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Wednesday, July 14, 2004

How to split a check. I've had this discussion with other F.O.G. on a number of occasions because we've all been there. You're out with a large group. People in the group have differing degrees of familiarity with each other. Some are having drinks, others are enjoying the bargain of the free refill on soda/coffee/tea. The server comes with the check, sets it down on the table, and there it lays. The check might as well be an armadillo with leprosy because nobody dares pick up the check. Everyone continues to chat while ignoring the 400 pound gorilla in the room. Inevitably, someone will pick up the bill and look it over as if it is written in ancient sanskrit before passing it off clockwise.

This is where it gets dicey. The simple solution, and the solution most often suggested by someone who has been drinking the expensive cocktails, is to simply divide the check equally. This method is suitable under a few limited circumstances: 1)This method was predetermined going into the meal (that never happens); 2)Everyone at the table is very good friends with all the others and prefers to keep things simple; 3)Everyone is incredibly wealthy.

But since we are discussing a situation that does not meet circumstances #1 or #2, and circumstance #3 doesn't apply to my circle of friends, we must consider alternative measures. Because in this situation, if the check is divided evenly among everyone, the non-drinkers end up subsidizing the drinkers' beverage consumption. And I don't subscribe to that brand of socialism.

I suggest here two simple strategies for dealing with the check to ensure that the bill is covered as well as leaving a respectable tip:

Strategy #1: Each person kicks in what they believe to be their share of the bill. Once everyone has put in their money, figure out the difference between what is owed and what you have. If the amount on hand exceeds a 20% tip, then evenly distribute the surplus among the group (unless the service was impeccable, such as the service I would have provided at the Ground Round, in which case you just leave the surplus for that poor sap living without health insurance). But, as we can all attest, this tends not to be the case. So to cover the difference, evenly divide the amount needed among everyone in the group. Problem solved.

Strategy #2: Use this simple formula to figure out how much each person owes.
[(Food Total + Tax + 20% Tip)/(# in group)] + (Individual Drink Total) = Indiv.Amt.
If there is still a deficit or a surplus, split it evenly.

If properly employed, these techniques can help to minimize the amount of time awkwardly throwing dollar bills around the table while trying to come up with the correct amount. Each strategy has its benefits but both should prevent any one person from getting stuck paying an amount several times what they actually owe due to others being oblivious that their 7 apple martinis account for 1/4 of the bill.

Why do I care so much about this? Is it because I'm a stingy penny-pincher who can't just take it easy? No. Is it because I'm a spiteful person? I am. But no. It is because the group check-split is one of the things in this world that separates the self-aware and the non-self-aware. The people who use a turn-signal, and the people who don't. The people who turn off their cellphone in the theater, and the people answer theirs during the movie. The people who ask a roommate for saltines when their date is getting sick in the bathroom, and the people who ask their roommate for saltines and a condom*. Me and you from everyone else. (* True story)

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