Picture this: You're out to dinner with friends, they order everything expensive on the menu while you stick to a salad -- is it OK to ask for separate checks?

The answer is complicated. Etiquette experts actually disagree on whether it is appropriate to split a check in social situations.

“Times are tight, and if a person or couple orders appetizers, dessert and drank alcohol, and you choose not to, it’s OK to discreetly say, ‘I am going to take care of my end,’” said Elaine Swann, lifestyle and etiquette coach. “But be sure to adequately cover what you ordered, plus tip.”

However, Lisa Mirza Grotts, an etiquette and protocol consultant,  said situations regarding money are already awkward enough, and by asking to individually pay will make matters worse. 

“Asking for separate checks is very passé, it’s too much work for the waiter and if you have lost your job you probably shouldn’t be going out in the first place," she said.

She said it’s much easier to split the bill evenly, particularly if it's a friend you go out with repeatedly. 

“It becomes a wash and will even out in the long run,” she said.  

Grotts also said it’s rude to let the bill sit on the table when it arrives. “Always be the first to grab the bill, it is embarrassing to let it linger.”

While the etiquette jury is out on whether or not it’s acceptable to ask for separate checks, the experts do agree on one thing: if you are going to split it, let that be known as soon as you sit down.

“Once the bill has arrived, it is too late,” said Jacqueline Whitmore, author of 'Business Class:  Etiquette Essentials  for Success at Work.' “Do it as early as possible — you can even let the maitre d' know right when you arrive to avoid confusion.”

The rules are much more hard-and-fast when it comes to business meals. 

“The person extending the invitation or who initiates is picking up the tab,” said Lyudmila Bloch, from EtiquetteOutreach.com. “If you want to be discrete you can advise the waiter in advance that you will be paying or just hand them your credit card before the party arrives.”

And don’t feel obligated to offer to help pay in a business situation. 

“There is a fine line between offering just because you want to help and offending the host,” said Swann.

Here are four  more tips to make you look like a polished pro during your next business meal.


When out on a business meal, take a cue from the host, said Whitmore. “Ask what they like or recommend,” she said. “If they say, ‘fruit salad,’ you might want to re-think the filet mignon.” 

“If they say the lobster is great here, or the pasta is done well, they are providing verbal cues that you order in that price range.” And make sure not to order alcohol unless the host does.  

Doggie Bags a No-No

At business meals, it’s not acceptable to ask for a bag for your leftovers. “It’s tacky. Everybody understands times are difficult, but we need to maintain grace and civility,” said Bloch.

Remain Wireless

Your friends might think your cell phone is glued to your ear, but it is unacceptable to make calls and e-mail at the table.

“The person in front of you is your top priority and you need to make them feel that way,” said Swann. “No checking e-mails, texting, or making or accepting calls. If you are expecting an important phone call during the meeting, make sure to ask the host when you arrive if it is OK to take the call and then leave the table when it comes in — but keep it quick."

Keep Your Fork to Yourself

If your host’s meal looks better than yours, take a mental note to order that next time, but don’t ask for a taste. “It is not appropriate to ask for a taste or to share a course, including dessert,” Bloch said.

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