The Fair Way to Split the Bill When Dining Out with Friends

December 10, 2023 | 7 minute read

Going out to eat with a group of friends is one of life's great pleasures. Good food, good company, and good memories made breaking bread together. However, once the plates have been cleared and the conversation starts to wind down, an unwelcome guest rears its ugly head: the check.

Splitting the restaurant bill evenly amongst your party might seem like the easy solution, but it often leads to resentment, annoyance, and general awkwardness around paying. Have you ever found yourself in this familiar and unpleasant scenario? The waiter places the check on the table and someone casually suggests “Let’s just split it evenly” without a second thought. Everyone throws in their credit card, the bill gets divided by the number of people, and checks get passed back while you begrudgingly sign.

But what about the fact that you decided to skip appetizers to save money? Or that one friend ordered multiple drinks while you stuck to water? And what about the expensive steak and lobster that your pal enjoyed while you opted for soup and salad to avoid busting your budget? Is it fair that you subsidize everyone else’s pricier choices?

There has to be a fairer system for covering the bill without causing problems among friends. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the common issues with splitting checks evenly and provide some simple solutions to make bill time smoother, more transparent, and fair for the whole group.

The Problems with Simply Dividing the Check Evenly

Splitting the check may seem like an easy solution, but this approach typically leads to a handful of issues:

Some people subsidize others – If the bill is divided evenly between a group, those who ordered less expensive meals or no alcohol end up covering costs for pricier items they didn’t consume. So their bill goes up while the big spenders get a discount.

People pay twice for shared dishes – Appetizers, sides, and other items shared for the table often mean that some people pay extra for the same food. If you split an appetizer with a friend but the total check is split evenly, you essentially pay for those items twice.

There’s pressure to order less – If you know the total bill will be evenly split no matter what, some people will order a cheaper meal and skip drinks, even if they’d prefer something different. This takes away enjoyment and freedom.

Issues often get brushed aside – In the name of convenience and avoiding discomfort, overpaying often gets brushed aside. But this bottles up resentment over having subsidized other’s choices and could lead to problems in your friendships later on.

Best Practices for Fairly Dividing the Check

While splitting the check evenly may seem like the path of least resistance, there are much fairer ways to handle the bill so everyone pays only for what they ordered. Here are some tips:

Ask for separate checks upfront – As you are being seated, request separate checks from your server. This sets clear expectations from the start for transparency.

Pay with cash - If you know your friends are likely to order much more than you and will probably suggest splitting the bill evenly, bring cash instead of putting your card down so you can pay for just what you had.

Use a check splitting app – Apps like Tab, Plates by Splitwise, and Easy Check Splitter make it a breeze to accurately divide food items ordered and take automatic tax and tip calculations out of your hands.

Calculate tax and tip individually – After totaling up each person's order value, don't forget to include proportional tax and tip. This keeps it fair vs adding these fees evenly across unequal orders or forgetting about them entirely.

Split shared items upfront – Before you dig into family-style appetizers or sides, clearly agree on who will cover each item or how they will be split.

Use payment apps – For bills with lots of alcohol or variances in order values, have one person pay and then everyone else can pay them back individually via Venmo, CashApp, or PayPal.

Being upfront about costs rather than hiding behind an arbitrary even split prevents sticker shock, anger at subsidizing others’ choices, and awkwardness between friends.

Practical Example: Calculating a Fair Split Among Friends

Navigating the complexities of splitting a restaurant bill can get messy when you take ordering differences, shared plates, tax, and tip into account. How do you handle it fairly? Let’s break down a full example with three friends—Alex, Jordan, and Taylor—to compare three different bill-splitting methods.

Meal Details

Alex: Salad ($20), 1/2 Shared dessert ($5 for half)
Jordan: Pasta ($25), Cocktail ($12), 1/2 Shared dessert ($5 for half)
Taylor: Steak ($40), Wine ($12)
All: Shared appetizer ($10)

Subtotal: $129
Tax: $10.32 (8% of the total bill)
Tip: $19.35 (15% of the total bill)
Total: $158.67

Method 1: Even Split

With the even split method, everyone just pays the total bill amount divided by the number of diners. Regardless of what they actually consumed, each friend puts down their cards and the server splits the bill evenly. This method is simple but not fair for those who ate less.

Alex: $158.67 / 3 = $52.89
Jordan: $158.67 / 3 = $52.89
Taylor: $158.67 / 3 = $52.89

Method 2: Paying Without Detailed Calculation

Another common method for splitting the bill is having one friend pay and having each person tally up what they ordered to pay them back. Then each friend can send money to the paying friend to cover their costs. This is getting closer to a fair deal, but still has some issues.

Let's say Taylor is picking up the tab, expecting to be paid back. Alex adds up their salad and half the dessert, and then pitches in a couple bucks to cover the shared appetizer. Jordan adds up their pasta, cocktail, and shared desert but forgets about the shared appetizer.

In this all too common situation, Taylor ends up paying more for the missed shared dishes, as well as the tax and tip that Alex and Jordan forgot to include in their calculations. This method leads to confusion and underpayment, as shared items and additional charges are overlooked.

Alex: $20 (Salad) + $5 (shared dessert) + $3 (shared app) = $28.00
Jordan: $25 (Pasta) + $12 (Cocktail) + $5 (shared dessert) = $42.00
Taylor: Remaining balance: $158.67 - $28 (Alex paid) - $42 (Jordan paid) = $88.67

Method 3: Assigning Items and Fairly Calculating (Recommended)

With the third method, everyone is responsible for paying for what they ate. To do this you simply note who consumed which item and tally up their subtotal. If an item was shared, add a proportional amount to each person's subtotal. For example, Alex and Jordan split a dessert so each should add 50% of the dessert cost to their subtotal.

Next once all the items are properly accounted for, calculate the tax and tip individually on each person's subtotal. You can either use the percentages directly, or if you just have the dollar amounts, divide each person's subtotal by the overall subtotal for all items. Then use this percent and multiply it by the tax and tip dollar amounts.

Again, one person can pay and then have others pay them back based on the calculated totals. This is the fairest method. Everyone pays for what they consumed, including a proportional share of shared items, tax, and tip. First start by calculating each person's subtotal:

Alex: $20 (Salad) + $5 (shared dessert) + $3.33 (shared app) = $28.33
Jordan: $25 (Pasta) + $12 (Cocktail) + $5 (shared dessert) + $3.33 (shared app) = $45.33
Taylor: $40 (Steak) + $12 (Wine) + $3.33 (shared app) = $55.33

Next calculate the tax and tip each person owes based on their own subtotal.

Alex: $28.33 x 1.23 = $34.85
Jordan: $45.33 x 1.23 = $55.76
Taylor: $55.33 x 1.23 = $68.06

Note: 1.23 = 8% tax + 15% tip

OR: If you only have the dollar amounts, use the subtotal percentage to work backwards instead:

Alex: ($28.33 / $129) = 22.0% of bill subtotal
Jordan: ($45.33 / $129) = 35.1% of bill subtotal
Taylor: ($55.33 / $129) = 42.9% of bill subtotal

Alex: (22.0% x $29.67) + 28.33 = $34.85
Jordan: (35.1% x $29.67) + 45.33 = $55.76
Taylor: (42.9% x $29.67) + 55.33 = $68.06

Note: $29.67 = $10.32 (8% tax) + $19.35 (15% tip)

While this detailed method takes a bit more effort, this approach makes sure Alex isn’t overpaying since they ordered less, while Taylor covers their pricier choices. The splitting of the appetizer and dessert gets factored in as well, and the tax and tip are distributed proportionately.

Getting into this level of detail may seem nitpicky. But when bills, ordering choices, and budgets vary widely within a group, it goes a long way toward preventing resentment and awkwardness down the road.

Make Splitting the Bill Simple with the Easy Check Splitter

Instead of passing around calculators and doing tedious math at the table, simplify the process with the Easy Check Splitter! Just enter the items ordered and who had what and it handles the math for you! Take a look at how this example would look in the calculator!

The calculator keeps things fair by factoring in:

  • Cost per item
  • Shared plates split by multiple people
  • Tax and tip calculated only on each person's subtotal
  • Adjustments for helping cover someone's meal

Next time you head out to eat with friends, be sure to try out the FREE Easy Check Splitter. It makes dividing the bill simple, fast, and equitable for the entire table. Never dread splitting the check again!


This is a freely available tool to help you and your friends split a restaurant check fairly. This tool is provided as-is and I am not liable for any miscalculations or friend squabbles. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out.

Do you have a feature request or a request for another easy tool? Let me know!

Created by Keshia Rose

Copyright © 2023 Keshia Rose. All rights reserved.

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