Eating out is expensive, but I consider group dinners to be an absolute money pit. How many times have you been out to dinner with a bunch of friends and when the bill comes, someone decides splitting it is best? Prior to the decision, Taylor had seven glasses of wine and ordered the steak, while Thomas is on a diet and ordered a salad. Yes, life isn't fair, but you can speak up and protect your wallet!
If you are Thomas in the example above and the bill is split evenly, you are subsidizing Taylor’s meal. If you don’t care, great. If you are trying to pay off debt or save for a vacation or just don’t like Taylor that much, you shouldn’t feel like you have to pay her way. If Taylor wants to order that much, she can fork over the cash. Most people don’t wear their financial issues on their sleeve, so even if your friend is out with you, it doesn’t mean they have enough to cover you.
I'm not saying you need to itemize to the penny, but everyone should roughly estimate what they owe. It is interesting that when looking at the check, no one can remember what they ordered and are very bad at math. Pick a person to figure it out or be the designated accountant yourself.
My friends’ incomes range from making very little to more than I'll ever see. If you control the restaurant choice, you are helping to control your bill as well. I’m not saying fancy restaurants aren't great, but if your friends aren't aware of your situation — good or bad — then they will not be considerate of your needs (that you may not want to express).
What's funny about eating in a group is that one person takes charge and no one else speaks up. Do you need the appetizer? Probably not, but someone decided you did and now you are paying for it. Be the one who speaks up and asks if everyone is in the mood to split or share. You might find everyone is on a diet or the main meal is enough anyway.
There have been a few studies done that show people order similar to the person who orders first. Meaning if they order a four-course meal, you are more likely to do so too, or if they get a salad, you are more likely to order something healthy. Try it next time with a small group and watch your bill start to go down. Your friends won't even notice it is happening!
If you are forced to subsidize Taylor’s steak, then you might as well get points for it. Make sure you are maximizing any credit cards you are using. Most airlines have dining clubs to which you link all your credit cards, and when you eat at certain restaurants you get even more points. I am a fan of “double dipping.” When I dine at a restaurant on an airline program, I get miles, and I get the dining points on the actual credit card, too. Extra bonus points for you if the reservation is booked on OpenTable!
The other six tips were to save money — this one is saving you from being a jerk. Tipping less than expected to save money won't help you a ton in the long run. Waitstaff are trying to make a living and saving the dollar or two won't help you all that much. Order fewer drinks and save that way, which lower the total bill and, in return, the tip.
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