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The Dos and Don’ts of Splitting the Check at the Bar

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Can we have separate checks?” you ask your server. Your table of nine coworkers look up from their empty glasses and half-eaten plates of appetizers to fumble for their wallets, taking out a mix of cash and cards. Congratulations, you’ve just become your sever’s least favorite customer.

Splitting the bill at any establishment causes a headache for everyone involved, but the pressure is doubled at a bar, where bartenders are juggling twice as many customers who all want their drinks five minutes ago. But since we’re not all making that Don Draper paper, sometimes splitting the check is a necessary evil. Here are the dos and don’ts you need to follow if you want to split the tab at the bar and avoid a lifelong sentence of watery Margaritas at your favorite happy hour joint.

DON’T Ask to Split the Bill After Multiple Rounds

There’s a reason all servers huff and puff when people ask to split the bill into different tabs after they’ve already had several rounds of drinks, especially if the group isn’t splitting evenly. Their POS (point of sale) system has the bill under one tab, and splitting it up digitally not only takes some time, it leaves a lot of room for user error (“Who ordered the third Rum and Coke? Who ordered a double?”). If the bar is packed, customers will be waiting a long time to get the bartender’s attention—which will be focused on pairing five different debit cards with five different orders, running them individually and waiting an eternity for the receipts to print out—and that could negatively affect their tips. Plus, and this is not to be overlooked, having to come up with five different pens behind the bar is a near impossible task, since the last group who split their tab definitely walked off with at least three of them.

Warning the bartender ahead of time that you plan on having separate tabs will still be a nuisance, but they’ll at least have time to create the different tabs in the POS while you’re enjoying your drink, and make a note that the “Gin & Tonic” goes with “Bald Guy in Red Shirt.”

DO Tip Evenly on All Tabs

Confer with your group about how much you will be tipping percentage-wise. There’s nothing worse for a server than thinking they can expect a solid 18 or 20 percent tip on a hefty group bill, only to find out that most people tipped a dollar on a drink, while just a few people paid a respectable percentage. When the checks come, say something like, “We’re all tipping 20 percent right?” to guilt the would-be cheapskates into forking over their share. And if you suspect a member of your group isn’t going to tip appropriately, consider doing the right thing and throwing in a few extra bills for your server’s sake.

DON’T Pressure the Bartender to Change the Bar’s Tab-Splitting Policy

Some bars just plain do not allow patrons to split their checks after they’ve ordered as a group, and will often list this policy on the menu. Don’t be that guy yelling at the bartender who didn’t make the rules, demanding they split the bill even though they aren’t allowed to. Not only will you come off as a jerk, but you’ll also put the bartender in a difficult position of deciding between going against management rules and salvaging their tip from you, the angry customer who is “always right” even though they can’t read a sign.

DO Put the Tab on One Card, and Use a Bill Splitting App

In this glorious, modern technological age, the ugliness of splitting bills, running different credit cards, stressing about tips and calling back your bartender to report an inevitable mistake doesn’t need to happen at all. Bill-dividing apps make these uncomfortable situations obsolete. If even basic math gets you sweating, use Divvy to take a snapshot of the receipt, and drag individual items to everyone’s names for an automatic calculation of what everyone owes—tip and tax included. Then put the tab on your card and use Venmo to charge your friends with a non-threatening, fun Martini emoji—which won’t go away until they’ve settled their tab. Avoid the annoying declaration of “Oh I don’t have Venmo, can I just pay you back later?” (they won’t) and bring up your plan for paying the bill at the beginning of the evening, so that your less tech-savvy friends have more than enough time to download the app and join polite society.

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