adam and trish on Flickr by gretchenblaire A group of us gathered for a friend's birthday dinner last night. Everything was delightful up until the moment the bill arrived. It's been several years since I've had such an awkward bill splitting experience.

There were a few 'complications' going into the process. First of all, there were many 'shared' items at the table: multiple bottles of water and many appetizers. There was also the case of it being a birthday, which I'm used to pitching in for (but not everyone feels that way). There were vegetarians at the table as well as non-drinkers (for just us, Chris is a veggie and neither of us drink alcohol these days). Back to the appetizers, many of these were 'meat based', so the vegetarians couldn't really partake in many of the communal appetizers.

Still, I was content in splitting the bill in equally around the table (minus the birthday girl).

This was an issue, though. A big issue that seemed to ruffle more feathers than necessary. Thrown into the mix, the ever-generous Stowe Boyd has come up with a 'bank' system that he believes solves these sorts of problems (but I suspect made it more complicated) whereas he says everyone throws in what they think they owe based on their own philosophy and he will cover what is left over.

I asked aloud, "Well, why don't we just all throw in the equal amount around the table?"

Which was met with protests of: "We don't drink" and "Some people didn't eat as much as others"

So, (perhaps too) boldly, I offered, "Neither Chris nor I drank, either. And Chris is a vegetarian, but we are of the philosophy that in the grande scheme of life, it all balances out over time, so we don't mind pitching in equivalent numbers."

More protest. Grumpiness. Bad feelings.

"Well, what if someone is having a bad month and they really watched what they were eating?" came from the Birthday girl herself.

Nobody spoke up. I wanted to offer, "Well, that person could make it known and we can all pitch in a few more dollars to balance it." but I thought I'd shutup while I was ahead. I could tell my opinion wasn't the popular one and I felt I had made enough of an ass of myself.

So...we paid our 2/12th's, the vegetarian/non-drinking couple across from us paid their 2/12th's, the 2 glasses of champagne, but hardly a nibble on the appetizers woman kitty corner paid her 2/12th's and the other side of the table seemed pissed. I'm sure Stowe got the short end of the stick.

In my experience, dinners where you calculate your contributions down to the dime end up short changed 95% of the time. People forget to pitch in for their contribution to the appetizer or forget to calculate the tax or their portion of the tip (and we all tip differently). With a communal throw-in, the bill gets covered and someone may throw in $20 more than they owe (usually the difference is much less).

Stowe's bank system is generous and I admire his sacrifice to make the peace (I wonder if he is Libra?), but I can't see anyone really feeling good about it. Stowe may be the only one. I know I felt awful thinking about what he had to make up for.

There were two strong philosophies there:

  • Pay exactly what you owe - Individualism
  • Split the bill in equal portions - Communalism

Stowe became the United Nations. The uneasy middle ground between dichotomous philosophies. This is his solution to the delicate balance of respecting all philosophies. But were there other options? Could have there been a democratic vote? Maybe an equal split with room for individual protest (Everyone throws in $80, but John Doe protests that he only ate $40 worth of food, so everyone throws in an extra $5 to help cover John...I mean, what is $5 on $80)? Perhaps we should have requested individual checks at the beginning of the meal and agreed not to have any shared food/drinks (as it seems that we started with one philosophy then tried to impose the other one)? Perhaps the group should have just imposed its will on the individuals?

A simple dinner turned into an interesting study of the struggle between individual and community that I've been studying lately.

I was just reading about the way World of Warcraft deals with the diversity of gamer types: through realms. For those who just want to gain personal points, there is a realm for you and others like you. For those who are really into the community role playing aspect, there is a realm for you and others like you.

Now, I already know why that doesn't work in real life. Plus, I think we all need to feel uncomfortable from time to time and have our ideologies challenged.

I can't say, "Before I agree to dine with you, I should know what your bill splitting philosophy is." LOL. Although this does tend to happen naturally over time with the way we form groups of friends. Enough awkward check moments and the amount we go for dinner will taper off.

For me, the communal check splitting seems the most reasonable (and I'm the first to speak up if I see a member of the table who deserves to jump out of the tally), but I'm also a very community-oriented person.

Perhaps others can offer me their perspectives on this one since I'm not as familiar with the experience of the individualistic perspective on this one...

:: Stephanie (aka The Birthday Girl) has responded :: Stowe has responded

what a funny thing...