It’s 9:30 p.m., and a party of 20 are celebrating prom at your restaurant.
They’ve been there for two hours already. The hostess seated them in your section, and you’ve done everything you can to make sure they have a good experience, even though the kitchen was a little late on their dessert.
They’ve switched seats five times already while snapping photos. As you’re dropping the check off, you wonder: Will they squabble over who pays the bill? Or worse, will they ask to split the check 20 ways, but split the appetizer evenly between everyone? Will you be running credit cards for the next hour, keeping you there past close?
It’s a server’s worst nightmare: the check splitting fiasco. Some restaurant technology platforms make splitting the check easy, but some systems make it...a splitting headache.
1. Tell your server you need to split the check at the start of the meal.
Marisa, server at Post Office Saloon in Redding, California, said to let the server know exactly how you want to split the check at the start of the meal, before ordering anything.
That way, servers can build separate checks in the system as the meal progresses, rather than racking their brain for who ordered what at the end of the meal or, in some cases, having to ask a manager to void the check.
2. Don’t forget how to tip on a split check.
If you split the check, you should tip separately as well, by card or by leaving cash. Some servers love it when a table decides to split the check, because that means a higher chance of a better tipper.
However, sometimes people forget basic tipping etiquette when splitting the check.
Terri, a server at Jonathan’s Family Restaurant in Canton, Michigan, shares a maddening situation: a guest picking up another guest’s check and forgetting to tip on it. If you pick up someone else’s check, don’t forget to tip on that one too.
Tipping in cash on a split check is OK, but don’t tip in coins. According to C. A. Pinkham from The Kitchenette, “Coins are effectively valueless in American society (which is all that matters for the purpose of this post, since it's only about American society), they're a pain to deal with, the vast majority of managers aren't going to let me cash out with them...I'm stuck.”
3. Don’t play musical chairs.
Sarah, server at Texas Roadhouse, shares that generally, if you ask servers to split the check at the beginning of your meal, they’ll split by seat number.
So when you decide to switch seats in the middle of dinner, you’re guaranteed a longer wait time on those split checks.
Don’t be like those prom-goers. Decide where you’re going to sit and stay there — or don’t split the check.
4. Be patient.
If you ask to split the check, know that it’s going to add anywhere from 10 minutes to 30 minutes to your visit. Nicole, a server at two restaurants in northern California, sums it up perfectly:
If a server is using a paper ticket system, she has to remember what everyone ordered (if you didn’t tell them at the start of the meal), return to the table to double-check, create the separate checks in the system, print them all, run all the credit cards, and then print them all again. It’s a lot of time that could be better spent doing server side work or becoming a better server.
Be patient when it comes to your food, too.
Chandra sets the expectation upfront that all the food might not arrive at the same time if the guests need separate checks. In some restaurants, separate checks means the courses won’t fire to the kitchen at the same time, so the food may not come out at the same time.
5. If you want to save time, just split online.
I have a friend who lives and dies by her rewards credit card and insists on paying for the entire meal with it every time we go out. We pay her back using Venmo, a digital wallet that lets you send payments to friends.
If you don’t have time to wait for your server to split the checks or for your friends to agonize over how to tip, simply splitting online could be the best option.
Why is check splitting such a headache? In many situations, it’s because the point of sale system the restaurant uses is antiquated and requires servers to re-enter every item into separate checks.
Toast makes it easy to drag and drop menu items to split checks and even split individual menu items across any number of guests in just a few taps. Does a couple want to split the check in half? Done. Does a group want to share the cost for a plate of nachos? No problem.
Plus, with Toast Go, a handheld device custom-built for the restaurant industry, guests can pass around the tablet and pay, sign, and tip at the table with suggested tip percentages.
According to Odd Duck General Manager Cory Neel, "One of the biggest things in keeping servers in the building is having a job where they know they can pay their bills. The tip increase we saw with the Toast Go™ devices astounded me. From 2016, when we were running Aloha, to now, our servers are making anywhere from an extra $6,000 to $7,000 a year in tips."
What’s the worst experience you’ve had splitting the check at a restaurant?
What’s the best?
Share your stories in the comments below and follow Toast on Facebook to continue the conversation. Plus, if you have any questions about check splitting etiquette, the community of restaurant servers, GMs, and owners would be glad to help in the comments below.
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