Cultural Musings

How to split the bill when you only drank water

Reviewed by

Team Kin

For as long as groups of family, friends, and work acquaintances have been grabbing meals together, there has been a discussion around who pays up (and how they do it).

One minute you’re out having a great time with a potential love match and the next you’re in a state of panic over how to split the bill.

When it comes down to who pays for a night out it can be a minefield. There’s really no "right" way to do it, and that can make things murky.

Who should pay the bill on a date?

First dates can be full of awkward conversation but none more awkward than the moment the bill arrives. As the waiter puts the bill in the middle of the table, both parties usually rush to put their cards down whilst secretly having preconceived ideas about who should actually pay.

To be honest, there's no right or wrong way to split the bill on a date, but research has shown that women believe that men who pay for a date are more likely to be attracted to them, which is perhaps why men so often reach for their wallet on a first date. On top of this, some surveys have shown that 78 percent of heterosexual men and women still believe men should pay for the first date.

Sure - back before the woman's rights movement a man would have covered the bill because he earned more (as well as a whole host of other reasons, too problematic and infinite to list). However, in the modern world, women often earn just as much if not more than men. It makes just as much sense to split the bill equally.

Generally, people’s thoughts on bill splitting can be divided into two camps: "chivalry isn't dead" and the more modern viewpoint that equal splitting is the way forward.

Then there's also the viewpoint that the host should pay - so if you ask the person out on a date, you should expect to pay the bill regardless of gender.

These social "rules" only really apply to first dates, after that it shouldn’t be too awkward to have the conversation.

Ultimately, it’s entirely up to you guys how you split it. Pay the bill in the way that feels most comfortable for you both.

How should you split the bill in a group of friends?

Splitting the bill can become a little trickier when dining with friends. Within a bigger group there are likely to be all kinds of dynamics and all kinds of financial situations. Plus, there’s always the "I didn’t drink, or have a starter" argument which can make things a little uncomfortable.

If this kind of situation does arise, it should be approached with care. Bear in mind that some people may not be able to afford a split bill, and will order accordingly so that they don't have to pay for food they didn't order and can't afford. This should be respected.

With technology advancing and giving us a million ways to split the bill, pay each other back instantly, and track how we spend, there's not much of an excuse to not split the bill equally and fairly.

The easiest way to split the bill might be to pay separately at the time, or if you’re techy types, it can be best for one person to pay and then get transferred cash. Lots of places don’t allow split bills, so sometimes this is the only option. Or, if you want to ensure that the split bill is a seamless experience, you can try out an app that makes the fast exchange of money between parties super easy.

Friends The One with Five Steaks and Eqqplant
Credit: Warner Media

What if splitting the bill fairly just isn’t happening?

If you've seen the episode of "Friends" where Phoebe and Joey awkwardly have to raise the issue of splitting the bill, you'll know what we mean. Ross, Monica, and Chandler order expensive seafood, while Phoebe, Joey and Rachel get lighter meals as they can't afford to splash out.

When the bill comes, Ross splits it up equally, leading Phoebe and Joey to eventually have to mention that they can't afford to split and want to pay for what they actually ordered instead.

Sometimes you go out with a group of mates and it’s agreed that the bill will be split depending on the number of people. This is great if you’ve ordered lobster and champagne, but not so ideal if you’ve had a salad and water combo.

If you're the Phoebe or Joey in this situation it can be a tough call as to whether to say something. Do you nitpick and mention that you ordered less, or just go with the flow and pay for your share, even though you ate something that was potentially half the value of someone else at the table?

There’s no right way to answer this – it really depends on how you feel.

If you’re going out and you know that people are going to order a lot of food and drinks and you can’t afford to split it, then you might have to mention it beforehand, or even avoid the event. When you go out in a group, there is always the chance that this method of splitting will happen, so if you don’t feel comfortable saying something then you might just have to accept that you can’t go.

Remember that you like each other

If you’re out with people - whether that’s a date or a group of friends - it’s good to remember that you’re presumably there because you like each other. In this sense, it’s important to be kind to one another and note if someone is feeling uncomfortable or shifty around how you split the bill.

Dolly Alderton’s memoir Everything I Know About Love perfectly tells the story of kindness around splitting the bill. She describes how a friend paid her share of the bill when she was broke. These small acts of kindness go a long way, and we could all be a little bit more like Dolly’s friend from time to time.

At the end of the day, you like these people, so try and remember that as you navigate the bill with care.