Splitting the bill and other, more extreme signs of stinginess when it comes to dining together can be hugely divisive.
A user called Katek posted on gransnet.com to ask other users what she should do about a pal who pores over every bill when they dine in a group so she can add up the cost of what each person has eaten.
“Meanwhile the poor waitress or cashier is waiting for us to pay and go as there is a queue building up behind us,” Katek continues.
“My friend also brings her own decaffeinated tea bag and asks for hot water. She then complains that she’s still charged for a pot of tea. I have tried to explain that it still costs to produce the hot water, milk etc but it falls on deaf ears.”
The question set off a torrent of responses, with gransnet.com users divulging stories of friends and relatives who behave in a similar fashion.
“Our youngest daughter’s in-laws are a nightmare,” writes a user called NanaandGrampy. “They won’t pay for a mouthful more than they ate, they pore over the bill with a calculator, they usually leave off something they HAVE eaten and they NEVER put a penny towards a tip. “
Others had tales of friends who collected the table’s cash, then paid only the bill on their credit card, thus pocketing the tip meant for the waiter or waitress, while others recalled friends who conveniently never had cash on them at all.
But some commenters say they also prefer to pay only for their own food and drink, usually because they drink soft drink or choose an inexpensive meal while the rest of the party has champagne and lobster.
“I had no problems dividing the cost of the food equally but I had a major problem with the alcohol,” recalls Charleygirl. “Each drank an entire bottle of wine, I had a Diet Coke or similar. I did not see why I should be subsidising their meal.”
But still others hit back at that notion.
“Often soft drinks can be as expensive as a shared bottle of wine,” says Carol58.
And others pointed out that buying a round or splitting a bill equally are not customs in their countries, where buying your own drink and meal is the norm.
In short, there’s no agreement on what’s right, and online etiquette experts are remarkably silent on this matter.
But the Opentable blog has a few tips on what not to do.
“Never pay the tip in coins, never under tip because you assume someone else in your party will over tip, and never try to convince the server to accept more credit cards than the stated policy,” it says. “In varying ways, these actions will do a great disservice to the hospitality of the restaurant you just enjoyed.”