Yes you should pay as much as everyone else even if you didn't drink

There's a moment of truth that comes at the end of a meal with friends. When the waiter comes, and someone suggests getting the bill. Someone else, down the end of the table, even does that obnoxious signature-in-the-air, to really ram the point home. 

As the waiter trots off, I consider following him into the kitchen, escaping out the back door, changing my name and starting a new life with new friends. Simply to avoid what comes next. The bill arrives, and all the goodwill from a delightful long lunch evaporates as the battle lines are drawn. 

I immediately get on the front foot, "Should we just split it?" It's an audacious attempt, a direct result of my large buzz, which is directly linked to the large bill. Most agree, and I make a mental note that these are 'my people', but then, of course, there are the others. 

Sobering thought

"We only drank water," they say in unison, smug in their sobriety. And so begins a lively debate, allegiances form, the table splinters in two, and it all kicks up a notch when someone (there's always one), busts out the iPhone calculator. 

There is a special place in hell for those who rock up to a long lunch and only order an appetiser and the complimentary water. may, in fact, be individually and socially optimal to split the bill among friends

We applaud your self-control, and you have every right to not overeat like the rest of us pigs, but if you're at the table, prepare to share the cost. 

Also prepare for me to order a main, plus a main as an entree, plus a couple of sides.

Battle lines 

Forget left vs right or good vs evil, the deep divisions of modern society are revealing themselves at food-splattered lunch tables around the country. 

So heated is the debate that it was the subject of an academic study, The Inefficiency of Splitting the Bill.


The research examined how group dining behaviour changed based on who was paying. 

Ultimately, it found that "Some cost is involved in paying individually. A part of it could be the mental cost of figuring out one's share of the bill. Another part would be the social cost of appearing stingy or unfriendly." 

It's simple maths 

What they're trying to say is, everyone hates maths, and we've all had too many midday margaritas to be carrying the decimal point. Also, making a fuss about equal splitting will make you a pariah and good luck copping an invite to the next All Day Rosé Sunday session. 

The very smart people from the study concluded with this: "Given the cost of individually paying and the ability to reduce the inefficiency of splitting the bill through repeated game strategies, it may, in fact, be individually and socially optimal to split the bill among friends."

Socially optimal. If the academics reckon it's the go, who am I to argue? 

To be fair...

In the interest of fairness, I can appreciate the other sides of the argument. Earlier this year I did Dry July, an entire month sipping soda from atop my high horse. Over the four weeks, I went to a few group outings, and I did a double-take each time I saw the bill. 

Booze takes a toll - both financially and emotionally - but I was happy to chip in equally knowing what goes around comes around. 

I also have a cultural aversion to arguing over cash in public. The Greeks treat bill-paying like a sport, if you're not the first to offer, you're last. So I'd rather pay the extra twenty and remember the time spent, not the dollars saved. 

Soft drink, hard fact 

But if you doggedly maintain that all bills aren't created equal, then there's a right way to go about it. Firstly, declare your intentions early. Pull the organiser aside and let them know from the get-go so they can plan accordingly. If you wait till the end of the meal to reveal, the entire table will resent you. 

Secondly, bring cash with you. When the check comes, you can chuck your contribution in without a fuss, and the rest is divided between the boozers. For bonus points carry small bills only. 

You can guarantee someone will ask "Does anyone change for fifty?" and if you can be that hero, no one will remember that you didn't pay as much.  

Politics of paying

Back at the table of broken friendships, we're at an impasse when the waiter returns and adds another layer of awkwardness. He's clocked the familiar blow-up and stepped in to make things worse.

"We don't do split bills, so sorry." 

Unable to waste another minute discussing the dollar value of everyone's meals, I make the huge mistake of putting my card down. 

"Can everyone just transfer me?" I beg, wincing at the amount of follow up texts that will be required over the next few days.

For now, the post-meal minefield has been successfully navigated, and talk turns to our next move. There's a decent bar close by, but it's not walkable.

"Should we book an Uber?" someone asks. 

Wait, can we split it?

After continually being told to "use his words" as a young boy, Thomas Mitchell took that advice on board and never looked back. Since then his words appeared all over the place, including in the Sydney Morning Herald, Time Out, The Huffington Post and GQ. Thomas spends his days observing the unique behaviour of the Australian male, while trying not to overstay his welcome at the local cafe.

Follow Thomas on Twitter

Illustration by Tia Alisha courtesy of Another Colour.

Think a bill should be split down to the dollar? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.