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Splitting the Check

Thursday, June 6, 2013
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Dear Miriam,

I'm going to a bachelor party at an expensive restaurant, and I'm preparing myself for what happens when the check comes. I typically eat and drink a lot less than the other guests at such things, in part because I don't eat non-kosher meat, and vegetarian dishes usually cost less than what other people order. I'm happy to pay my share for the guest of honor, but I don't want to subsidize the other guests having a big night out. Is there anything polite I can say in advance to avoid overpaying and to avoid any awkwardness when the check arrives?

Signed,
Splitting the check


Dear Splitting,

My husband and I once went out to dinner with a large group, and he and I decided to split an entree. The restaurant was expensive, and we weren't that hungry, so it seemed like an obvious choice. Then the bill came. One person divided it among the number of people at the table and told us what we owed, and we ended up paying for a huge amount of food we hadn't ordered and didn't eat. I've been wary of split bills ever since. Unless it's a fixed price menu, everything costs about the same amount or you're at dinner with a bunch of millionaires, there's no reason to share a bill equally at a dinner among friends (family meals are a different story, and one that I'm not going to try to tackle here).

Before the party, contact the person planning the bachelor party and ask what the expectations are for paying for dinner. You can explain your concern from a personal standpoint if you know the coordinator and want to put yourself out there. You could also say that you think it's more equitable to everyone if each guest pays his own share, then offer to be the one to collect the money at the end of the evening. Once you get to the party, I think it's too late to state your case or to get out of the communal expectations. However, my husband suggests that an additional option is to plan to leave dinner early and, when you leave, put your share of the bill on the table before you go plus an additional amount to go towards the honoree's dinner. (He made some other suggestions that didn't make the cut.)

Granted, at the end of a bachelor party, no one wants to do a lot of math. I'd love to see an invitation for this kind of event include a price for dinner so that guests know what they're getting into. The coordinator could pre-select what items guests can choose from and how many drinks are included and collect money in advance. The calculation could overshoot the cost a bit, and the coordinator could put the overage towards other parts of the festivities. Though this seems like charging a cover for a personal party (because it is), it's a lot more honest than having your friends stuck with an unreasonable bill when there's nothing they can do since they've already eaten.

Your other option is not to attend. If you already know that the cost is likely to be more than you're comfortable spending, decline the dinner part of the evening and meet up with the group later, or stay away from the bachelor party altogether and arrange a separate opportunity to celebrate with your friend before his big day.  Attending friends' weddings has gotten increasingly expensive, and you're under no obligation to attend all of the corresponding events. 

Be well,
Miriam

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