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A Millennial’s Nightmare: Splitting the Check

   Posted On: February 19, 2013  |    Posted In: Millennials  |     Posted by: Broke Millennial®

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.

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.

IMG_3122(Not the exact bill that almost gave me a stroke.)

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).

IMG_0386(Those are $15 cocktails. Wish I was kidding.)

Unfortunately, my extensive research on this particular social anxiety yields no simple solution. Well, except “there’s an app for that.”

IMG_3129(I’m a millennial therefore contractually obligated to say that once a week. And don’t you dare pay money for that app!)

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.

IMG_3116(I’m not ashamed, coins are acceptable currency.)

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.

Do yourself a favor, just carry some cash.

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17 responses to “A Millennial’s Nightmare: Splitting the Check

  1. Girl – this is pinpoint right on truth serum. I have had countless annoyances with that scrooge you refer to in your post. A couple things I have personally been doing when I am with groups (and its no one’s bday) is trying out places that allow you to pay at the register or give you a card where you charge everything on your meal cafeteria style then you check-out yourself. Sad to have to do this but I always end up being that person that spends 60 on a 25 dollar meal.

  2. My strategy is to look at the menu online ahead of time, pick a meal, calculate total with tax and tip to the dollar, and bring exact change and that’s it. It’s also good at stemming temptation. In real emergencies, NYC is good about accepting credit cards for cabs, subway, insulin, whatever.

    Which isn’t to say that I don’t often find myself among groups that give up on math quickly in favor of splitting evenly and the only argument that gets listened to is if some person didn’t get any drinks at all and others did… so I guess the only sure way out is not drinking?

  3. Glad you understand my plight 🙂 I usually always bring cash and just pay my own way, but in certain situations you can’t! It’s awkward…oh man, I miss NYC so much, but not those $15 cocktails 🙂 I think the only way to really prevent it, is talking to the person beforehand, but that could also leave a bad taste in their mouth.

    1. The $15 cocktails are the worst! I always forget how cheap drinks are elsewhere in the US. It’s great though, because I feel so rich when I go to bars, especially down south.

      Cash is also key! I’m a big supporter of always carrying cash.

  4. A little while ago I went to yum cha and brought cash for this exact reason, but then the restaurant wouldn’t split the bill! And the most welloff in the group paid for everyone by card and refused to accept our cash, sigh. I felt really bad as it wasn’t a group of people I’m very close to or see very often. Had a rant about that here:

  5. I carried only cash in NYC and am glad I did because of the issues you list in this post, but it’s really not an issue in Knoxville, TN (third largest city in the state so not small). I never have cash on me. Luckily, waiters ask you before they even begin taking orders how the check will be split, so there’s no confusion at the end of the meal with how everything will be separated. I noticed Mom and I were not asked that question once in NYC. Glad we had cash! 🙂 But really, I don’t understand why restaurants wouldn’t just go ahead and offer to split the bill. What’s the big deal?

  6. Great post Erin! I definitely hate that time when you come to split the bill. I suppose that it is different not living in a huge city. Most people ask how you are going to split the check and hardly any of my friends carry cash anymore. I do always carry cash at the bar, because it’s so easy to just put drinks on your tab and forget about it. When you have cash at the bar, you know your minimum.

    I am glad that you were able to manage to split it up. But it always sucks to get the people who skated on things.

  7. I pick up the bill an ,put it on my CC ,most throw me cash …the ones that don’t – get shamed on my Facebook page…this puts them out of the group,an when they lose that great job , out of are network…trust me it’s a small world.

  8. Your timeless story gave me knots in my stomach remembering – I try to avoid this always by insisting on my own accounting and separate bill. But sometimes you just have to grin and bear it with grace even if it gives you a sleepless night afterwards. When individual bills aren’t possible and it’s a group dinner for a special occasion, how about arranging a prix fixe dinner ahead of time, and everyone contributes ahead of time as well? Any extras stand out as their problem but those who stick with the program are off the hook.

  9. I know this post is over 5 years old, but I just had to comment: the easiest solution is to just have the waiter split the bill for you–everyone gets their own bill that covers ONLY what THEY ordered. However, after reading this article (and visiting NYC myself), I guess this practice is something that is only common in the South?? Because I’ve lived in the South my whole life and the waiters almost always ask how the bills will be split, and have no problem giving everyone their own bill.

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