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I regularly go on dates with people where our dinner arrangement is to each pay for our own meal. When we ask a server to split the check (either by seat or 50/50 if there were multiple communal items), the server seems happy to do so and is able to do so quickly.

However, I periodically read accounts online from restaurant servers that talk about how annoying it is to be asked to split a check. I like to think I'd be good at spotting that annoyance, but I know that in the US servers feel the need to always seem cheery and accommodating.

I can understand that splitting a check for a large group would be annoying, but I would assume that modern point-of-sale systems make a two-person check easy to split.

Is it rude to ask a server to split a restaurant check two ways? How inconvenienced will the server be?

I know that this varies by region; in Russia we asked to split a check and were curtly told, "No. One check." I'm looking for answers based in the United States or similar cultures. I'm especially interested in an answer from someone who's worked recently as a server.

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    There is no such thing as "United States or similar cultures". Especially not when considering details of the level you describe in this question. – Helmar Jul 3 '17 at 18:49
  • @Helmar Do you mean that there are differences in different regions of the US on how inconvenient it would be to split a check? If so, I'd love an answer that said something like "It's fine in the South but they use different POS systems in New England that make it harder." – Gregory Avery-Weir Jul 3 '17 at 20:30
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    over here (Australia) many places have signs up saying they won't split the bill – user57 Jul 4 '17 at 0:27
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    Just wanted to point out that finding part of your job annoying is not necessarily an indication that it is rude for the customer to request it. Heck, as a programmer I find customers annoying all the time, yet I would not be happy if I didn´t have them. Perfectly normal request here in Germany, especially at lunch time! – user6109 Feb 14 '18 at 15:45
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Even in the US, this largely depends on the restaurant... or more specifically, on the software (if any) the restaurant uses for their point of sale (POS) system. I've had servers tell me they can't do it by seat but that they can do it in half... and very occasionally, I've had them say the opposite... and other times, they won't split it at all.

I've not ever been a server but the way the POS system is designed largely determines how easy it is to split a check at the end of the meal. Some systems are pretty low-tech and, while they can pretty easily split the check in half, splitting on a per-person basis can be time consuming and pedantic.

On the other hand, some restaurants have fancy systems where the server enters the order by seat rather than by table, which means that the check is, effectively, already split. They can select the seat and swipe a card or tell the system to print checks for each seat, or for different groups of seats.

Here's an example from a restaurant chain here in Austin, Kerbey Lane:

Kerbey Lane Receipt with separate seats
image from Yelp

As you can see, each seat is totaled separately. I think there's also a total at the bottom of the receipt if one person is picking up the entire tab.


Now, I think the important thing - and where this actually gets into Interpersonal Skills - is to respect your server's time, particularly if it's a really busy at the restaurant. Before the meal, ask them if they can split the check either by seat or in half. Generally, if they know they need to do this ahead of time, they can make it easier on themselves at the end of the meal. Remember that if you're paying by seat, if you get any communal food (appetizers or desserts), someone will likely have to pick up the entire cost for it, so note who that person will be as well. Some systems may allow an item to be split in half but probably not in six. Make it easier on them and have someone pick up the queso alone.

If they agree to split by seat, particularly if you're in a large group (6+) and you're all paying separately, consider padding the tip a little for them. It takes a lot more time to run six cards than one.

It's definitely not rude, though. You're asking someone to do their job. They may be slightly inconvenienced because it takes a bit of time but by giving them advanced notice (asking permission) and a little bump in their tip (showing appreciation), you're showing that you respect them and appreciate their time.

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Adding to the existing answer, again depending on their POS system. To make it easier for the server, be prepared.

  • Offer to come to the register, might be easier to split there rather than at the table.
  • If all items are just saved on the table and you need to point to the items you want to pay for, remember what you ordered so processing is fast. (Sometimes you can look at the list of items at the POS directly to help you remember.)
  • If you pay one by one to "fill up" the total amount (rather than per item), be sure that you know what your part cost so someone's tip does not cover for your part.
  • If the last person gets to many items due to someone before forgetting, solve it person to person if possible (usually only small amounts, since it's the side orders or extra drink that is forgotten). Exception being if there is an error done by the server of course.
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