Let’s set the scene: It’s a Friday night, and your last class ended (woo!). You’re out to dinner with your friends, the food and drinks are great, and the vibes are giving everything if not more. Then the bill comes. The vibe shifts a bit. Is the bill split evenly? Does one person take it and everyone else Venmo them? But wait, there are so many factors to include: some didn't drink, and one person only ordered a basket of fries. So what then? As a group of college students, what’s the most efficient way to split the bill? 

“Part of the delicate dance of splitting the bill,” says Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert, and owner of The Protocol School of Texas who works with universities across the country as well as corporations, “is that you have to be comfortable with splitting the bill.”

Open communication is key 

“Before you go out, you should decide how you're going to handle the bill as a group,” says Lizzie Post, co-author of Emily Post's Etiquette - The Centennial Edition. “That is obviously one of the best ways to avoid this from becoming an ‘oh my goodness!’ problem later on.”

There isn’t a right or wrong way to split the bill, it just has to be comfortable for everyone involved. Here are some ways:

1. One person pays, and then everyone reimburses that person.

2. Money-sharing apps like Venmo and Cashapp.

3. Asking ahead of time for separate checks.

4. Splitting the bill evenly.

Normally, when I go out with friends, we already know it’s going to be split evenly. But that’s because we end up sharing everything. If it’s not split evenly, one person takes care of the bill, does the math later, and lets everyone know how much to send. I just go with vibes and blind trust, if I’m being honest.

However, this isn’t always the case for everyone. Budgeting is an important thing when in college, during any time really, and should be taken into account when going out with a group of friends. “There are some people that feel like they have to pay, even though they don't want to pay, they feel like they need to offer to pay,” says Gottsman. “I think that it's important to feel comfortable saying either ask in advance, or we're going to take separate checks.”

Should the bill be split evenly if you’re not drinking? 

In short, no. “We really want to be considerate and aware of the discrepancy in what people have ordered,” says Post. If you're noticing that someone in your group is not drinking, then it’s important to be mindful and speak up on their behalf to keep things fair.

There’s also a difference in consumption amount and types of drinks being ordered. According to the National Restaurant Association, menu prices rose 7.1% in the past year. The average cost of a cocktail in New York City is around $20 (the last time I went to a rooftop, I ordered two margaritas for a whopping $42, not including tip — yeah, it’s rough out here).

The importance is speaking up for people, if needed, from the perspective of their bill being different from the rest of the groups.

Dietary Restrictions 

A lot of people have a restriction in some shape or form — whether they’re gluten-free, vegan, or have an allergy. “It’s worth considering how dietary restrictions can impact shared eating experiences,” says Post. “You really want to make sure people have enough and that they get choices.”

Gottsman suggests just asking for a separate check “because you know that it's [the splitting of the bill] going to be imbalanced.”

If you’re asking for a separate check, do so ahead of time. It’s more work for the server to split the bill after the meal is over. And please be kind to your servers