Paying for the Dinner Party

by admin on May 15, 2010

Paying Etiquette for Dinner Party

At most dinner parties held at a restaurant, there is the awkward moment when the check arrives. We are talking about a group of 10 or more people where separate checks is not an option, the bill is substantial and each person would prefer not to be the one making the decision on how it should be paid. The waiter will pick some unlucky person to give the check to or just place it in the center of the table. Now the dreaded moment comes on determining how to pay the bill.

dinner party
There are 3 solutions to paying the bill. One is to have each person review the check, determine what they owe and pay that amount, then pass the check to the next person. As the group exceeds 5 people, this can be time consuming, some people will want to calculate what they owe to the exact amount only to forget to include something like the tax or the tip.

Option two is to split, one person to take the responsibility to review the check total, add in the tip and divide by the number of people attending with an announcement that everyone pays the same amount. This is simple and usually used among friends, especially if the same group meets for dinner often.

The third option would be for one person to pick-up the full tab and be done with it. This only works when this person actually did the inviting and organizing of the party. This is usually for a special event like a birthday, anniversary or promotion celebration.


There are several things that can make this moment even more awkward.

  1. A few of the guests have the expensive course with several drinks.
  2. Not everyone knows each other so it is difficult to know how others feel.
  3. It’s a dinner with business associates but this was not an actual business dinner.

In any of these cases, it is easy to predict how people can react. If the check was evenly split, some people would refuse to pay more than what they owe or complain about it later. And if not evenly split and each person calculates what they owe, what happens when the total money provided is less than the total bill? People should understand that when you accept an invitation to a dinner party, that it is not too unusual to pay more than what you actually owe, this is especially true for something like a birthday party where you should pay extra for the honored guest.

Here are a few guidelines or un-spoken rules that can be followed:

  • Split the check evenly when possible. This is the simplest.
  • If some people want to calculate their own payment, be patient and if the total received is less then due, look to them first for more money.
  • Each individual should only order a reasonably priced meal or on par with what others are ordering. If they do have a more costly meal then the others, they should add extra money in their payment and make this known when they do so. You can bet others will be paying attention.
  • If the check comes with a separate bar bill, this can also be split by just the people who had the drinks from the bar. So the total check is actually split twice, once for the main meal where all contribute and once for the bar tab where only the one’s ordering from the bar contribute.
  • Never organize and invite guests to a dinner party you can’t afford.

If this dinner is for a special event like a birthday, anniversary, retirement, or shower party, then someone other than the celebrated person or persons organized the event. In this case, this person who invited the guests should be willing and expect to pay. This is especially true if not ordering off of a menu but served what the organizer setup. The guests should try to donate money to this person to help offset their expenses but you should not expect it. You have to plan on going it alone. This may mean that either you ask family member or a friend to be a co-host or plan the number of guests, the location and menu carefully. The honored guests should not have to pay.

Then there are the people who are low on cash and must pay by credit card. This can be handled in two ways. First just tell the waiter to put your split on your card. Second you can collect the cash from everyone else and use your credit card to pay for the total check, easier on the waiter. However your spouse may wonder why the large charge!

Similar to this is when you have several people with only large bills and there is not enough change in the cash pile to break the larger bills. This can be easily handled by going directly to the casher earlier in the meal, many times a bartender, and getting the larger bill exchanged for smaller bills. Don’t make the waitress make an extra trip just to break your large bill, do it yourself.

The bottom line is to not agonize over the bill, just be prepared and have a great time. It can be hard to put a price on having fun with friends and family.

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