient funds at the end of the night pretty frequently. Settling up at multiple points throughout the night might be helpful.

      FWIW, I’ve also had good luck just having everyone get their own separate tab and settling up when they’re ready to go. It’s more work for the servers, since they have to keep everyone’s orders straight, but if everyone tips well the inconvenience for them isn’t too bad. But getting everyone to agree to that may be a minefield – some people really don’t like doing it that way.

      1. Artemesia*

        The people who don’t want separate bills should be in charge of the bill then. I long ago learned not to be the person who figured out the bill as that person often somehow gets left with the unpaid tips etc. In our circle, I am the one who vets the bill for accuracy and then I hand it off to someone else who figures out what is owed. If everyone ordered similarly then you just split it evenly. If ordering is dramatically different then it gets harder. If some are big drinkers and some not then asking for a separate drinks bill is wise. Everyone splits the food bill and the drinkers figure out the drinks bill. It is the drinks that tend to sink the budget.

        We have done a few BYOB places lately and it is pretty amazing how cheap it is to dine out when you aren’t buying a couple of rounds or a couple of bottles of wine.

        1. Vicki*

          Sadly, often it’s the restaurant that doesn’t want to agree to separate bills.

        2. Mary*

          We have had an ongoing problem with family outings, sadly. I like to bring cash so that I can count it out, round UP to the nearest ten, and be done with it. In the same group you will have a couple of groups that pay their portions separately via credit cards. And somehow, the check is short even though I know that our part of the family has overpaid. Today it turned out that my daughter put in an extra $20 for the bill…my husband gave her $10 of his money after she did that….which she then put on the table as extra tip because the family group took so blasted long to figure out the bill. It is so wrong, and so embarrassing. How can you knowingly underpay your portion of a bill?

      2. all aboard the anon train*

        Some places have limits on how many separate checks than can have for one table. I’ve definitely run into this problem with larger groups before.

      3. Allison*

        Not all servers are willing to do this, especially for large groups; I’ve been out with friends sometimes where the waitress has said “I’m not doing separate bills, you’re getting one for the table, figure it out. There’s an ATM over there if you need cash.” I’m grateful when a server offers, but I generally don’t ask for it.

        That said, if I’m leaving a dinner early, I might quietly ask for a separate bill so I can settle up before I leave. Or I leave extra cash.

        1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

          That’s a server who would lose my business. My team goes out for lunch frequently, and depending on circumstances, we may do single check or separate checks.

          Sure, it’s a pain to handle 16 separate checks, but when we’re giving $300-500 of business (depending on BAU or celebration), any server who told us to figure it out and visit the ATM would get a talking to by her manager as we walk out the door, cash in pocket.

          1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

            I should note – we tend to go to places that can accommodate the group, call ahead, work around rush times, and tip well on top of the charged gratuity. I don’t think we’re demanding cheapskates – there are some places who are happy to see us and know my voice when I call.

            1. Allison*

              No one is saying you were a cheapskate? Wanting separate checks has nothing to do with being cheap.

              1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

                Wanted to head off some of nitpicky complaints and speculation I see more often around entitlement. The intent was to say we wouldn’t leave because we feel entitled, but because it wouldn’t be in line with our actions, our regular places, and known behavior.

                1. LENENE*

                  Please know that this usually isn’t the server’s choice – it’s generally the policy of the establishment. As a former server, I would’ve greatly preferred that a group get separate checks – it’s when everyone “throws in” that you usually get screwed on the tip. The only real downside to multiple checks is that some places make the servers pay for the credit card processing fees out of their tips, so if a group pays with 10 cards it can be a chunk of your tip. When I’m going out with a group, I generally just try to bring cash just in case.

            2. Anna the Accounting Grad*

              My knitting group does this. We have a regular circuit, and we’re usually a predictable half a dozen customers per meeting (and normally patient when they get hit with a rush of other customers), so they’re almost invariably OK with separate checks even when we don’t remember to call and remind.

          2. Allison*

            Okay, I respect your opinion. You get to have standards and you don’t have to eat anywhere that doesn’t accommodate your group to your liking. But if my friends and I are hungry, we’re not getting up and leaving because we have to share a check, and if we really like the food at a specific place, we may be willing to put up with a cranky or inexperienced waitress every now and then. My dance friends and I go to the same bar every Wednesday after class, sometimes the waitress offers and sometimes we accept a single check to figure out, we’ve never seen that as a reason to complain.

          3. Liz in a Library*

            I almost certainly wouldn’t go to a restaurant often that wouldn’t provide separate checks. I never carry cash, and would have to go out of my way to get some, and there are plenty of places with great food that want to make it easy for me to be a customer. My opinion on this is almost certainly impacted by the fact that it would be very weird not to offer separate checks around here, but I’d be kind of frustrated if it happened.

            1. Sketchee*

              Definitely, most restaurants and waiters are helpful and understanding in these circumstances. Easy enough to avoid the ones that don’t encourage their staff to split checks. Or at least have clear policies. Wait staff should be trained to let staff know how to deal with these situations.

          4. Vicki*

            It’s not the server, though, it’s the restaurant. Please don’t blame the server.

            1. Morning Glory*

              Yes, this. It’s been 10 years since I last waitressed so hopefully POS systems have improved, but the one I used was not easy to split checks on.

          5. Florida*

            There are very few things that would make me talk to the manager, but that would be one of them.

        2. TheLazyB*

          Last time I went for a meal with my team, we had one bill. Five of us had the cash; the other five all said in turn ‘can I pay X amount on this card?’. I bet that’s what the no separate checks is to avoid, but there you go.

          1. Allison*

            Yeah, that’s generally what happens. I always try to have cash on hand so I don’t need to pay with a card, but as more people opt to pay with cards and fewer people carry cash, bill splitting is becoming (and will become) a more standard service, whereas historically I think it’s been seen as a special accommodation that most people don’t need.

          2. Joseph*

            I’ve yet to encounter a place that won’t allow multiple credit cards for the bill even if they say they won’t split checks. They’ll hand you one piece of paper and expect you to do the math personally, but they’ll do it. I’m actually surprised to read some of the comments in this thread making it seem like this is actually semi-common; I’ve honestly never had a server refuse to run multiple credit cards.

            Also, as a random comment, whenever people don’t give enough, it’s usually that they just added up the cost of their food/drinks without considering tax and tip. As an example, if you have an $9 drink and $19 entree, your bill isn’t $30, it’s actually about $35.

            1. JoJo*

              Those types don’t bother me, it’s the mooching jerks who develop amnesia when the bill comes who get my goat. They’re always the ones who ate appetizers, and expensive entrée, drinks and dessert and want to “split the bill evenly” with the non-drinker who ate a salad.

            2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

              One of my favorite restaurants does not split checks and allows no more than three cards on a single bill.

              But we know that and generally do a good job of telling new friends a few days ahead of time.

        3. Liz in a Library*

          I think the norms for this are regional, too. Down here in the south, it would be very unusual to have a restaurant that wouldn’t do separate checks, but I’ve encountered it a fair amount when traveling in the northeast (and sometimes overseas).

          1. Allison*

            Didn’t think about that, but it makes sense. The places where I’ve run into the refusal to provide separate checks were in Boston and NYC.

            1. Elysian*

              In NYC and DC I’ve seen tons of places that won’t split checks, or even places that won’t take multiple cards. Maybe its a city thing? I always ask at the beginning if I know we’ll want separate checks.

              1. Allison*

                It may have to do with how many customers come through, and how many *groups* of customers come through each day. Splitting checks for every group can mean a lot of check splitting each night, and when a server is tending to many tables, I can see management (or the server themself) seeing the splitting process to be an inefficient use of time, especially if they’re using an outdated POS.

                As for multiple cards, if the restaurant has to pay fee for each card transaction, I can see that adding up if every group has a bunch of cards to run through the reader.

              2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                It may also have to do with what they’re paying in credit card fees. Typically the processing fee is a combo of a flat rate and a % per transaction, so more cards = more fees. Some place with a bad contract can get super screwed on that front.

          2. Florida*

            I think you’re right. It would be very unusual for a restaurant here to not split the check. In fact, if a large came in, it would be rare for the server to not ask how you want the check.

        4. NK*

          The funny thing is, I think servers generally end up with higher tips when they split checks, assuming the members of the group are all generally good tippers. I (and most of my friends) will figure out a rough 20%, and then round up to the nearest dollar, or at least the nearest 50 cents. In a large group, that can add up!

          When I was in grad school in a college town, one of the sit-down restaurants we frequented automatically handed everyone a separate check when it was a larger group. It was awesome and made things so much easier.

      4. Dweali*

        When I served to wasn’t all that big of a deal to keep things separate (unless there was a lot of seat switches–that could get confusing) because you generally have a set rotation for the order of the seats anyways (like person 1 starts at the left of a certain corner and you go around clockwise)

        I always asked at the beginning before taking orders but if the server doesn’t it’s a courtesy to inform the server at the beginning that the checks are split (to me anyways)

        1. Florida*

          Also, if you inform the sever as you are ordering, it makes it clear to everyone at the table. Some commenters have said that the people at the table don’t like separate checks. If you say loudly to the server, “We are going to need separate checks,” when you are ordering, that makes that clear to everyone.

    2. MK*

      I immediately thought of this when I read the letter. If some people are leaving, it makes more sense to pay the bill then and start a separate tap for the rest of the evening, than to have people leave money speculating on the sum. Only you should be careful to mention to the waistaff that you are not about to free the table.

      (I am traveling to the US in a couple of weeks for the first time and I am dreading the whole tip situation. When and whetr are you supposed to add it? How much? Are you supposed to calculate the % and add it yourself ?)

      1. Artemesia*

        You have to calculate it yourself, but it is part of the cost of the evening as in many venues waiters are not paid even half minimum wage. Tips is how they get paid. We tip 18-20% which I think is fairly typical. Certainly no lower than 15%. Some people tip on the bill before tax. I live in a jurisdiction where the taxes are about 10% so we just double the tax more or less to calculate the tip.

        1. MK*

          I know it’s part of their core income, that’s why it worries me. Where I am from, not only is there a minimum wage for service staff, it’s actually higher than the basic, so tips are a strictly “keep the change” sort of thing.

          1. Mando Diao*

            You also have the issue of servers deliberately making it difficult to pay in anything but cash because they’re paid under the table and therefore aren’t paying their taxes. Yeah, I get that serving is a rough, inconsistent job, but where I live, there are lots of little eateries that aren’t on the level when it comes to taxes. If I want to pay my tip with a card, that’s what’ll happen or it won’t happen at all. The argument that we owe it to servers to help them avoid paying taxes…that’s lousy and I don’t agree with it.

            1. Vulcan social worker*

              I frequently give tips in cash not because I’m trying to help someone avoid paying their taxes, but because there have been some prominent cases of restaurant managers and owners stealing tips. Only certain employees are eligible for tips: waiters, bartenders, and some other employees who make the tipped minimum wage, which can be between as little as $2.13 per hour. In these cases, management doesn’t give the employees the full amount of tips earned, and not even what they are supposed to have earned minus what they would tip out or their percentage of the tip pool. If they are getting caught some of the time, chances are it’s happening other times too. It’s much easier for the manager, who is collecting the tips on the credit card, to not pay the waiter in cash and keep part or all for herself than for the waiter to just not turn in that cash and tip out the bartender. There’s no perfect system, but I’d rather see my server get the tip than someone who is getting full wages for hours worked. Of course, I hope I’ve chosen an ethical restaurant in the first place, but you never know until it’s too late and you read that the waitstaff has won the lawsuit (and management denies wrongdoing).

              I won’t knowingly help anyone avoid taxes. No one likes paying taxes and we all disagree with some things that they fund, but I like educated children and a transit system and public health initiatives so I don’t grumble.

      2. all aboard the anon train*

        Whenever you go to a sit-down restaurant, you add a tip. 20% is standard, though some people argue 15% is okay. Some places have a suggested tip amount at the bottom of the receipt, but most expect you to calculate and leave it yourself. You can just leave cash or write in a number on the credit card receipt. If you’re in a large party, tips will be automatically added into the bill (the restaurant always states what constitutes a large party).

        You pretty much tip whenever you get a service – taxis, a hotel holding your luggage/maids cleaning your room, takeout, restaurants, bars (yes, even if they’re just pouring a beer, though I know some people don’t like this). Places like coffee shops, bakeries, pizza places usually have tip jars and it’s up to you if you want to tip. Usually a dollar or two is fine.

        TripAdvisor has a pretty good page on when and how much to tip.

        1. Dweali*

          Actually the law has changed on gratuities so some of the chain restaurants have done away with them…it would be a separate line on the check if it’s added

          Ex… Total $XX
          Gratuity $X
          New total $XX
          And then somewhere it’ll mention taxes as well

          1. all aboard the anon train*

            Ah, I don’t really eat at chain restaurants, so I haven’t heard of that. Most of the time I’ve seen a restaurant say they automatically add gratuities has been a private or non-chain restaurant, and it’s usually for something like parties of 10 or more.

            Taxes usually come before the total in my experience.

        2. MK*

          See, this can get complicated. Bars, coffee shops and restaurants and taxis, fine. But how much do you give to the hotel for holding your luggage; surely not 20% of the hotel bill? And do you do it when you pay the hotel bill off or seperately? Where do you even find the maids to tip them?

          1. all aboard the anon train*

            Generally $1 per bag. You pay when you pick up your bag to the person who gives you your bag. Same if they bring the luggage to your room for you. It goes to the person who assisted you, not the hotel.

            Hotel rooms usually have envelopes for comments, suggestions or tips for the maid. How much you want to give is up to you.

          2. an anon*

            Servers are paid a “tipped wage” that is lower than minimum wage. Currently the tipped wage is $2.13 per hour (the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour). Workers like housekeeping and porters at hotels usually make minimum wage, not the tipped wage. So while tipping is nice to do for them, it’s not as essential as tipping for servers because the employees make a higher base wage.

          3. Melissa B*

            For the maids, a buck or two per night seems to be pretty common. I rarely see any envelopes in the room so instead I leave it on the desk or nightstand with a quick thank you note so they know it’s for them and ok to take. I don’t put it out until the last day just before I leave, that way it’s the only thing left in the room. Enjoy your trip to the States!

            1. Melissa B*

              Should probably clarify this a bit – I generally leave up the “do not disturb” sign during my entire stay so nobody enters the room, and then tip to the nearest $5 (with the $1-2/night per above). However, if you have them clean up daily, daily tips at slightly larger accounts are appropriate. My sister got sick once and threw up in bed and in the bathroom. We cleaned up everything (though the blankets needed a thorough washing), but she still left an apology note and a $40 tip on a 2 night stay because she felt so bad about it. So, very situational. Whatever you do, just remember that somebody else has tipped more and somebody else has tipped less.

            2. Cedar sage*

              Is tipping hotel maids a regional US thing? Because I made it to age 30 without ever hearing about this custom, and I’ve shared a lot of different hotel rooms with a lot of different people.

      3. Kyrielle*

        I usually go with 20%-ish for good service, dropping to 15% for poor. I’ve gone above 20% when they’ve gone above and beyond. I usually adjust to round my bill, though. So if I owe $39.46, a 20% tip would be 7.89 – but that requires a calculator. So, first, 20% of 40 is $8 and easily done in my head. But…46 cents is annoying, and 54 will round it up to an even dollar. So I’ll either tip $7.54 or $8.54 (usually the latter as I don’t like undertipping, I admit, but it’s pretty close), resulting in a $47 or $48 bill total.

        (Most places, if you are playing with a credit card, you can include the tip on that charge and not have to deal with cash. If I’m tipping in cash, I tip in round dollars and would tip $8 in the example above.)

        1. Florida*

          An easy way to do it without a calculator is to figure 10%. You can do that without a calculator, just move the decimal. Once you know what 10% is, you can double it for 20%. It’s usually easy to double it in your head.

      4. Christopher Tracy*

        I live in an area where most of the restaurants add an 18% gratuity to your bill so you don’t have to worry about the tip. Depending on where you go in the US, you may not have to worry about figuring it out yourself.

        1. irritable vowel*

          Yes, this happens especially in areas where a lot of foreign tourists visit – it’s a way to make sure that the servers get tipped when the customers may not be accustomed to tipping. Sometimes it’s also included automatically on bills for large groups. You’ll see it listed on the bill as “gratuity” or “service,” often with the 18% mentioned. Just because it’s included doesn’t mean you have to give that much of a tip if you don’t think it’s warranted, though! You can subtract it from the bill and add what you think is appropriate, if you got bad service.

      5. irritable vowel*

        Sometimes the receipt that comes for you to sign will have suggested tip amounts by percentage printed at the bottom (we are just getting credit cards with chip technology here so you will not see the card readers brought to the table like you do in some other countries – the server will take your card away to swipe it and bring it back with a receipt to sign, and you write in the tip there). The server will just leave it, though, not hover, so you can take your time calculating the tip if you need to. Usually we round up or down an amount – so, if exactly 20% of the bill is $8.73, you would leave $8.50 or $9.00. The percentage doesn’t need to be exact.

        If paying with cash, the server should bring you back all your change and then you can leave what you want on the table. They should bring you small denominations to make this easier for you, but if they don’t, it’s fine to say “could you break this $10 for me” or whatever and they’ll bring back smaller denominations. You can also pay the bill with a credit card and leave the tip in cash, if you like (I think some servers prefer this, from what I’ve heard, but it’s up to you). Again, they shouldn’t stand there waiting for their tip – this is considered bad form.

        1. nonegiven*

          Besides how good the service was, you also want to consider how high maintenance your party is.

        2. all aboard the anon train*

          Actually, you might see the credit card readers brought to the table in big cities. I’ve had it happen enough in Boston and DC that while it’s still not super common, it’s not unusual.

        3. Getting There*

          Do you mean it is uncommon in the US for the card readers to be brought to the table? It isn’t clear that you are in fact talking about America, though I suspect you are. In any case, I thought that was a pretty common thing everywhere, but I guess not. In Canada swiping your card at the table has been around for ages, even in smaller rural areas. A lot of restaurants also allow you to pay for your delivery with the card reader machines , it is called debit/credit at the door. It is super convenient!

          1. YaH*

            I have literally never been to a restaurant in my large Southeastern city that brings a card reader to the table. The server takes the card away and brings it back.

            1. Windchime*

              I live in the Northwest, and it is just starting to become more common here. I paid at the table with the little card-reader/menu thing at an Olive Garden the other day.

            2. Amy UK*

              This is so strange to me, as a Brit. If a waiter/waitress walked off with my card, I’d be wondering what the hell they were doing. I can’t think of any time in the past 10 years or so that they haven’t brought a card reader to the table, even in small towns.

        4. polka dot bird*

          Haha as a clueless tourist, when I tipped in the US with my card I tipped exact percentages without rounding. But I found the whole thing confusing. I actually had a nightmare about forgetting to tip and then wandering around trying to find the person I had stiffed so I could pay them properly.

          MK, I used an app called something like “calculate tax tip or discount” and it was super handy. If you have a smart phone I’d recommend getting an app. I’d also suggest that you look up the tax rates before you go, as I found they weren’t really listed anywhere and it made it hard to work out the cost of things when calculating the bill. And finally, I’d keep collection of small bills, as I found tipping hard without planning ahead like that. I once tipped a hotel maid with a horde of coins since I didn’t have any small bills left – I wish I’d had a note, it would have been easier for them to take. Also I would keep a stash of quarters for doing laundry if that is something you expect to do.

      6. Mreasy*

        If you’re in a big city or a city known for its restaurants (NYC or the latter somewhere like Portland), always tip 20% unless something truly egregious happens that’s your server’s fault (your food being slow is not, something coming out cooked incorrectly is not – the way they handle it is all they can control). Tip more if service is great. Under 20% is really not viable in big cities or dining capitals. This is the majority of your server’s income. Just use the calculator on your smartphone or print out a tip table if you’re worried about the math (20% also so much easier to calculate than 15-18%!).

      7. Lisa*

        Some restaurants will have the suggested tip printed at the bottom of the receipt to make the calculation easier. And yes, 15-20% has become the norm. I usually round up.

    3. all aboard the anon train*

      Tax, too. I find most people forget to add in tax when they’re calculating how much they owe.

      1. Zillah*

        Yep. Sometimes they’ll kick in a couple extra bucks and call it a day, but tax+tip for a $21.85 meal is not $2.

        1. Bibliovore*

          Tips for the traveler…
          The door man gets you a taxi..give him a dollar
          The porter at the air port curbside check in…two dollars a bag
          Bell man if he takes you to your room, shows you how to work the lights…ask for more towels and more hangers…give him a five.
          If you use the airport wheelchair service ..twenty in big cities , if they take you to the gate and if they pick up your bags and get you into a cab on the arrival side. If there is a electric cart…give the driver a five.

          Hotel housekeeping…leave 2 or 3 dollars every day on the desk or by tv with a note..,for housekeeper .

          Restaurants … Coffee bars..I leave the change.
          Sit down. 20 percent on the total/ or before tax. East to calculate as I round up…2 dollars on every ten and 1 dollar on every five.

    4. Queen Gertrude*

      It’s not just the tip people forget, they seem to forget about the tax a lot of the time too! I refuse to do anything but separate checks anymore with people. First thing my husband and I do when we sit down at a table with a big group of friends is request a separate check, even if the rest of the table is splitting theirs. Usually the waitstaff is more than happy to oblige if you let them know right away. In fact, I can’t remember ever being told no by a restaurant/bar.

  2. JMegan*

    I’m glad your coworkers were on top of this, and don’t mind paying you back! For next time, most restaurant POS systems now can split the bill really easily – everybody should be able to get their own bill as they’re leaving, even if you didn’t get separate bills at the beginning. It doesn’t 100% stop people from underpaying if they’re really determined, of course, but it does prevent honest mistakes from not calculating enough tax or tip.

    1. Petronella*

      + this. It is always a good idea to have separate bills and in my city, every restaurant in the downtown core would lose lots and lots of business if they could not or would not accommodate groups of diners. I’m with Dr. Johnny Fever; if a server informed my table that he/she *would not* do separate bills? We would be out the door so fast and the manager would be hearing why.

    2. Hotstreak*

      The POS systems are so good now! The servers at all of my group’s favorite restaurants can split the appetizer or wine evenly between all of us, bill us each our own full meals, and let somebody cash out their portion if they want to leave early. I wonder why some businesses haven’t come around.. I imagine it can be expensive to upgrade their systems?

    3. Mabel*

      I was just in Columbus, OH for the weekend, and every restaurant we went into easily split the bill between 7 or 8 people. I could hardly believe how easy it was. One of my checks even said “1/7 of sweet potato fries appetizer,” which amused me. I have not found such willingness to split the bill where I live, which is surprising because it’s a major metropolitan area.

  3. Expexted to pay more than my fair share*

    If there are those who know they will be leaving early you should try to have split bills. That way the early birds will have paid their part.
    A plea – if there is big difference in what is ordered among the diners (especially if there are drinks involved) don’t expect to split the bill evenly. I don’t drink and don’t eat seafood and have no desire to pay for your beers and lobster.

    1. Artemesia*

      If you get stiffed often or it is awkward often, arrange a separate bill on the front end. Back in my impoverished grad school days I found myself eating salad and drinking water more than once and then subsidizing the professors’ appetizers, bottles of wine and desserts. I learned then to either order right along with the big spenders or get a separate bill. And your case is also a good example of why the drinks and food bills should be separate so only the drinkers are paying for the very expensive booze.

      1. Kate M*

        My friend groups are usually really good about splitting bills. I usually owe a smaller portion of the check because I can’t really drink more than one drink at a time and most of my friends can drink 2+ (and we order about the same amount of food), 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. But you have to be with people who are conscious about it.

    2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      I always think of that Friend’s episode where they go out to celebrate Monica’s promotion and Rachel, Pheobe, & Joey all order frugally and then Ross tries to divide the bill evenly.

  4. Wilton Businessman*

    You’re a manager. You pickup the extra $80 and that’s that. No worry, no disappointment, no fretting. You pick it up because that’s what leaders do.

    1. Limepink22*

      I know plenty of “managers” who make only 2-3 dollars more than those they supervise. Also, even if she has a real salary that is appropriate for her role, she can have bills, debt, medical expenses, childcare, eldercare, a spouse out of work, college funds, want to save to travel or like to shop. She shouldn’t have to. If a “manager” is expensing dinners as part of team morale, the “company” should be reimbursing. Managers should not pay retention from their salary.

      1. automotive engineer*

        Refreshed before hitting submit on a comment that said roughly this but less eloquently. I absolutely agree that this falls into the category of not policing what others spend their money on. The manager in this situation should not have to pay out of her pocket any amount more than what she signed up for (her meal).

        1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

          Agreed. It’s never a good idea to assume financial security based on your perception of where that person sits within a contributor, management, or leadership role and how much you presume they must make as a result.

      2. Anonymous Educator*

        Frankly, even if you make significantly more than your direct reports, you shouldn’t be expected to shell out more because others just shelled out less. If you want to treat people, that should be your offer ahead of time with “Hey, we’re going out to karaoke and drinks. My treat!” and not after the fact with “Hey, you all were supposed to chip in, but I guess I make more than you, so I’ll pick up the slack later…”

        1. Cambridge Comma*

          Also, you’d be treating the only the potential freeloaders and not the honest people, so again, not much of a treat.

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            Exactly. It isn’t really about how much you make. If you want to treat, you treat… not just for the slackers.

        2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          This! It’s one thing if I tell my team that their first round is on me as a thank you, but randomly picking up the slack for some and not others would not be cool.

    2. Dr. Johnny Fever*

      I’m a manager. I have specialists who make more than I do. We all pay equal share of the overage, and we encourage our people to display integrity and keep their word.

      Because *that’s* what leaders do.

      1. K.*

        Yeah, I’m fairly sure I made more than my last manager at my previous employer. I was hired at a higher rate a few years before, then there was a big restructuring. There were no pay increases. Two people became managers post-restructuring – basically promotions in every sense except pay. Which is bullshit, in my opinion, but it was what it was.

        Regardless, if the manager is voluntarily picking up the check out of her own pocket, that’s made clear at the outset, before the dinner takes place.

    3. I'm Not Phyllis*

      Sorry, I have to disagree with you here. Having an extra $80 in your pocket doesn’t make you a leader, just as not having the extra $80 doesn’t mean you’re not a leader.

      1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

        All that $80 means is that you have enough to afford a limo ride for prom.

        “OOOooooo, you’ve got EIGHty DOLLars!”

    4. Legalchef*

      Yeah, $80 extra is a lot. Just because someone is a manager doesn’t mean that they get paid significantly more, and it also doesn’t mean that those who left early should have given less because they assumed it was ok. When I go out for drinks with my team I’ll often get the first round, but that’s probably only $30-$40, assuming no happy hour prices. But I do it because I want to, and I’d be annoyed if I was*expected* to get the first round.

    5. Wilton Businessman*

      The $80 is not the point.

      The leader is the person who takes charge and takes a personal sacrifice for the betterment of the team. I surely wouldn’t want people on my team saying “Oh, remember when WB asked us to kick in $5 the time we went to dinner? Sheesh.” It shows weakness and winners aren’t weak.

        1. OP*

          Please keep in mind these people aren’t on my team at work, and there were other managers/higher level employees present.

          Flawed logic at best.

      1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

        Personal sacrifice? For the betterment of the team?

        JFC. I create software; I’m not engaged in warfare. Covering a check is not the same as taking a bullet or throwing oneself on a grenade.

        Holy hell. Always. Be. Closing. indeed.

  5. BBBizAnalyst*

    Personally, I always prefer to split the bill, even if it costs me a little extra but that’s within my group of peers/colleagues and our silent understanding. I loathe going to group dinners with people who want to nickel and dime everything, including gratuity. I also feel for the waitstaff who have to stick around and wait for 10+ people to determine what the tabs should be for each person.

    1. Artemesia*

      I agree but then I socialize with the same people repeatedly and we often share family style or tend to order similarly and it evens out over time. With large groups of acquaintances where it is less frequent and less even then ‘nickel diming’ leaves people paying at least close to what they owe and not subsidizing the big spenders.

    2. MK*

      I prefer it too, as long as everyone has ordered more or less in the same price range. But if one has ordered only a salad or someone else the one entree that costs twice as much as everything else on the menu, no.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Right, this. I don’t care if I spend a couple extra dollars because somebody got an iced tea. I do care if my share doubles because somebody wanted drinks, appetizers and dessert.

      2. Joseph*


        In addition to your examples, I’ve noticed splitting the check evenly usually gets really unfair whenever alcohol is involved. If you have anybody who isn’t drinking (DD, medication, habitual non-drinker, whatever), that person pretty much always end up getting screwed – because the cost difference between different people’s entrees is usually far less than the extra $20+ per person from having a couple drinks.

  6. Ari*

    Y’all, the answer to this is Venmo, Google Wallet, Square, or Facebook payments. One person pays bill (if you want the CC points, it’s great) then you bill others through the app. You do it all at once, or multiple times during the night as someone else above suggested, and it’s so easy.

    Of course, you do have to be sensitive about the people who order less/don’t drink, etc. But it makes collecting money so, so not-awkward.

    1. Kate M*

      OMG Venmo has revolutionized going out with friends for me. Everything is so easy now.

  7. Allison*

    If I went to a bar with my friends, left early and gave someone cash for my share, and it turned out that wasn’t enough, I’d want them to just approach me later and say “hey, you didn’t leave enough cash, I put in an extra $5 to cover it, can you pay me back when you get a chance?” I’d be mortified, of course, and would try really hard not to do it again, but I’d appreciate someone letting me know and I’d be happy to pay back.

    OP, did you guys agree to cover someone else’s portion of the tab because they were being celebrated? It’s possible your coworkers didn’t think about that when they left money. If you were splitting the bill, again, it’s possible they only paid for their stuff rather than an even slice of the bill.

  8. I'm Not Phyllis*

    I generally prefer to have my own bill … money is always tight for me and I usually plan out what to eat (what I can afford!) ahead of time. I don’t normally drink during meals because alcohol changes the flavour of my food (that’s weird, right? but it’s the reason!).

    That said, if I’m out with friends I’ll normally still split the bill if it was reasonable. If I’m out with my work colleagues, I’d be less inclined to do so. I don’t expect my boss, colleagues or anyone else to pay for any part of my meal … but I also don’t really want to be pressured in to paying for theirs.

    1. Gaia*

      It actually isn’t that weird when you consider alcohol is, essentially, a poison. Your body is simply reacting to the chemicals and chemicals often change the flavor of food. It does the same to me.

      1. Marcela*

        Your body is made of chemicals. Your food is a chemical. The drink is a chemical. Are people skipping science classes in school nowadays?

    2. Parfait*

      Not weird! You’ve identified the whole reason people obsess over wine pairings.

  9. StefanieRan*

    When I go out with a large group, the people who leave earlier usually ask for their check before they leave: “I had the fish tacos and a beer. Can I have my check?” There’s usually no problem with this. If the group is larger than 6 or 8, or whatever the policy is, they might even include the gratuity. If someone says they’re leaving and asks to leave cash, one or two people usually say, “I’m sure the server will ring you up before you go.” But honestly, most people just take care of this before leaving.

  10. Fantasma*

    I recently took a trip with friends and we used an app called Splitwise. To avoid the delay and hassle of split checks, we took turns paying at restaurants and for ride shares and admission fees. You can include a photo of the bill and send everyone a request for what they owe. They can settle up through whatever payment method they choose in one swoop once everyone’s entered the bills; the main reason we used it was that not everyone uses the same payment apps. Really useful in these situations since it’s completely transparent.

    1. mskyle*

      Splitwise has another app called “Plates” that’s especially for dividing up the check. It’s very handy!

  11. Feline*

    No matter how this comes about, let people know promptly so it can be resolved. One of the most uncomfortable moments in my life was someone from a group dinner saying to me much later, “If you didn’t have enough to cover your dinner, you should have told us. Suzie Q ended up paying an extra $50, and we KNOW it was you who didn’t cover yours.” I had paid my own way, and then some, but the colleagues had let it fester so long that the whole thing had cemented in their heads as fact. If it had come up earlier, we could have sorted it out somehow, but I will forever be a guilty party to them now. Don’t do that to your coworkers.

    1. Allison*

      Good point! I hate when people let stuff like that fester. Use your words, have the conversation, and sort out the issue before it becomes a massive problem.

  12. Christina*

    Ugh, I just went through this, but I (stupidly) started the tab in my name at my own work farewell happy hour and ended up paying $40 out of my own pocket for my one beer. Though happily a price I’ll pay for leaving that job.

  13. Lauren*

    I just would not go to any place with a group, be they work colleagues or personal friends, that did not provide separate checks upon request. It saves so much trouble, especially if you make a point of handing the server your payment promptly. (I always take cash in small bills so I am not dependent on waiting for change.)

    1. Craig*

      This is so location dependent. Here in one of the most expensive cities in the US, splitting checks is just Not Done. Maybe 2 checks, but certainly not 5 or 10. We either split checks later, or never go out.

      1. Kate M*

        I’m not sure where you live, but I live in DC and visit NYC often, and have never had trouble splitting checks multiple ways. Maybe if you live in LA? But it would never occur to me that a restaurant wouldn’t split a check.

        1. Pumpkin scone*

          It all depends on the restaurant. I often go out with large groups at conferences and have had check splitting issues in Baltimore, Seattle, and Indianapolis.

  14. EvilQueenRegina*

    That brings back memories of Wakeen’s leaving meal at The Real Office where I used to work – when we came to settle up the bill, everyone had put in what they thought they owed, but we were still about £20 short and no one could understand why, but all put in a bit extra anyway. We eventually found out what had happened was that Philomena’s husband Bob had turned up late and ordered his meal after everyone else had started, he’d intended to pay separately but the restaurant added it on to everyone else’s. He only found out when he went to pay only to be told it had already been settled. Bob and Philomena were mortified when they found out what happened and they did reimburse everyone the next day.

  15. Julie*

    Here in Montreal, it’s pretty much par for the course for a waiter/tress to ask a large group whether they’re paying with separate bills, or just to assume that they are. I don’t remember the last time I had to figure out my portion of a group bill — I’m used to just getting my own.

    When I travel and this isn’t the case, it always weirds me out. I seems to me that it should just be obvious, but apparently that’s a cultural bias.

      1. Julie*

        Really? At least in all the restaurants and bars I’ve been to, it’s never been a problem. And I’ve been places with some pretty large groups.

        In fact, usually the default with large groups (again, here in Montreal) is to give everyone their individual cheque, and if some people want to pay together, they just give the multiple receipts to the server when they’re going to pay.

        1. Getting There*

          Same thing here in St. John’s, NL. Separate cheques are never a big deal no matter what size the group is.

    1. Astor*

      As far as I can tell, this is definitely a Canadian thing. Our Point of Sale/Service (POS) machines are often made so that you can designate items for each person, and even split an item across people. There are definitely places that do their transactions manually, which makes it harder work, but the expectations are completely different in any Canadian city I’ve been in than in any of the American city.

      Depending on your age and previous travel experience, you may remember the difficulties in using your debit card or to swipe a credit card (vs imprint) when you went to the US; years and years and years after it was mainstream here. Ditto with chip and PIN and tap-to-pay technology. This is basically just another example of the same issues.

      The POS software in the US (and other places in the world) are made by different companies than the Canadian ones. The companies that manage these software and hardware infrastructures are different, maintain different turnover times, but also have completely different priorities. So in Canada, you’re not going to succeed as a POS provider if you don’t make it easy for your servers to split their customers’ cheques. But in the US, there’s just no incentive to dedicate programming time to that.

  16. dragonzflame*

    So can’t you just go up and say, “I’m paying for two Cokes, the chicken, and the fish”?

    That’s how it tends to work in NZ…but then I guess nobody carries cash here. I’m not sure how separate checks work – I assume here it all goes on one and you can just pay off bits of it. Why won’t they let you do that? It saves so much hassle.

  17. harryv*

    I personally offer to pay on my credit card (yay for points) then bill everyone via Venmo later on. This only works if you have tech-savvy friends. Otherwise, it would be awkward.

  18. Hornswoggler*

    When I’ve had groups of students on a weekend course we used to run, we would go out for a curry on the Saturday evening. Before starting our meal I handed everyone a small printed form with space to record what they ordered (food and drinks), including the price, and a line at the bottom to add a tip. If they ordered more drinks or a dessert then they could add that as they went along. At the end, everyone added up theirs and paid. they could easily leave early and pay exactly what they owed before they left. I never, ever had to pay more than my own share.

  19. Devaney*

    Thanks for all the feedback. This was my situation and question. To answer a few things that have come up:

    1) one person doesn’t drink and, of course, paid a lower amount than the rest of us.
    2) it was not pre-arranged to pay for the guy who we were celebrating. However, when lower level employee was texting the 2 senior employees who left early, one of them said to not make the guy pay, but she hadn’t left enough to pitch in for him either, which added another layer of frustration.
    3) no I should not just cover it bc I’m a manager. There was another manager there and other senior level employees. (I did recently pay for this group to go out to dinner, btw)
    4) splitting checks is definitely regional. We’re in a large northeast city and many restaurants limit both how many checks can be made as well as how many cards can be used to pay on one bill. I am a former waitress who always wants to make things easy when paying, and not split on 8 cards all with different amounts.

    I agree that moving forward this needs to be addressed earlier than when the bill comes. I appreciate all the feedback!

  20. Catabouda*

    I have found that the people who yell the loudest to just split it all down the middle are the ones who get lobster while everyone else gets a chicken dish and/or the ones who are doing 50 year old scotch shots while everyone else has soda so that they can push their costs off onto others.

    1. JoJo*

      Then they have the gall to accuse you of being cheap when you don’t want to pay for their dinner.

  21. ComWom*

    OP, at least you have the mind to ask for money back– and that you have co-workers who realize that they came up short and will reimburse you.

    Back in grad school, we went out for a lab lunch to celebrate our lab manager’s birthday. About a dozen of us went for lunch, but after the cash and credit cards had been accounted for, we were $60 short on a $200 bill.

    Some people thought the lunch was free. Others thought it was heavily subsidized. The person next to me put in $5 for a $15 meal and didn’t bat an eye when asked if he had put in the correct amount. It took us an hour of awkward chatting to pay off the bill. I ended up putting down $25 for a $10 meal, and the birthday boy even put in $20 just to get out of there.

    No one spoke of what happened after. Needless to say, subsequent group lunches were held at fast casual restaurants so everyone would pay for their stuff up-front and individually.

  22. Tdub*

    I have a co-worker that never gives me enough money for her lunch order..It’s only by a dollar or two but when it’s everytime, it adds up! It’s so frustrating, how shpuld I handle it??

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      Tell her “that won’t be enough” and to give you more, and you’ll bring her change. She’s clearly working on memories of an old menu with lower prices.

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