Q: Now that restaurants are opening again, an old problem has reappeared — how do you say you don’t want to split the bill evenly and prefer to pay individually?
A: Splitting a bill evenly among all diners isn’t a rule required by etiquette because sometimes it can result in disproportionate payouts — they had lobster, you had soup — and hurt feelings. To avoid this, talk openly with the other diners as early as possible about paying the bill. Asking for separate checks is the most equitable way because people will pay only for their share of the bill.
If you like separate, itemized checks, request them before anyone has ordered. Asking the server to split up the bill at the end of the meal is an inconsiderate move.
If you do not speak up before ordering, find a subtle way to bring it up before someone else makes an assumption about what’s happening. For example, when the bill is placed on the table, ask your friends how they would like to pay for their meals.
JACQUELYN YOUST, etiquette expert and owner of Pennsylvania Academy of Protocol
A: It depends, in part, with whom you are dining. For instance, for me, if it’s a business associate, I make a point to pick up the bill. It eliminates potential awkwardness, gracefully boosts the existing relationship and never goes unappreciated.
However, if your dining partner is a friend and you are adamant about paying individually, there’s nothing wrong, at the start of the meal, with alerting the staff member who is taking care of your party to keep separate tabs. It is best to be upfront about these things and avoid the scenario of reviewing the itemized bill at the end. That can be a sticky situation for everyone involved.
DONNIE MADIA, Chicago restaurateur and partner at One Off Hospitality