Few social customs frighten a millennial more than dealing with the end-of-meal check. Recently, I had a terrifying splitting-the-check experience at a birthday dinner for a friend. The restaurant was a typical over-priced Mexican joint in Manhattan. The kind of place that would reduce most abuelas to tears, because they charge $13 for a chicken and cheese quesadilla.
(Delicious, cheap recipe here.)
After thoroughly researching the menu beforehand, I went to dinner prepared to order the cheapest meal on the menu. I factored my meal + $12 for tax and tip + an extra $5-7 for the birthday girl’s meal to = $40
By the time the check got to my end of the table, with only three of ten people left to pay, the balance showed a $240 deficit. After a glass of cold water roused me from my fainting spell, my brain went into overdrive. I only knew the birthday girl and didn’t feel comfortable demanding the rest of the party ante up or suggesting we split the bill evenly, which would have been about $10 over my prepared budget.
Luckily, the birthday girl’s boyfriend handled the few cheapskates who tried to short the bill by twenty bucks apiece, but the transaction still took time off my life expectancy.
An urban myth exists amongst millennials that in about a decade we’ll be able to just split bills evenly, no matter how many glasses of wine the lush at the end of the table orders compared to us, and be content with the situation. But let’s face it, for now most broke millennials are willing to come to blows over a few dollars. We are in a phase of life where every dollar counts (aka we need to be able to buy drinks at the bar later).
Unfortunately, my extensive research on this particular social anxiety yields no simple solution. Well, except “there’s an app for that.”
Financial experts offer all kinds of tips. Here is my break down of how their advice typically turns out:
Advice: Share it evenly.
Millennial reaction: At least one person takes advantage of the situation and orders drink upon drink and/or appetizers, entree and desert. One person didn’t get the splitting-the-check memo and orders the cheapest options. These two people will end up in a verbal altercation that would make the Real Housewives of New Jersey jealous.
(Oh, reality TV.)
Advice: Let each person do their own math.
Millennial reaction: At least one member of the dinner party will pay only for his or her meal and “forget” about tax and tip leaving the bill a short. Everyone else starts griping while throwing a few more dollars down. A collective mental game of Clue is played to pinpoint the scrooge who will subsequently never be invited to a meal again.
Advice: Appoint a person to determine everyone’s share.
Millennial reaction: Be warned – if you major(ed) in finance, accounting, business or math (God bless your soul) then you will be said person. At least one person (the stingiest) will demand to double-check the appointed bean-counter’s math and find it drastically inaccurate.
Advice: Decide on the form of payment.
Millennial reaction: No one will listen. Half the group will only have credit/debit cards and half will have come prepared with cash. Some of the cash might be only coins.
The allergy to cash is a common problem I’ve noticed in my generation. Excuses for only carrying plastic are bountiful. Some people are wary of stolen wallets. Some claim they spend more money if they carry cash. Other’s simply “forget” to ever have it.
Even in these days of technology it is important to carry some cash on your person, especially if you’re going out to a meal or for drinks.
Reason one: some restaurants are finicky about splitting a bill on multiple cards nor are they legally obligated to take more than one card.
Reason two: Bars, convenience stores and bodegas in New York City (and elsewhere) are notorious for the once-illegal practice of a credit card minimum.
Essentially, you ask for a $6 beer and put down a card only to have the bartender tell you there is a $10, $15 or in some cases $20 minimum. If you don’t have cash you are pigeonholed into spending the minimum amount. If you planned to buy at least XX dollars worth of drinks good for you. If you’re on a budget, then a credit card minimum can derail your evening’s financial plans.