Recently, Mr. Manners and I had brunch at a cute neighborhood pub called The Churchill. At the table next to us sat three guys in their 30s. When their bill arrived, they did a curious thing.
One gentleman held out a napkin, into which each dropped his credit card. They folded the corners, gave the bag a shake, and asked the waitress to choose one and charge it.
"One of you is going to hate me!" she exclaimed.
"It's our tradition," they grinned. "Don't worry, it all evens out eventually."
This got me thinking about check-splitting and how awkward it can be to dine with people who calculate every last morsel down to the penny. Whenever possible, the gracious thing to do is divide the bill evenly among friends or couples. Prolonged arithmetic and tedious who-ordered-what negotiations can turn a social outing into a business transaction. No fun!
That said, it's important to be cognizant of our friends' pocketbooks, especially in a recovering economy. If you have three glasses of wine while dining with a pregnant pal, by all means offer to contribute more.
Let's say your dinner companions scoop up the bill before you can kick in. Thank them profusely and be sure to return the favor. (Secretly, sometimes I wish people wouldn't do this. I obsess over scheduling our next rendezvous and restoring order in the universe. I even leave nerdy notes in my calendar so I won't forget!)
In short, we shouldn't worry about being too precise at the end of an outing. The difference between your turkey burger and your friend's crab cakes will surely even out over years of friendship. If you're consistently stuck with a much larger bill, you might want to think about expanding your circle to include more considerate friends.
Or leave it all to chance with a friendly game of restaurant-check roulette! :)
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