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How Do I Split A Check With A Bad Check Splitter?

Welcome to Survey Says, FiveThirtyEight’s advice column. In each installment, our two advice-givers will take a reader question, debate what he or she should do, and then survey a panel of people about what the best course of action is. Need our advice? Send us your quandary!

The app Venmo has made those horrible moments of splitting the check way less awkward in my friend group, for the most part. However, there’s still one friend who manages to turn every check split into a high-stakes negotiation. She’s very intense about not paying more than she feels she has to, which often leads to her somehow paying less than she owes. However, when I try to push her to pay what she actually owes, she becomes upset and passive-aggressive. I always thought my bad division skills were contributing to our tense bill splitting, but I haven’t noticed this problem with other people. Should I just bite the bullet and pay for all the meals, hoping she will Venmo me the correct amount? Or is there a way to ensure check splitting is fair, with minimal hassle?

This whole issue wouldn’t bother me as much if my friend didn’t make almost double my salary. My friend works in finance; I work for a nonprofit. She knows exactly how much I make, and I know how much she makes, which contributes to my frustration. Other than her stinginess, she’s a great friend! — Tammy

Walt Hickey: This brings up the central question of our generation: Did Venmo make the problem worse?

Morgan Jerkins: No, it didn’t. This friend is a mess.

A few suggestions: One is to go to restaurants where you can all get separate checks. Don’t even rely on Venmo anymore.

Walt: Your suggestion is to go to specific restaurants only, and make the servers get to know and despise you over time?

Morgan: Wait, is it a lot of labor for the waiters to split the checks?

Walt: See, you would think no, but whenever I hang out with my friends who are servers, their blood boils at the mention. And when they go out, my understanding is, they, like, pay entirely in cash, etc. Lots of server-only wisdom out there.

Morgan: Yikes. I had no idea.

Walt: You had more suggestions, though?

Morgan: My more extreme reaction was to not invite that friend to any more meals if you both can’t pay separately, like at a Starbucks or a cafeteria.

Walt: “Tammy, why whenever we go to brunch do you place a Seamless pick-up order instead of ordering from the server?”

Morgan: I know it’s messed up but, like, money ruins relationships. If you have a friend who will not pay whatever she feels she shouldn’t pay, which leads to her paying less and you thinking she should pay more, then that is a problem. It puts a dark cloud over any of your social gatherings, you know?

Walt: Men and women have different social norms when splitting checks. Or is that just a lie stand-up comedians perpetuate? Guys either (a) do even splitsies or (b) just throw in cash until it’s solved. It’s all even in the long run.

Morgan: I can’t say. All of my friends know how much they owe, haha.

Walt: Right!

Morgan: I’ve never had this issue.

Walt: Guys do not! Guys either split it evenly or just throw money at the problem until it goes away.

Morgan: Interesting. I honestly thought gender had nothing to do with it. Stinginess knows no bounds.

Walt: We should test this! And while we’re at it, I want to know who the people are who are using calculators at the brunch table. I’m guessing that’s something men don’t do.

FiveThirtyEight commissioned a SurveyMonkey Audience poll that ran April 12-13 and received 1,138 responses. We presented respondents with Tammy’s question and asked them what the best advice is, given the situation. They were allowed to choose only one option.

  1. Demand an even split every single time.

    11.6%

  2. Cover the check yourself and send a Venmo request for how much that person owes according to you.

    9.2%

  3. Stop brunching with this person.

    33.5%

  4. Only go to places comfortable splitting checks.

    29.7%

  5. None of the above is good advice.

    16.0%

Morgan: Yes!

Walt: Sometimes I have to take a step back and remind myself, “We just ran a nationwide survey of Americans so that someone can decide to not go to brunch with a person.”

Morgan: lol

Walt: How do you find a brunch spot comfortable with splitting checks at peak business? Where are these oases?

SHARE OF RESPONDENTS BY GENDER
WOMEN MEN
1. Demand an even split 12% 12%
2. Pay it all, then send Venmo request 9 9
3. Stop brunching with her 31 38
4. Only go to places that split checks 31 27
5. None of the above 16 15

Numbers have been rounded and may not add up to 100 percent.

Walt: Guys would drop this human being in a hot second while women seem more likely to stick it out. What gives?

Morgan: Do you want the politically correct guess?

Walt: Hit me with whatever ya got.

Morgan: I think women just tend to be more forgiving, to be honest. Especially when it comes to money. I have never seen a woman confront a lady friend over money she owes and yet you see this trope amongst men happening all the time especially in television and film. Of course, I’m being extremely biased.

Also, brunch — at least in New York — is a pretty big tradition. It seems really womencentric, or am I wrong?

Walt: Brunch belongs to everyone. It’s the universal thing that binds us on this miserable island.

But the crowd spoke, and it’s time to just drop this person from your brunch circuit, Tammy, and if you really must, only see them at places that auto-split the check. Speaking of which, do we have those numbers on how people do that?

SHARE OF RESPONDENTS
Even split 27%
Individualized amounts 55
Throw in what you think you owe until it’s settled 9
Other 10

Numbers have been rounded and may not add up to 100 percent.

Morgan: Not surprised. It needs to be individualized. Brunch is too damn expensive.

Walt: Well then, 8.52 percent of us are going to continue having the most peaceable check-splitting method over here while the rest of you 91.48 people duke it out over who did and didn’t get a mimosa.

SHARE OF RESPONDENTS BY AGE GROUP
18-29 30-44 45-59 60+
1. Demand an even split 13% 10% 11% 14%
2. Pay it all, then send Venmo request 23 8 4 4
3. Stop brunching with her 27 35 36 36
4. Only go to places that split checks 24 31 33 28
5. None of the above 13 16 17 17

Numbers have been rounded and may not add up to 100 percent.

Walt: This age gap is incredible.

Morgan: I guffawed.

I’m 24, and Venmo is usually the go-to for a lot of my brunches.

Walt: Venmo and its ilk are young people’s; there’s a three-way split over whether to let the app handle the problem, demanding a split check or cutting off brunch.

So what I’m going with is that people see a solution on the horizon, but we’re not there, yet. For now, we just have to cut checkmonsters out of our lives until the technology gets there?

Morgan: Well, I think people don’t like confrontation. That’s how I interpreted it. Venmo, different brunch locations or no more brunches with said person do nothing to address the person head-on because money is a minefield.

SHARE OF RESPONDENTS BY GENDER
WOMEN MEN
Even split 26% 28%
Individualized amounts 57 51
Throw in what you think you owe until it’s settled 7 11
Other 10 9

Numbers have been rounded and may not add up to 100 percent.

Walt: I will only mention that the slim preference among men for “throw in what you owe until the problem goes away” is statistically significant!

And is, if you ask me, the ideal check split of tomorrow, technology be damned.

Morgan: I have never heard of people adding money until it’s enough. Like, what?

Walt: It’s the only all-for-one check-paying plan in a dog-eat-dog-but-which-dog-had-the-$10-Bellini world.

Morgan: Yeah, that can get messy. And with everybody drinking, too? Yikes.

SHARE OF RESPONDENTS
Yes, I use a calculator to determine the split 24%
No, I don’t use a calculator to determine the split 57
I sometimes use a calculator to determine the split 20

Numbers have been rounded and may not add up to 100 percent.

SHARE OF RESPONDENTS BY GENDER
WOMEN MEN
Yes, I use a calculator to determine the split 26% 19%
No, I don’t use a calculator to determine the split 51 65
I sometimes use a calculator to determine the split 24 16

Numbers have been rounded and may not add up to 100 percent.

Walt: Pocket calculators at check time are a morally wrong act.

Morgan: I don’t see the problem whatsoever.

Walt: It’s only acceptable with cash. Otherwise it’s more work for the server because they’re the one who’s going to have to run 10 cards, and during the busy brunch time, that increases the suffering of others.

Like, nobody comes out dramatically in the red or in the black by just doing basic division.

Morgan: Ohhhhhhhhh

Walt: Meals are meant to be a bonding experience that bring people closer together, and there’s something off-putting about breaking out a calculator to systematically and perfectly divide everyone up at the end of the meal.

Morgan: I must be socially inept, lol.

Walt: Either way, pocket calculators mean more work for the server, and I think that’s bad.

Morgan: I guess you’re right, although the only time I’ve had brunch with more than three other people was for a birthday.

Walt: Did you all cover the birthday girl’s check?

Morgan: Yup.

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Morgan Jerkins is a writer living in New York City.

Walt Hickey is FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.

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