Although more and more restaurants are now willing to accommodate large groups by preparing separate checks, sometimes it makes sense to ask for a single bill.
For example, if the meal is family-style, or everyone's main course costs approximately the same, and there are shared items like appetizers, bottles of wine, and/or desserts. Or perhaps many of the diners are children or honorees.
Inevitably, you'll encounter that friend or relative who will order the most expensive item on the menu, appetizers, dessert, and several cocktails, and then suggest, "Let's just split the check. It will be easier for the waitress." And others will agree, even though there is someone who only ordered a salad and a glass of complimentary ice water. If you're that person, do you protest and be labeled a cheapskate, or just suck it up and subsidize the others as a cost of friendship?
And then what about the tip? Does everyone chip in equally? It seems like, whenever a group splits the check, the server either gets stiffed or ends up obscenely over-tipped, because everyone wants to appear magnanimous, unwilling to pull anything back from the pile of money, even after realizing they put out too much.
I had a friend in Houston—nice guy, always short on cash—who loved going out with the group, and of course, splitting the check. He'd often be the only one to order an expensive appetizer, and if he let someone else taste it, would consider it a shared expense for the entire group. And when the bill came around, he didn't have any money left for the tip, or even his beers. "Thanks for covering me," he'd whisper. "I'll treat next time." Only "next time" turned out the same as last time.
And what about the sister who suggests taking Mom out to dinner? Sister orders a cocktail and a glass of wine—which you can't do because you're driving—as well as the most expensive item on the menu; her portion is over half the entire bill. But you split the check in half, and both of you get credit for buying Mom's dinner. Oh well, Mom loves you both the same anyway.
My husband, a flight attendant, experiences a lot of group dining situations on layovers. His favorite is a restaurant in Germany, where at the end of the meal, after the tab is requested, the waitress goes around the table, points at each person, and announces a number. Everyone pays his fair share: nothing more, nothing less.
How do you handle group dining? I'd love to hear your comments.