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Why restaurants love it when you split the check

People tend to eat more lavishly when the bill is divided evenly among diners.

By MSN Money Partner Mar 28, 2014 1:53PM

This post comes from Krystal Steinmetz at partner site Money Talks News.

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyYou and your friends are eating out and you plan to divide the tab evenly. Now you're faced with a dilemma. Do you splurge at the expense of your friend's pocketbook, or do you eat light, knowing you're going to end up paying for your friend's lavish meal?

This seemingly innocuous event has caused enough consternation that a group of three scientists actually performed field experiments to see how unscrupulous people really are.

Paying a restaurant bill with a credit card © Tetra Images, Corbis According to, the experiment went a little like this: A group of strangers gather to eat at a restaurant. The participants are each told how they will pay for their meal. Some will pay individually, some are told they will split the check, and the remaining people are told that the meal will be free.

The diners then ordered their meals without anyone else seeing what they had chosen.

The results of the dining experience are described by

To no one's surprise, the people who paid individually were the most frugal, the people getting the free lunch were most extravagant, and the people who split the bill were in the middle, and therefore slightly unscrupulous.

Some diners were then told that they would have to pay just one-sixth of the cost of their individual meal. There was no difference between what those diners ate compared to those who were told they had to split the bill evenly, according to

The 1/6th diners paid just about what the split-pay people did. So it seems we just like a good cheap lunch, no matter who it's coming from.

The study, entitled "The Inefficiency of Splitting the Bill," (.pdf file) also found that 80 percent of people would prefer to pay their individual bill rather than splitting it.

My husband and I went out to dinner one night with another couple and when it was time to pay the bill, the other couple told the waitress that we would just split it. Normally, I wouldn't think too much about it. But I was pregnant at the time, so I had been drinking water all night, while my husband and our friends drank several alcoholic beverages, none of which were cheap.

We definitely ended up paying way more than our fair share that night.

So, the next time you eat out with friends or family, think twice before agreeing to split the bill evenly. You might end up with the short end of the stick, and a much lighter wallet.

Have you been in the uncomfortable position of splitting a bill with friends before?

More on Money Talks News:

Mar 28, 2014 5:06PM
Mar 28, 2014 5:25PM

In this day and age, it is not difficult to tell the server at the beginning of the meal that separate checks will be the choice of payment. I don't feel a need to buy friends their dinner. And I don't let friends buy me dinner unless it is my birthday. I take my parents our for their birthdays and other times and I don't care what they order. They only order what they would if they were paying their own bill.

So what's the big deal people? Order separate checks and pay your own bill. Let those who over indulge do so. And let them pay their way. Splitting checks hardly ever comes out fair any more. Often times, people cheat their way through the bill and there's nothing left for the tip. Let's all be responsibe for ourselves.

Mar 28, 2014 5:32PM
Separate checks is the fairest method.  It frees everybody to order what they want without the concern that you might be taking advantage of your dining companions or they you.
Mar 28, 2014 3:22PM
Just plain human nature.  This also explains why politicians buy votes with taxpayers money.  Vote buying works.  Many people are more than willing to vote for someone in exchange for the express promise of free stuff., whether it is welfare or special tax treatment.
Mar 28, 2014 4:58PM
I guess my Catholic-Jewish upbringing guilt complex makes me different.  When my friend is paying, I never order anything fancier than he or she is having.       I like 'pay your own way' best.
A couple of years ago, my husband and I were stung by my own brother.   We got together at a particular resort once a year, and it was our turn to pay.   Because economic times were a bit stressful, we were frugal.   But not only did my brother order a high priced meal, but he also ordered 100 dollar plus bottle of wine, (unbeknownst to us).  We had plenty of cash on us for a nice, even a bit fancy meal, but when the check came for over $500, we panicked.  Fortunately, we had the credit card with us.   It was a very unpleasant and painful surprise.  My brother apologized for the expense of the wine, but he did not offer to pay anything.      
Mar 28, 2014 5:56PM
"Splitting the check" to me means that all parties put in what they think is fair based on what they ordered.  I would never suggest to someone that I would split the check and then think that would mean that I could eat more than the other person.  

Most of the time, in my many decades of going out to dinner with friends, we are all putting in TOO much and trying to figure out who should get money back.  It's very common that at the end of the meal one of us will say, "Here's $2 back.. You put in too much."  And the other person will insist they did not put too much in and should not get the $2 back.

Perhaps I just have better friends than the average person.        
Mar 28, 2014 5:17PM
I try to avoid eating out with a group of people specifically because of the fact that I have issues with how people split the check. One time a girl had the bright (meaning dumb) idea to split the tax evenly. Sorry to say, but tax is a percentage and not a flat rate. I live in Chicago so 10% on a $9 item is $0.90 so why are you telling me that I owe $13 for my share of the bill??? There's no way in hell that I should pay an additional $4 (44% the cost of my lone item) just because you have no concept as to how to calculate tax. I also don't like going out with a group of people who make the lone decision to order items willy nilly for the table. When I go out to eat I have a set budget in my mind, which means I assess whether or not I can get an appetizer, have a drink with my meal and treat myself to dessert, all including tax and tip. I have gone out to eat with a group having a $60 budget in mind, and by the time they just ordered whatever the hell they wanted for the table then telling everyone we had to split the check evenly, I was out $100. NOT cool with me AT ALL.
Mar 28, 2014 5:00PM

I will never split the bill "evenly" as it is never even compared to what you eat and in my mind will never be "fair". I will pay for my portion and that's it. The only time I will pay for someone else's meal is if I have invited them out and told them in advance that I am treating them. And when someone treats me I might pick something a bit more pricey than normal but I'm not going to order any of the top end items unless my host insists. And I always drink water when going out unless it is a special night and then I'll celebrate with an adult beverage of some sort, but only one.


Mar 28, 2014 5:31PM
Recently I went out to lunch with three colleagues.  Fool that I am, I thought that we would each be paying for just our own.  I ordered a very inexpensive lunch with water.  They each had more expensive lunches with drinks.  When the check came, one of my colleagues split the check into three, collected equal amount of cash from two of us and then put it on her credit card.  That won't happen again!
Mar 28, 2014 6:02PM
When my friends and I say "split the bill" we never end up splitting evenly.  The folks who spent more always put in more, or cover the tip.  I guess we're just a little more honest than most?
Mar 28, 2014 6:33PM
I always tell the waiter at the start that I ( speaking for myself ) that I  would like to have a separate check. I want to be free to drink what ever I want and eat what ever I want. The thing is I love martinis, but am vegetarian. So I drink a lot ( don't drive ) but eat little. I never want anyone else at the table panicking when I order expensive martinis!. So they can then enjoy their meal without worrying about what I am ordering, and not think they have to subsidize my check.
Mar 28, 2014 5:03PM
When I dine with a certain couple and we split the bill down the middle, there is no question but that they over order - it may be the only time of the year that they order lobster and an inordinate number of appetizers.  It just "comes with the territory" and if I secretly object it's my problem - because I know what will and does happen every time.  No one is making me go to dinner with them.
Mar 28, 2014 5:50PM
If I invite anyone out for a meal,I pay.Before I retired when we went to lunch as a group,we always had seperate checks.One guy came up with a novel idea though,He passed the hat for the tip,usually everyone put a little something in the hat waitpersons seemed to think it was a good idea,usually got a better tip,but we always were welcome and got excellent service.
Mar 28, 2014 5:34PM
My BF will usually pick up the tab for everyone at our table.  Drives me nuts sometimes.  I think it's great that he's so giving, but I'd really like to start saving for our next trip, the house remodel, or for the next car.  It's not cheap to always pick up the tab.
Mar 28, 2014 5:50PM
If I invite I pay for all no matter what they order. Knowing the people you do this for makes a big difference. I've also had occasions where I paid half the tab because I knew that some in the group were struggling and could not really afford there share. I've always believed I am my brothers keeper. That being said 90 percent of my inner ring is family and dear friends. My father always told me if you cant give it away never lend it. So never put yourself in any situation that may cause you undo stress, especially with family and friends. Opting out is always a choice. 
Mar 28, 2014 5:26PM
Yes, I have two very wealthy friends that order very lavishly, the wife leaves most of her meal , he drinks many of the most expensive drinks and then we split the bill and he insists on leaving a huge tip.  Once with six of us, four of us paid over $100 per couple and the four of us had hamburgers and a couple of inexpensive beers.  Luckily we only see them every few years as they live far away.
Mar 28, 2014 5:17PM
It's the verbiage to use at the restaurant when wanting to pay - if you want to pay just your share, ask for 'separate checks' when you order not at the end.  Splitting the check simply means two separate forms of payment, split right up the middle.  It's that simple.
Mar 29, 2014 8:14AM
I was with a group and carefully watched what I ordered while at least six others were ordering and downing martini like there was no tommorrow. I sat back and thought, hmm hmmm, they must have plenty to cash to spare because these don't really come cheap. A couple of hours later, the bill came and those persons were the first to proclaim that the bill would be split among the group. I saw others look around a bit concerned but none said anything. Well since I do value my hard earned pennies and do speak up when I need too even when it may not be welcomed by a few, I told the waiter that I wanted a separate bill. Offocourse the six were not pleased.  I insisted and got my own bill. Some others in the group followed suit. My advice to persons is to always ask for separate bills even when the free-loader friend/s frown. I have no problem treating anyone to a meal but does not like to be cornered into doing so.
Mar 28, 2014 7:33PM
Years ago, a bunch of us would go to a little bar after work. To make things equitable, everyone threw $5 in the "kitty" to pay for drinks and tip. When the kitty was empty, everyone anted up again. Remember, this was years ago, when drinks were much cheaper than today. Anyway, that sounds like a fair way to do it but it wasn't. I never drank anything but domestic beer. Some others drank imported beers, cocktails with little umbrellas, double shots of brand name scotch, etc. I mentioned my displeasure at the procedure not being equitable and the heavy drinkers just laughed it off. Needless to say, I stopped going to the Friday Happy Hour gathering.
Mar 28, 2014 6:07PM
Just make sure that BEFORE you order you ask the server to split the bill; it's much easier for them to calculate the individual meals that way. 
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