Monday, July 09, 2007

Settling the Dinner Bill: A Spectrum of Choices

I've just finished reading (with a great deal of fascination) three blogposts by three different people who were all at the same dinner party.

They present three very different viewpoints as to how the dinner bill should have been settled:

I found it fascinating because there was some discussion as to whether or not the difference in opinion was cultural. I suppose culture plays a big part of it, but I've personally experienced major differences in bill-settling habits even in my own social circles here in Manila.

For example, I have a set of friends that routinely splits the bill, despite the fact that some don't drink and others don't order appetizers, dessert, or coffee.

I've also been in situations at the other end of the spectrum. My "favorite" experience is a get-together where someone actually whipped out a calculator when the bill arrived, and pointedly asked each person how many slices of pizza they ate that evening so they can figure out how much each person should pay. Frankly, how anyone can possibly remember how many slices they've had after several beers or margaritas is beyond me.

I've also been at birthday dinners where the celebrant announces ahead of time that they'll cover the first Px,000 of the bill, then leaves the group to order their dinners as they see fit. If the group doesn't spend beyond that pre-announced amount, then only the celebrant pays. If the group bill goes over, then everyone else splits the difference evenly.

At work, our usual practice is to have one person pay the bill at the restaurant, then someone volunteers to 'do the math' so that each individual is charged correctly, down to the centavo, with the tip factored in. The computation is done off-line, when we're all back at the office, and no one bothers to double-check if the figure is correct. We each just get an email or SMS saying how much we owe, and we dutifully go and pay the person who had advanced the payment. That person doesn't bother to check the total either.

Ordinarily, we wouldn't be this anal about the lunch bill at work, but since it's the same group of people eating out together on an almost daily basis, simply splitting the bill equally would have grown increasingly inequitable in the long run, especially for the very light eaters.

What I've found from observation is that splitting the bill evenly is a lot easier to handle when everyone in the group is still single or have no pressing financial burden. When you're a mixed group of singles and couples, especially in cases where the couples have children, then budgeting becomes more of an concern.

In the end, I don't think there's a right or wrong way to settle the bill. The actual approach doesn't matter, provided everyone understands right at the onset what the rules of the group are. I'm lucky enough that I can afford to simply go with the group norm, whatever that norm may be.