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Check Size Containment

Apps, excuses, and brutal honesty: what's your solution for splitting a restaurant check?

Americans are eating out less, with restaurant traffic falling several percentage points each year since 2008. And when they do go out for a meal, they are practicing what Bonnie Riggs, a restaurant analyst at the NPD Group, calls "check size containment"—foregoing pricey cocktails, bringing their own cake for "birthday" desserts, and ordering the chicken rather than the steak.

This extra vigilance is exacerbating the traditional awkwardness when the bill comes at the end of a group meal. After all, there's nothing more frustrating than deliberately sticking to tap water, only for your dining companions to order $12 martinis and then expect to split the bill down the middle. In today's Boston Globe, Beth Teitell has a nice review of some smart tactics to avoid any unpleasantness, ranging from brutal honesty ("I'd rather take a vacation this year than pay for your flourless chocolate cake") to pre-emptive avoidance:

"When the waitress takes my order I always say, ‘I might have to excuse myself before the end of the dinner. Would you mind writing me a separate check in case I have to scoot out?’"


Several software developers have spotted their opportunity, creating apps such as Bistromath, which claims to be the "universe's finest check splitter," and Venmo, which helps friends settle up with each other by text message. However, none of them offers an integrated and elegant solution* to the problem. Do you have a tried-and-tested strategy for dealing with awkward check splits, or do you just suck it up and shell out for your friends' expensive tastes?

* As a side note, apparently PayPal was first pitched as a Palm Pilot app designed to help users split bills and beam money at each other—a hypothetical use-case that still hasn't quite worked out.

Photo (cc) by Flickr user Joe Schlabotnik.

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