Liz Smith | Contributor | Friday, 13 March 2015

How To Split A Restaurant Bill With Friends When You\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'re Skint

How To Split A Restaurant Bill With Friends When You're Skint

The Debrief: There's always one person on a 40k salary who insists on getting chips 'for the table' which basically means 'I'm craving chips and I'm taking you all down with me'

Illustration by Karolina Burdon

On any given night a group of friends can be found passing a bill around a table. You’ve swapped your 20 for a 10 with Alan, but now Alan is paying on card. Alan appears to have forgotten the arrangement and has pocketed your money. Debbie owes Simon money, so she’s paying for half of his penne. Unfortunately, Susan’s already paid for a bean burger on her way out. She didn’t actually have a bean burger. She had wine but they couldn’t deduct that from the bill. The waiter brings the card machine, people say numbers they can think of and pay that. You are £50 short. 

This is fine if you are a professional adult. But if money’s tight, this is 20 minutes of torture. Here are some tips for how to survive splitting the bill when you’re not the Queen/in popular band Queen and money, therefore, means nothing to you:

Speaking up

Don’t be a prisoner of your own politeness. If someone on a 40k salary drops the five-word ‘Shall we just split it?’ bomb, you have a small window of time in which to protect yourself and your loved ones. It doesn’t have to be awkward or apologetic. You don’t have to put on a slightly offensive southern American accent to cover up the fact you are talking about money – ‘Ooh ah d’ya mind if we don’t cause mamma ain’t got much moola’.  

You could just say, ‘I’d prefer not to cause I didn’t have as much.’ Think of yourself as Emma Watson speaking up on behalf of the other people at the table who haven’t got the balls to say it: ‘If not me, who?’ Or get someone drunk to say it. 

Remember, for the bill splitter, it’s not about subsidising the cost of their meal; it’s about paying to not go through the rigmarole of passing the bill around. Rich people pay for things to be easy – that’s why they have cleaners and memberships to gyms that provide towels and therapists.  

Spot a bill-splitter early on

Gauge it at the beginning of the meal and act accordingly. Maybe drop in the word ‘mortgage’ and see if anyone looks up. If not, there’s no point ordering a small plate of chorizo from the starters menu and hoping to get away with it, because you will end up paying for Adele’s rib-eye.

A bill-splitting group sees only in black and white: did you eat or not?

The only way to get around this is to accept you’re going to have to speak up, or not eat. Nobody expects someone to pay for petrol for a road trip they didn’t go on. Sure it’s embarrassing. But will it be as embarrassing as explaining to your landlord that you didn’t pay rent because you felt socially obliged to pay £35 for some croquettes?

Perhaps prepare a long, funny anecdote for when the food arrives that way no one will notice. Or learn a magic trick. Or say you’ve already eaten dinner because when they invited you out for dinner you only heard the word ‘friendship’.

Get cash out before dinner

If you’ve plucked up the courage to instate a Pay For What You Ate system (well done, you), you’re going to want cash. And a variety of coins and notes, too, because you just don’t want to announce £4.20 after Nicole has paid £28, or faff around getting change from the pot (there will be no change, because everyone will pay by card and you’ll be the cool girl who provides the tip money).

You are essentially getting cash out to avoid saying out loud what you are paying. 


Overtip. Firstly, because being a waiter is hard. And secondly, someone will check if everyone has included a tip. They will presume that because you’re watching the pennies, you will have tried to get away with not tipping. Then you can say, actually you tipped 20% – which sounds a lot grander than it will work out as, considering you’ve only had a scotch egg.

Also, if you pay the exact amount in cash then everyone will bloody love you because it prevents them having to go to the cash machine. And, as we’ve discussed before, rich people hate having to go and do things. 

Like Beer

I like beer, which is great when I sense a wine sharing moment coming up. Wine is a deceptive mistress. You spend a substantial amount of time deciding whether to enter into the verbal financial contract of splitting a bottle: red or white? The second cheapest? How many glasses?

And then as soon as you do that there is an unspoken rule that when the bottle is finished, you will get another, and this process will be repeated until your plates are taken away.

If you order a beer this will come up on the bill as ‘1 x beer’ and you will know how much it costs. This is important because...

...Timing is everything

You want to be able to add up your items quickly, pay (in cash), and sit back. If you’ve gone in for wine sharing you will have to wait for Holly to work out how to divide five bottles of wine between five people. 

On this note, you should also be wary of the man who asks for some seasonal greens and a chips for the table. ‘For the Table’ means ‘I’m craving chips but I’m taking everyone down with me’.  

You need to have stated your intentions for the chips at the time of ordering. As in, loudly saying, ‘I’m OK for chips’ to verbally state that you will not be entering into the chip contract. Don’t feel pressured. 

Prepare for the group shortage

You shouldn’t have to feel like you’re going to get caught out for paying the correct amount, but it feels like that by the time everything has wound its way towards the inevitable group shortage. Now you are going to have to sit through a tense three minutes where some people arbitrarily add more money to the middle. I can offer no advice there, apart from stay strong and perhaps a well-timed toilet trip.

Go to a free museum instead 

At a certain point in life I presume it becomes embarrassing to use ‘I can’t afford it’ as your excuse for things. As I get older, I’m hearing more ‘I’m saving money at the moment’. I flagged it in my head as one of those handy adult things to say, along with ‘You’re welcome’ and ‘Stay in touch’.

‘I’m saving money at the moment’ implies you’re the sort of person who has an ISA and realistic prospects of owning a home. 

Going to a restaurant when you have no money is like going to the beach wearing jeans and standing in the shallow water while your friends swim. Sometimes, if you can’t afford to go out to dinner, you have to just NOT go out to dinner. 

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Follow Liz on Twitter: @LizKingsman

Illustration: Karolina Burdon 

Tags: Food, Going Out