The Art of Splitting a Check

Chances are you go out for a bite to eat with family or friends and often have to split the check. Poor communication can result in not only a hit to your wallet but also a damaged relationship. It is not a great situation to be in. But, even if you do discuss splitting the check, how do you go about it?

Take a situation where you have a night out with friends. One person suggests divvying up the check evenly to "be fair." However, out of the five friends you have dined with, three of them didn't drink and one of them didn't partake in the shared appetizers. So, how would you then "fairly" split that check? Below are some tips to help.

Tips for Splitting a Check

First of all, it is almost impossible to be entirely fair to all people. Vegetarian meals frequently cost less than meat dishes. And what about the individuals who only had a few beers while others indulged in $20 cocktails? These are things that can make it challenging to split the check "fairly." And, this is if you have even had the "splitting the check" conversation.

With that said, here are some tips for splitting a check:

  • Ask for Separate Checks. Before ordering, ask the server for separate checks. If the restaurant does not permit this, simply asking this question will let everybody else know you are wanting to split the bill and are willing to pay your part.
  • Discuss Before the Meal. Decide before the meal how the bill will be taken care of. Will drinkers pay for their own alcoholic beverages? What about appetizers? Remind everyone about taxes and the tip.
  • Be Subtle and Time Your Approach. If you have not had the conversation yet about splitting the check, find a subtle way of asking everyone to split the check when it arrives. This can involve simply asking everyone how they would prefer to pay for the bill (cash or credit card).
  • Take Turns Paying. If you dine out frequently with the same people, you can take turns paying.
  • Split the Bill Evenly. If nobody minds, you can agree in advance that the bill will just be split evenly. Perhaps you might make an agreement that anyone who orders alcoholic beverages or their own appetizers to pay for those themselves unless nobody has an issue with just splitting the bill.

Avoid Getting Shafted

Every once in a while, you will be with people who never seem to make an effort to pay. This could be a cheap college buddy or brother-in-law. In this case, it is a good idea to lay the ground rules down before going out. If they are continually making a habit of not paying, simply stop going out with that person or those people, and do other things with them instead.

Suppose it is a new person, and you are trying to be subtle about paying for the check. In that case, you can always ask them if they would like to stop at an ATM before hitting the restaurant, which basically tells them they're covering their own bill.

Apps That Help With Splitting Checks

Suppose you go out to eat with others regularly, and you experience "separate checks" anxiety. In that case, you might want to consider using an app that helps split the bill, such as:

  • Plates by Splitwise. This is a great app for almost anything. It is free for Android and iOS devices. It allows you to split all types of expenses from restaurants to groceries to utilities to repairs.
  • Tab. Tab is a simple app that takes a photo of the bill and allows you to assign split totals. You just pass around the phone and have each individual tap on their own expenses. The Tab app will then calculate each diner's total, including their share of tip and tax.
  • Billr. This app works similar to Tab where it calculates each individual's share of the bill, including the entree, dessert, drinks, and tip and tax.
  • Divvy. Also similar to Tab, Divvy scans the bill using optical character recognition (OCR) to read the line items. It then assigns each line item to each party member. It is an iOS-only app.
  • Venmo. Venmo is a popular app for everyday use. It is owned by PayPal now and is a simple-to-use app for money exchanging between friends for services and goods. You connect the app to your bank account.


When splitting the check, make sure it is done in a way that makes everyone feel comfortable. Establish a plan in the beginning before you go out. Consider using an app to simplify the process. Having everything planned like this before you go out will help ensure you have an excellent time out and your relationships stay intact.

Information presented in the Northwest Financial Wellness Center is provided for educational purposes only and is not related to actual Northwest products or services. Northwest makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness or specific suitability of any information presented. Information provided should not be relied on or interpreted as accounting, financial planning, investment, legal or tax advice. Northwest recommends you consult a professional for any specific guidance you are seeking.