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Splitting the Check in Restaurants: Why is it So Hard

A gal sitting about four feet away from me is pissed off at restaurants. She frequently dines out with a pack of friends. They are continually frustrated by restaurants that refuse to split the bill for them. Case one: Her party of 11 at Trece. “We were told they would not split the check because they don’t have the software,” she says. “And to install the software it would cost $45,000.” Huh? Seriously? “It also happened to me at Charlie Palmer on New Year’s Eve,” she says. “They would do it four and four but not four transactions of two.”

In both cases they asked the waiter ahead of time. Why this ticks off my friend is that she doesn’t drink so when the bill gets divided by the table, she ends up paying more than her fair share.

Anybody else out there have this problem? Sounds like it’s a pain in the sass for both sides. Let’s discuss.

  • Astrid

    Shouldn’t your title read “Splitting the check…” ?

  • KellyK

    This always aggrivated me when I was a waitress….really you both ordered the same dish and water…you really need two seperate checks!? It’s also very time consuming even with the correct software…I never get upset about it now. I know how much my meal was and I know how much my drinks were and I can add so I just say put $XX.XX on this card. It’s not a big deal to me personally.

  • DMBurrows

    How can you charge $45K for a ‘divide button’?

    I’ve been in dive cafes where they split checks for our lunch parties without even being asked to do so. Back in the day when I worked at Chili’s, I made more tip money when I did split checks for lunch guests.

    High-end restaurants are supposed to be more service oriented and this is just one feature of better customer service.

    Oh, and it reads “Spitting” in the headline. Freudian foodie slip.

  • yvonne crum

    Nancy had to laugh as I am not a typist.. Spitting the check and Splitting the check is another matter.. Ha..

    Seriously .. the waiter always comes out ahead.. We go to Cafe Pacific every saturday and all the do is give the CC’s say add 20% and split.. 6 ways..

    Mark loves it and they are so kind about it.. and we are happy.. and the fact that some drink and some don’t (not our group) it always out that we spend about the same.. because some get salads and some entrees .. so it usually comes out in the long run..

    the restaurant get return customers.. and the waiter is happy.

  • Nancy Nichols

    yes i know sorry. i only have one hand to type with and, well, i screwed up.

  • Buckeye

    I thought it was accepted as fact that servers made more money when they divided up the check, no? Also, your friend should just start drinking – that way there’s no problem.

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  • VM

    I haven’t waited tables since the 70s (Magic Pan!) and I’m sure things have changed, but the real reason the waiter doesn’t want to do it because it is a hassle. If you turn in four separate orders the food won’t necessarily come out together. And what do you do with the two appetizers the table of five ordered, charge each person 20% of appetizer price? I’ve never had anyone refuse to put the check on multiple cards, even if you ask for one to be charged more or less than the others.

  • Krista Nightengale

    Hi, there. I’m the teetotaling friend. It’s true, restaurants do not have a problem putting different amounts on cards. But here’s the thing: you have 11 people, all different orders. You pass the bill around the table and people write on the back the last name on the card and the total amount. You have to divide tax and tip. Then when the bill gets all the way around, inevitably, it’s off. And by off, I mean it’s under. So then the person who started the chain is now so frustrated (Because, come on, it’s math. It takes forever to figure all that out.) that they just say, “I’ll cover the last $15.”
    My group has no problems laying claim to appetizers or anything that was split with the table. All we want is for a waiter to take what each couple ordered and charge us for that. Some are great with doing it. The other night, we went to Fedora, and the waiter asked at the front how we’d like it split. But other times I’ve been told that they’ll do it only “if they have time.” And then that time at Trece, I was flat-out told no.
    We now pick our restaurants based on whether or not they’ll split the checks. Unfortunately, it’s just too much of a hassle to go back to Trece.

  • John

    Splitting checks is a hassle and, in a busy house, will doubtless slow down service. The real problem here is that the folks in these groups don’t much trust one or more of their number — they want the checks split for them so they can avoid getting taken by the guy/gal who orders appetizer, entree, dessert and four drinks and then proposes to split the tab evenly. The better solution is to stop sharing meals with the guy/gal who consistently takes advantage.

  • Darren

    What about the restaurant in Oak Cliff that will only accept a max of 4 cards per check? My friends and I stopped going there in large groups because of that.

  • mhassett03

    I hate asking so much that I often pick up the tab, hoping in the long run it makes its way back to me.

    I’m still waiting.

  • Let’s be honest

    What about those of us who need to use 3 different credit cards to cover our share?

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  • Cara

    I will speak for the restaurants since I have waited tables for a number of years and spent a few years as a restaurant manager. It takes aproximately 30 to 90 seconds to process a credit card on one of your older POS systems. Many restaurant owners are loyal to certain brands and vendors so will keep using much older POS with much older ‘software’, The Trece waiter was being completely honest. To get newer POS and software can definitely be $45,000+. If a waiter is at the computer trying to process 11 separate checks; this is going to be a minimum of 12 minutes, possibly up to 20-25 minutes b/c they also have to make sure the right person is being charged the right amount. Some split functions require a management approval code, too. I am not wealthy but when I go out with friends/family, I expect to split the tab evenly. I am not a drinker, either. But I always get an appetizer and dessert to even it out. But if you don’t want to get stuck paying for more than you ordered, don’t go. Aren’t these people your friends and family? I hope I don’t sound harsh but it truly makes a restaurant look bad when they are taking such a long time to split your checks, takes them away from their other tables, and then they usually get tipped poorly because the guests are pissed that it took so long. It really is more of a headache for everyone. If you go out, just split the tab or be honest with the amount you owe. By the way; if you are going to claim $50 of the bill, please put 20% of the subtotal in the gratuity line. Many older POS systems will not recognize tips when it’s processed in the total. More times than any; the waiter ends up with much less of a tip and had to do 3 times the work to split the checks and keep it all organized.

  • snootyfoodie

    Solution – credit card roulette.

  • Smith

    We dine out most Friday nights with three other couples at moderate to fine dining establishments and always request to receive one check per couple. I am always amazed when the waiter looks at me like I have just asked for one of his/her vital organs. News flash – you are in the SERVICE industry. I may be reaching here but I expect that when I am going out and spending $80 on dinner and anywhere from $60 to $150 on drinks that all reasonable requests will be accommodated by the staff because we have no desire to divide up a $700 bill four ways. There is no excuse for a waiter not to provide this service and it is said waiter’s tip that usually suffers when the service is not provided. I understand it may take a little longer but you are being compensated by the $45 tip that I am expected to leave on my $200 check and if choose not to provide the service don’t be surprised when I choose to reduce your compensation.

  • luniz

    refusing to split the check = bad service.

  • bluebird

    any group dining experience, just split it equally and move on. i never eat my fair share and i accept that i’m always going to get stiffed, just for the sheer joy of eating out with a group. (and that’s why i don’t eat out with big groups anymore.) it doesn’t seem fair to make the server be the enforcer

  • distressed diner

    Went to Mercury last week and had this same exact problem. There were 10 of us and the waiter told us that he couldn’t split the check. His service was terrible (and so was the food but that’s for another post). There were so many issues trying to split the check and no matter what we did, we couldn’t get it to work out. After 20 minutes, he came back with a split check. Awful service and awful food- would never ever go back.

    If restaurants don’t want to split checks then say so on the menu or tell people before they get there.

  • Mark

    Solution… bring cash and stop being such a tightwad… Seriously, I don’t associate on a personal basis with anyone who busts out a calculator, or state their lack of a soda in the bill paying process at a restaurant.

    If someone is a picky little bitch about an $15 dollar tab at a restaurant, they don’t have enough going on in their lives and they are guaranteed to bug the shit out of me.

  • AMB

    Bravo Mark!I have to say I agree to an extent of the comment above. To add to that seriously why would you dine out with someone that you are worried that you might pay five bucks for. Next time it may work in your favor. One other thing the next time there are just two of you and you are stuck behind the table of eleven that wants separate checks be kind and do not complain about the slower service.

  • Willie

    Be adults and figure out the bill. If you come up short, most groups will keep throwing in cash till you get it. I find it completely humiliating if someone in my group asks for separate checks, it is LC!

    If you go out with a group that can’t split the bill fairly, find a new group.

  • Anon

    Lol…its not hard to split a check at all. I was a waiter for a long time. As long as the restaurant has a POS system (and 99% of places do), really all you have to do is drag and drop the items onto the appropriate check. It’s really very easy.

    The hardest part is keeping track of who had what and who is together, but if the table tells you ahead of time they are splitting there are ways to keep track…

    Any server that complains about this is probably either lazy or just too stupid to figure it out. Sorry–fact.

  • JTT

    “John” and “Mark” are 100% correct. You can’t blame the restaurant or the server and yes, POS systems really do cost a fortune. (It’s highway robbery)

    Seriously, get better friends who won’t take advantage of you. It’s not the restaurants fault that you have unscrupulous friends who trick you into paying for their 3 pina coladas and an osso bucco compared to your taco plate and beer. (I have obviously been a victim swindler-“friends” in the past). Don’t get mad at your server for not figuring out who owes what; do the math and tell your crooked friends that they should pay $50 to your $20 instead of $35 and $35.
    Or you should show good moral, responsible character when dining with friends. When I do split the tab with a friend, I make sure to tell the friend: “let me grab the tip since I had an extra cocktail” or I make sure that they don’t pay for my ribeye and wine when they ordered a steak sandwich and coke.

  • linus

    If a diner has a special dining request, like gluten free or no dairy, that request should be communicated at the time of the order. If that diner waits until the food is placed in front of them to alert the staff of their special needs, then there will be several problems that need to be addressed on-the-fly.
    Splitting a check, especially for large groups, is a special request. If that request is made at the time the order is being placed, many time consuming issues will be avoided.

  • Charm Offensive

    I am with the others here who put the onus on the server. To not split checks is lazy on the part of the waiter. Period. Yes, I waited tables in the not too distant past.

  • cp

    Seriously people, how hard is all this terrible math?? Geez, it’s just not all that hard to remember that you had an entree for $20 and three drinks at $5 apiece. It’s not like the restaurants are somehow tricking you by not showing prices in the menus! If when you pass the tab around and it comes up short, pass it around again. Or do what I always do and designate the one person with the best head for math to do the calculating. Out of 11 people, surely *someone* in the group possesses a capacity to do some simple calculations. Really, it’s not rocket science and yeah, the onus is on YOU, the customer, to figure out what you owe.

  • bb641

    This has irked me for years – the guy that orders steak, drinks, appetizers, dessert while I have pasta and a Coke and then proposes an equal split. So I did something about it. I wrote an iPhone application that takes care of the splitting for me. (It’s available in Apple’s App store.) It takes a few minutes to get all the items entered, but it makes an accurate split, assigning the correct percentage of tip and tax.

    Ironically, when dining with our customary crowd now, my total is usually the highest. Lesson: it all evens out in the end (although that may take decades.)

  • bb641

    Yvonne Crum – I’m happy to hear that the Cafe Pacific is still going. It was my favorite restaurant years ago when I business travelled. I used to make up reasons why I just had to go to Dallas…

  • Adamundo

    36 years in the business, at all levels and positions. Very simple here: no split check = lazy server. Tell the owner/manager, and don’t go back. There are far too many choices in DFW to deal with inferior service.

  • Brandy

    well what’s the name of the app, bb641?

  • bb641

    I thought you’d never ask. 😉 The name of the app is You Owe… and here are 4 promo codes to use to get it for free:


    Each code only works once, so when they’re gone, they’re gone.To redeem a code from your phone, launch the App Store, select ‘Featured’ tab and scroll down for Redeem option, enter code and hit redeem.

  • Culinary Instructor

    I have rarely seen so much misinformation in a single post response.

    First, Trece is NOT old enough to have the type of dated POS software that can’t split checks easily and effectively.

    Second, a modern POS system(ie. Aloha or MICROS) with three workstations, about 6-8 FOH and BOH printers and full back office software runs about $15-18K, installed. $45K? Bull-shcnickety.

    Third, ANY, and I mean ANY restaurant that is not using hand-written tickets can and SHOULD split checks with ease. WHAT HAPPENED TO THIS BEING THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY?!?!? In this day and age, the onus is on the guest? PLEASE. Is it any wonder so many hot-shot restaurants are going belly up when we treat our “GUESTS” like this?

    I teach FOH operations and have worked years on all manner of POS software; Aloha, MICROS 3600 and 3700, Digital Dining, Squirrel. They can all do what the GUEST is asking in a matter of seconds, ESPECIALLY with prior notice. We ring items up on separate seat numbers in most restaurants so we know who had what and don’t have to “auction off” your food when it gets to the table. Only restaurants that don’t use seat numbering and just ring everything together on the same seat have an issue doing split checks because then the server has to remember what each person had and divide it up. So maybe Chili’s and TGIF and Applebee’s might have a hard time doing it. CHARLIE PALMER??? It is literally 4 keystrokes to split a check because they definitely already have your order sectioned out by seat number.

    How is in our industry, food is making so many strides but how we treat people is moving backwards?

    Wake UP people.

  • Culinary Instructor

    Oh, and any modern POS(last 10 years) can split an appetizer or bottle of wine up into 2 or 3 or 4 or any number of equal parts that can be placed on separate checks. Betcha didn’t know that.

    Too many restaurant operators have just simply STOPPED CARING about the guest.

  • In the industry

    Sorry, POS systems can and do cost a lot. $23K for Aloha in a mid-size bar/restaurant with only 2 BOH printers and 3 terminals and 3 FOH printers. The POS company also bullies you into updating their software for thousands and thousands of dollars nearly annually.

    @”Culinary Instructor,” most managers are NOT the Aloha, Micros, Squirrel expert that you are. My POS distributor did not teach us how to split my restaurant into seat numbers nor did they teach us how to split up a bottle of wine 4 ways. I do not think it’s possible for the system I have.

    Speaking as a restaurant operator, we do care about our guests. In a packed house, when a server is ringing up drink refills, grabbing 4 beers, sending out food while its hot, up-selling, and has 3 other tables, it’s very difficult to remember who had what when the bill comes. Splitting the check for large parties takes a very long time. “Cara” is right.

    Frankly, when you are stuck paying for other people, it’s your “friends” who suck. I know when I eat and drink more than my friends and I do not take advantage of my friends because they are my friends.

  • OG from OC

    As a restaurant veteran I find it odd that either one of those establishments would condone that behavior (POS system or not). As a manager if I read this I would be back in my log searching tickets till I found the server and terminate his butt ASAP.

    But as a former server, I hope this wasn’t over V-day weekend. You need to have your head examined if you chose to book an 11 top over a “high traffic” weekend. That is why we call those nights “AMATEUR NIGHT”.

    Special Menus, higher traffic, special service procedures, amateur diners w\ numerous questions and requests, slow kitchens, more bottle service, on & on. Split an 11 top?? Please, go ahead and throw this grenade in the fire and put me out of my misery.

  • JJm

    PAY CASH – lay your money down and your done!

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  • Peterk

    I can understand splitting the check for say a party of 4 or possibly 6 but splitting the check for 11???? really com’n that’s a banquet. and if you do split it then there better be a 20% minimum tip on each check. a large group like that should discuss beforehand how they are going to handle the check.

  • Peterk

    is you owe available for the droid?

  • bb641

    Sorry, Peter, You owe is IOS only.

  • Alec Martin

    Back in the late eighties and early nineties, I used to encounter this issue when traveling on business. It seemed, briefly during that time frame, many nicer restaurants refused to split checks for as few as two guests. Several servers even became indignant, although my party might consist of two diners on expenses, employed by two different companies. My position is that the restaurant industry is a SERVICE industry. Patrons go to a restaurants to be served, not to be required to work math problems. The last server that took issue with me on that question wound up splitting the check in the end anyway, and received a very small gratuity.

    I thought this practice had been abandoned years ago.

  • Alex Valadez

    Servers do not always have the most updated computer systems that can electronically divide, person-by-person, item-by-item, credit card-by-credit card. Yes, it is a large pain. Guests can wait longer, get slower service at payment time if you expect your server to absorb the accounting responsibility for 15 people. Guests can calculate the tab themselves. Better that way, easier that way. Guests cannot put the blame on servers if they calculate the tab themselves. Try that every dinner out and you will see why. Guests should tell servers how much to charge each card if they want it done correctly. Many other guests need service from waiters simultaneously, and must attend to food abd beverage tasks first before accounting tasks of whiney mathematical deficient guests.

  • Lisa

    The problem is the time it takes to split checks in 11, 15, 18 ways. It takes a tremendous amount of time. Then customers complain that it took to long or the service was bad.
    It is virtually impossible for a server and the kitchen to work with 11 or more separate checks.