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Splitting the bill? Don't assume a thing

By Sylvia Rector
Detroit Free Press

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Remember the time you went out to eat with several companions and your share of the bill turned out to be much more than you expected - or thought was fair?

Even if you've forgotten whether the amount was $15 or $50, you might still be irked by the principle.

The split-check shafting I most remember was with a dozen people from a night class I was taking, so none of us knew each other very well. One guy ordered three bottles of wine "for the table" and then decided we should split the total bill equally. Never mind that some of us didn't have his wine because we had paid for our own before he arrived.

And then there was the night with nine neighbors at an upscale restaurant. One of my friends had only salad and coffee, while the rest of us had full meals and drinks, but the self-appointed host declared, "Oh, let's just split the bill."

That left my friend with two choices: Pay about $30 more than her fair share, or object and look cheap. I can't remember how it turned out, but I remember it was awkward.

The truth is, poorly handled check-splitting is the acid reflux of social dining. It can leave such a bad taste in someone's mouth that it ruins the memory of food and company.

It's an especially sensitive issue in this economy, when people ordering a salad may be watching their budget rather than their weight.

The best solution is separate checks, but some restaurants don't permit it because it ties up too much of the server's time.

While she's busy figuring out who got what and juggling six credit cards for one table, her other guests are getting restless. Computerized ordering systems can streamline the process, but not every place has them.

If you want separate checks, request them before everyone orders - not at the end of the meal when the whole bill would have to be dismantled and reassembled.

If separate checks aren't available, splitting the bill evenly is fine if everyone really does owe about the same thing - or if you're with friends who always do it that way and figure it all works out in the end.

The other option is to pass the check around and let everyone figure his own bill. Remember to add in sales tax, which people often forget, and a 20 percent tip - a nice amount for good service for a larger group.

The point is, we dine together not only for food but for companionship. And no one should ever go home feeling they paid too much for the privilege.

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