Splitting Dinner Checks is Awkward. Here’s the Classy Way to Do It Fairly

Splitting checks
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Etiquette is the most fun, isn’t it?

Figuring out which fork to use for your salad, on which side of the plate to place your wine glass, and when you are or are not supposed to wear a hat…

People take classes to learn this stuff.


Maybe my millennial self is just too focused on bigotry in our lawmakers and unfair pay practices in the workplace to be concerned with the niceties of fork choice.

Or maybe I’m just irreverent.

Either way, when it comes to the question of whether it’s polite to talk about money, I err on the side of I need to protect my freakin’ wallet, so YEAH, I’m gonna bring it up.

Never is this issue more awkward than when you join friends for dinner.

Did the organizer imply they’d foot the bill? Can you afford anything at the restaurant someone else chose? Will you split it evenly… even if you don’t get an appetizer and two glasses of wine like Sheila?

(Seriously, Sheila, it’s noon on a Wednesday.)

To, ostensibly, make the situation less uncomfortable — and help you save money — “Food & Wine” magazine recently shared some advice for telling your friends you only want to pay for what you order.

I think the tips are just awful.

What Not to Say to Get Out of Splitting Checks at Restaurants

National etiquette expert Diane Gottsman suggests to “Food & Wine” readers, “Say, I’d love to join you, but I’m not the wine lover you are so I’m going to order separately.”

I don’t know, sounds a little judgey to me…

Another expert, Annette Harris makes a seemingly-reasonable suggestion: Let your friends know you’re on a tight budget before you order. But she follows up with the less reasonable assertion that you shouldn’t do this if you’re with your co-workers.

Because when it’s a work dinner, your bank account magically expands, right?

Certainly the worst piece of advice comes from Gottsman.

“If you want to be discreet, call the restaurant in advance and ask the hostess if she could ask your server to split the check with your co-diner or diners,” she suggests.

Oh my goodness.

That sound you just heard is the collective gasp — followed by fits of laughter — from every restaurant host and server ever.

(Followed by the tsks of those of us who can’t help but notice the gendered language… there’s my millennial showing.)

“Lastly, of course,” the magazine adds, “you have an option to be a straight-shooter.”

Lastly? Let’s kick that one up to the top of the list.

What You Should Say to Get Out of Splitting the Check

A quick Penny Hoarder counter to this advice: You’re responsible for what’s in your wallet. If you’re on a tight budget, spending time with friends, family or co-workers shouldn’t break you.

But I’ve been in your shoes.

Someone says, “We should get together!” You’re like, “Absolutely!” And they’re like, “How about that Italian place on 4th?”

And you’re like… *scrolls through Yelp and sees four dollar signs*. Gulp. “Um, sure?” Then you convince yourself the $8.95 side salad will be plenty of food.

Don’t settle for a side salad.

Here are a few tips to keep you from blowing your budget on a check split you never saw coming.

1. Pick the Restaurant Yourself

Take control of the situation up front, and suggest a restaurant you can afford. This will keep you from stressing about the check altogether and let you enjoy your meal — and your friends.

If you’re low on discretionary income for the month, suggest coffee or even a free activity like taking a walk instead.

2. Get Cash Back for Your Meal

If you’re determined to avoid a money conversation, try these tricks for getting money back after you pay.

  • Download Ibotta, an app that gives you rebates for shopping in tons of categories, including restaurants and bars. Just choose your rebates in advance, and snap a picture of your receipt when you get home.
  • Pay through the Subtotal app (for iOS or Android) to earn up to 10% cash back at more than 70 restaurants.
  • Pay with a cash-back credit card. Offers vary, but these give you cash or rewards for the money you spend.

3. Actually Be a Straight Shooter

Seriously, though, be honest with your friends, family or coworkers.

Everyone deals with money. While your situation might feel unique, they probably understand what it’s like to work within a budget.

Don’t insult their wine habit. Don’t pretend you can afford something you can’t. And, for the love of everything holy, do not ask the restaurant to accommodate your insecurities.

Simply inform your co-diners you want separate checks. Use the old standby: “Let’s go Dutch.”

You don’t owe anyone an explanation for your financial situation. If they ask, just tell them you took etiquette lessons from The Penny Hoarder.

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).