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DeRushaEats: Why is it so Hard to Split Checks?


It's the dining-out request that makes every seasoned diner nervous: "Can you split the check?"

What response do you usually get? The huff? The eye-roll? The stare of disgust?

There's no request that generates such scorn from people in the service industry. Even if you ask before you order, you can generally still expect a negative response.

Frankly, I've never understood why this is such a big deal. Most of the time when I'm out, I see servers organize orders based on seat position. Many use a numbering system. And more and more restaurants are spitting out checks that are already organized by seat. Which makes it super easy to split up a check.

So in my quest for knowledge, I asked my Facebook following and got some great responses.

Jeffrey Fortson, a longtime service pro and the food/beverage manager at Tartan Park in Lake Elmo, calls check splitting "the 3rd ring of hell." Why? "If 4 women are splitting a check, the server will recieve at least 4 tenders. The ladies will pay with cash, a check, a credit card, 2 gift cards, a bag of Skittles and a tube of lipstick." And "4 split checks means 4 checks to close on the POS which can be a nightmare if you work on an old POS. Another issue with check splitting is that often guests forget what they ate and need to be reminded of the meal they consumed just moments ago."

Lynn Dunham said she's been a server for more than 20 years: "This is a time consuming process if not informed before the order is taken."

Kevin countered: "I'm baffled as to how someone could look at a table of 6 people and not think at the outset to ask how they want the check."

Several bartenders weighed in, saying that outside of the time suck of processing payments, it's no big deal. Chad Larson from Bradstreet said, "It's usually not a problem to do it. It gets a little time consuming when multiple credit cards are presented. Like 4 cc's for a $28.00 tab. It is helpful to have separate tabs from the get go." Pip Hanson from Marvel Bar echoed that saying, "It's a bit of a hassle during a rush, but basically shouldn't be a big deal."

I asked Stephanie Shimp, one of the honchos of the Blue Plate Restaurant Group, what the deal is. She said, "The difficult part is keeping track of who ate what and who has which kids. I was in this situation at my own place last week: 7 Moms, 7 kids, no one sitting by their kids and then 7 credit cards to process."

That is annoying for sure, but she said they push their staff to realize that it is "NOT that big of a deal. It's part of their job. We say, find a way to say yes."

Some insight on the dirty look from Ryan Ecklund, 14 years in the service industry: "90% of restaurant point of sales systems will only allow you to split a check a certain number of ways. Many of them will only allow you to split a check into equal portions while others allow you to split checks right down to the item. Regardless, PLEASE do your server the courtesy of telling us before NOT after your experience. Believe me it will be a shorter, less frustrating bill paying ordeal. Knowledge is power and I can't provide you and your guests a smooth, seamless experience if you don't communicate."

Personally, I hate asking for split checks. I typically split the check down the middle (giving 2 credit cards) and then try to even things out with the tip.

I'd love to see your thoughts in the comments here.

My view: Servers, stop being snots about this. Diners, don't be so cheap on the tip. If you split checks, make sure you tip at least 15 percent, more preferably 20 percent, and ideally round up from 20 percent—that way you cover your cheap friend sitting next to you.

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Minnesota Monthly's Taste Blog answers your restaurant and dining questions, dishes on latest discoveries, reflects on breaking news, and generally brings the plate to the page with a skilled crew of experts: Learn more about the Taste bloggers.

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