The Restaurant Etiquette Rule You Shouldn't Break When Splitting The Check

There are a lot of benefits to dining as a group, especially if you're with the type of people who all like to order a bunch of different dishes so everyone can share. That way, you get to try so much more of the menu than if you were dining solo or just with one or two other people. But the fun of group dining can come to an abrupt halt when the check is dropped on the table, and everyone starts to feel panicky about trying to do the math to split the bill on a full stomach and after a cocktail or two.

Of course, diners can use an app to help them split the check between multiple people, but there's still one bit of restaurant etiquette everyone needs to be aware of: paying their fair share of the tip. If it's not discussed ahead of time, paying for a meal between a group of people can be fraught with miscommunication and, worst of all, can result in leaving a tip that doesn't appropriately compensate your server. 

Some people might round their tip down to the nearest dollar, while others might simply have different standards for what's an appropriate tip; although 20% is the most common tip in the United States, 18% of diners report tipping just 10%, according to a poll by research firm YouGov. So, when sitting at a big group of people who might have different opinions on tipping (and perhaps math skills), how do you ensure that you're leaving a fair tip when group dining? There are a few different strategies. 

How to split the tip in when group dining

Americans have been tipping less at restaurants in recent years and are looking at tipping less favorably in general than they have in the past, believing instead that employers should be paying their workers a fair wage. This souring view on tipping might be part of the reason why some people might be less eager to pay a full 20% tip or might be more likely to round their tip down when splitting a bill manually amongst a group. One way to ensure that your table meets that threshold when paying a check that's being split evenly is to come up with the 20% tip total – the standard tip in U.S. restaurant etiquette, – based on the whole table's bill first, then divide it by the number of diners in your party. Then, everyone is responsible for paying at least that amount of tip when paying for their meal, and they can add extra if they want to.

This can be a good idea even if the check is being split based on items ordered because everyone at the table for the most part receives the same service. However, in instances where there's a large discrepancy between bills — if there's one person who only ordered a side, while others got a full meal and drinks, for example — everyone should tip on the portion of the bill they're responsible for, making sure not to round down in a way that will result in the server not being appropriately compensated. Remember, for most servers, tips make up a large portion of their wages. 

Other things to consider when tipping

Some restaurants will add an automatic gratuity to parties of a certain size, while others operate on a tipless model. In the first instance, the bill and automatic gratuity can be split evenly among diners, with people throwing in extra for the tip if they feel the service was especially good, or if the automatic gratuity is less than 20%. It's also important to note that unlike a regular tip, which is theoretically optional, automatic gratuity for large parties is often a mandatory service charge, just like the rest of the bill. As for tipless restaurants, you can simply split the bill evenly or based on who ordered which items, adding 5–10% for amazing service, if desired. 

Finally, keep in mind that there's usually a limit to how many ways a bill can be split by the restaurant, often maxing out around four. And even if they do allow more than that, it can be a big pain for the server. In that case, everyone might want to pitch in extra for the tip. Alternatively, some diners choose to have one person foot the entire bill (plus tip) for the table while the other diners use a payment app like Venmo or Zelle to send that person their share. But in all instances, proper restaurant etiquette means making sure that regardless of how the bill is split, the server is getting tipped fairly for their hard work.