Against Splitting The Bill [en]

[fr] Partager "également" la note à la fin d'un repas partagé est inévitablement injuste: ceux qui ont consommé moins paient toujours pour ceux qui ont consommé plus. Ceci est facilement une source de tensions lorsque vient le moment fatidique si tous les convives n'ont pas des habitudes de consommation (viande, alcool) et des budgets similaires.

Il y a eu un peu de tension à ce sujet lors de mon repas d'anniversaire hier soir, malgré ma tentative d'utiliser le "système de la banque" de mon ami Stowe Boyd. J'aurais dû prévenir les convives à l'avance, et le ferai à l'avenir. L'idée de la "banque" est simple: chacun regarde la note, décide ce qu'il est juste qu'il paie par rapport à ce qu'il a consommé, et donne l'argent à une personne (l'organisateur, souvent) qui joue le rôle de la banque. La banque paie le tout via carte de crédit et ne vérifie pas les sommes qui lui sont données. Pour ceux qui s'inquiéteraient, la banque perd rarement -- l'absence de contrôle encourage les convives à faire leurs additions de façon responsable, et dans le doute, à payer plutôt large que court.

Ce billet explique pourquoi je suis en général opposée au système injuste du partage arithmétique (sauf en certaines circonstances) et les avantages que je trouve au système bancaire, en réponse à un billet de Tara Hunt (par ailleurs ma généreuse hôtesse durant mon séjour à San Francisco), qui regrette qu'on ait pas simplement "partagé l'addition". Les commentaires en réponse à son billet sont presque tous en défense du "partage arithmétique", d'où mon assez longue explication.

***Update:** do also read [Stowe’s clarifying response to Tara’s post]( while you’re at it.*

*Another long comment which turned into a post. This is a response to [Tara’s post about the awkward “paying the bill” moment at my birthday dinner party]( yesterday.*

I’d like to chime in here, as the “Birthday Girl” in the story and a strong opponent of splitting the bill.

First, my apologies to [everyone present at the dinner party]( for whom the “settling the bill” moment left a bad aftertaste. You can imagine it wasn’t my intention, and this is the first time I’ve seen a party not wanting to go with “Stowe’s banking system”. I’ve learnt from last evening that it’s important to announce how the bill will be dealt with in the invitation, and will do this in future. I think this is a good thing to do whatever the “system” the party organiser would like to adopt — at least things are clear from the start.

And in this case, particularly as you were kind enough to pitch in for my share — which I greatly appreciate — I guess I should have just kept my feelings to myself about how the bill was being dealt with. Again, I’m sorry if my comments contributed to making it a sour experience for you.

I’m surprised, reading this post and the comments, to see so many people who consider “splitting evenly” to be a just solution. By definition, it’s always unfair — those who consumed less pay for those who consumed more. As a person who doesn’t drink (or hardly), has been on some kind of a budget most of her adult life, and spent many years being the sole “eternal student” amongst friends who were earning a decent living, I’ve done my share of “paying for others” — and I can tell you it doesn’t even out in the end.

Yes, more than once I’ve spoken up and refused to pay for twice the amount of what I’d ordered had cost, sure, but it’s really unpleasant to have to do that. And (comments in this thread confirm this) do that, and you’re sure to be labeled “cheap” by people present. Not to mention that when people know the bill will be split, they stop paying any attention to the price of what they order (or the number of drinks), as “it all evens out in the end”.

As for Royal’s comment:

But if someone has to watch their cash that closely they should not be going out to dinner anyway.

If you can’t afford to spend without looking, then you shouldn’t go out and have fun with your friends? I disagree, and actually find your comment about this distasteful. More than once, I’ve chosen to accept an invitation to eat out rather than stay in, knowing that I could afford it if I was reasonable. And I have many friends who have exactly this kind of budget issue.

Back to the “bank” system, which I feel has not been well understood in this conversation, what is wrong with paying for what you have ordered, or more precisely, what you consider fair to pay for what you’ve had? Counting pennies brings grief, I can see everybody agrees with that. I agree too. Look at the bill, consider what you’ve ordered, what you’ve eaten, and decide how much you contribute. Is that complicated?

It relies upon people being honest, but so does splitting the bill evenly. Shared appetizers or drinks? Look at how much was ordered, guesstimate how much you ate/drink (e.g. I ate more than 1/13 of the shared appetizers and I drink a lot of water, so had I been paying, I would have paid at least a whole bottle of water and an appetizer and a half). It’s a solution that allows people with different eating/drinking habits and different budgets to share a party together with no grumble. Dividing equally works well when the party is homogeneous — but honestly, I can’t often make that assumption about my guests. Sometimes I don’t know them well enough to know if they eat meat or drink or not, or what their financial situation is like. And I’d rather people not feel uncomfortable about having to raise issues like that at bill paying time, which is why I went for Stowe’s bank system.

In your post, and in a few comments, I hear concern for what the poor “bank” is going to be left paying in the end. Stowe says in his post that he has not usually been left paying a huge tab. I was also concerned about this when I first heard about this system, and he has also told me this in person — the bank rarely loses. I guess he’ll give details directly if he feels it’s useful.

For me, this is not so much about community vs. individual as about coming up with a solution which is as fair as possible, while minimizing the hassle. The lack of control is the key here — the Bank doesn’t check if people have paid correctly, which also tends to responsabilize people more. There’s no “boss” checking behind you to make sure you added up right, like when everybody pays “their share” but the total has to add up in the end. That’s where the party usually ends up 50$ short or 75$ long — and then what do we do?

People should be able to go and party together regardless of their drinking habits, diet preferences, or financial situation — without being made to feel uncomfortable about going against the “egalitarian we-pay-for-the-community splitting system”.

Are there any cultural issues at stake here? Maybe it’s more acceptable in Europe to care about how much you spend than in the USA, even though on the political scale, quite a few European countries (including mine) lean much further “left” (into “community solidarity”) than the USA?

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