How to divide a restaurant bill (so no one is happy?)

How to divide a restaurant bill (so no one is happy?)

By Isha Singh Sawhney | 26 January, 2013

Yes, we all know it's the 21st century and the Law of Equality (Gender and otherwise) demands everyone contributes, while dining out. That should sound like an easy enough task right? But, no, dividing up a bill at a restaurant is the most herculean and complicated math problem ever. Oh, and did I mention that the process is often awkward and replete with rules? It would almost be like the hunger games, if not done on a full belly.

One of the biggest questions at the end of every meal, that furrows foreheads, both full and half-full, is "So, how should we do this?" There are many solutions. It's either a clean case of splitting it between the people on the table, or the complicated task of seeing who had what, and how much of it, and then dividing up the bill according to individual consumption. Easy peasy right? Now all you need is for someone to pull out their iPhone and divide up the tab.

But, this is actually a situation riddled with "what ifs". What if a vegetarian who obviously only had a salad/soup/mushroom risotto is sitting on a table with people chomping away on steaks, that are double the cost of their meal? What if someone had just one slice of pizza and one beer the entire evening? What if someone on the table had 3 beers in place of expensive wines? What if someone decides to order the most expensive bottle on a menu, while you're pretty satisfied with the house wine? What if we decide to eat lobster curry (probably the cheapest, smartest time to do that), while the others got themselves avial, stew, and appams? Speaking of cheap, every group also has that one person, who seems to have a magical, Houdini type wallet that disappears and makes its way back home, every time the bill appears.

Its way easier to be a teetotaller than the person who nursed just a glass of beer the entire night. But when we all agree to excuse the person who didn't drink at all, then, how should we divide the beer drinkers from the wine drinkers? And then tally the total... oh, wait hold-up! What about the guy who walked in late and drank only two scotches of a 20 year vintage, each of which cost Rs 5,000 each?

The tax additions at the end of the bill makes the most egalitarian divisions account to nothing... Why do we all suddenly turn so seriously socialist at the end of a meal?

Of course, the person who makes even the slightest brouhaha about chipping in the same amount, based on all or any of the above, is instantly labelled Uncle Scrooge. And let's not forget the fact, that very few people (probably the sober one) actually remember and keep a tab on who has eaten what and how much of it. Apparently the good folks over at Apple have a solution – an app called Foodivide, and it says, it's the fastest, most drop dead gorgeous way to split a bill.

Dropcap OnOh! And there are birthday dinners, when the birthday isn't yours. You end up having to, without the slightest grimace, split a bill, that's invariably long and debauched, and not yours to have populated in the first place.

Yup, so not an easy task after all. All rules of equality quickly go whoosh down the drain, and you start to feel what the socialist rulers felt like. Pulling in – the key to modern day relationships, both platonic, sexual, hetro and homo, is laden with complexities. Its recurring character is the 'Disappearer'. That one person who will always run off, 'cause they're too cool and have to party hop, or too un-cool and have a deadline from their parents or an unreliable nanny. Either way they will invariably, leave an amount that they think will cover their bill, but is nowhere near, even one dish they had.

Then at the bottom of the bill, hovers the great gift of VAT. The tax additions at the end of the bill makes the most egalitarian divisions account to nothing. Now, who gets to pay that? Why do we all suddenly turn so seriously socialist at the end of a meal?

There are solutions. In some countries, like India and China, the oldest (usually salaried) person pays. In this age of plastic money, many restaurants allow people to pay individually from a bunch of cards, which when divided between more than 4 people, usually lead to a generous amount of hilarity as cards pile up on their way back to the table, the waiter deciphering which is whose. Waiters have a tough enough task anyway, and pulling in is probably the bane of their existence. It gets worse when dealing with a mathematically and logically challenged group! Some restaurants even have itemised bills, where each person's food and drinks are totalled, and kept track of by waiter.

Aside: Did you hear about the girls who went to a restaurant and when the bill came back to them, it said "Fat Girls" where it should have said their table number. I hope they make a lot of money suing the fast food joint (ironic right) they were eating at.

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