Cheques and mates
KATHERINE GILLESPIE HAS SOME THOUGHTS ON SPLITTING THE BILL.
Going out for a meal with a big group of friends is, in theory, one of life’s simplest pleasures. Hoeing into chef-prepared food is good, obviously, and gossiping about mutual acquaintances is even better. Sadly, all this gluttony does come at a price – specifically, the one listed on the menu. As plates are cleared away and someone at the table quietly regrets having taken a risk on the breakfast special, a single slip of paper appears alongside a frowning, overworked waitress. No, you can’t pay separately on weekends. They can’t make an exception. Sorry.
It’s the moment everyone knew was coming, yet no one thought to prepare for with a strategic ATM trip. Someone’s five dollars short; vague and unconvincing promises are made about internet banking; and an impatient line of people stare on as they wait for the table. Everyone has experienced this dilemma, but nobody talks about it. It’s time for us, as a culture, to start taking responsibility for our bill-splitting habits.
Let’s begin by resisting the urge to open the calculator app. Nothing ruins the pleasant feeling of having ingested your body weight in scrambled eggs faster than sitting around awkwardly while someone painstakingly calculates how much everybody owes for their meal, down to the last cent. My humble suggestion: split the damn thing evenly. Oh, you didn’t order a second coffee like everybody else? Well, take a deep breath and let that $3.50 go. This is neither the time nor place for long division. Of course, even if everyone is keen to split the bill, it’s inevitable that someone won’t have the correct amount of cash on them. Here, we enter the phase of “send me your details” ambiguity, which will likely result in little more than a series of awkward follow-up messages. The truth is, I’ve frequently been the friend who didn’t think ahead to get money out, but in my defence, I’m a brave and forward-thinking futurist and truly believe paper money should have become obsolete by now. Still, I’ve come to understand that my love of tapping my card is a massive inconvenience to others. Let it be known, I’m trying to change – by, quite literally, having spare coins on me at all times.
(On that note: blessed be the friends who, with full knowledge that they’re about to lose at least 10 dollars, sigh and put the whole thing on their card as everyone mutters half-heartedly about sending money through later. Let us be grateful for their sacrifice, and try to pay them back quicker and more faithfully in future.) Perhaps the most irritating inevitability of the group meal is that one diner who ducks out early for some other “very important social engagement”, and either “forgets” to leave money on the table or “miscalculates” the correct amount. Conversely, they’ll stay for the entire meal, but conveniently disappear to the bathroom just as it’s time to pay up. Strategically leaving everyone else to sort out the bill is so dang rude that it almost demands begrudging respect, but I reckon you can get away with it once per year at most. Twice, maybe, if you’re incredibly broke. Consider yourselves warned, Houdinis of the brunch world.
Maybe I’m overanalysing things, but how we split the bill reflects who we are as people. No matter how many letters I write to the government, it seems Australia is sticking with capitalism for the time being, which means some of us will have more financial freedom than others. So, if you find yourself feeling flush postpaycheck, why not shout a mate their breakfast? You’ll feel great, and they’ll be chuffed, too. Bonus points if you sneakily pay for the whole table while no one’s looking. Nothing tastes sweeter – not even those turmeric lattes everyone’s making now.