Not that you haven’t already heard it before, but money can be tight in college. Many of us are still relying on our parents to pay our bills while others are working a steady job with little pay. Regardless of your financial situation, every college student has come across the question “Should I pay the bill or should we split the check evenly?” Unless you’re one of those best friends who picks up the check, or on a date, you most likely opted for the second option.

Now even after deciding the split the check option, there’s still that age-old question. Do I pick up the bill and have my friends pay me back, or do I ask the waiter to split it for us? Tricky tricky. Let’s break it down:

Situation 1: Everyone ordered the same thing


Photo by Jocelyn Hsu

The simplest way to handle this situation is for you to pay the bill and have everyone else pay you back. Take the overall cost (including tax and tip) and divide by the number of people who ate. If your friends don’t have cash, drop by the nearest ATM on your way home or use Venmo or PayPal. Easy as pie.

Situation 2: Everyone ordered something different


Photo by Becky Hughes

She ordered a salad, he ordered a pasta, she ordered a pasta with lemonade, he ordered a steak. Things just got really complicated, really fast. Now what?

Option 1: Ask the waiter to split the check

Tell the waitstaff you want to split the check when you ask for the bill. They’ll let you know what the restaurant’s check splitting policies are. Some restaurants like Joshu-ya’s only allow a certain number of splits such as a four-way split (but if you have a nice waiter, he might let you split more ways).

If you know you’re splitting the check in advance, give them a heads up when you’re ordering. Some restaurants will take note of it on your order and hand you separate checks after the meal. Don’t forget to do this if you’re eating with a large party.

Regardless, make sure you leave your waiter a nice, big tip for dealing with this check splitting business. It’s a hassle on a busy night and they’re doing you a favor.

Option 2: Pay the bill and figure out who owes you what later on

The quick and dirty way to get on with your night. It’s pretty much the same as Situation 1, but with harder math (refer to the section at the end).

Option 3: Get the check, figure out who pays how much and chip in money

I’ve done this several times and usually leave frustrated. Once, in high school, we spent an hour (yes, an hour) at a restaurant figuring out why we were missing 4 dollars and who needed to ‘fess up and pay. But now, as a big kid, I’ve figured out a nice mathematical way to do it which I’ve explained below.

Here’s one way to do the math:


Photo by Jocelyn Hsu

1. Find the price of everything you ordered.
2. Multiply the total by your city’s tax (Berkeley is 9%).
3. Multiply the total by the percentage you want to tip (15-20% for dinner is normal). The total you use depends on whether you tip including tax or without.
4. Add the amounts you got from steps 1-3 and that’s how much you pay.

Tip: If you don’t want to deal with wonky cents, round up and pay that dollar amount. $12 is a prettier number than $11.86.