Etiquette for ‘splitting the bill’ around the world
IN CANADA, THINGS are no fuss: if you’re out with friends, you ask the waiter/waitress for separate bills, and it’s never a problem.
But my first time in New York City, I joined some friends for a meal because I wanted to socialize. I had already eaten that day, and money was tight. I ordered some fries for the sake of not being lame, but when the bill came, I found myself having to pay an equal share of the total bill. I didn’t wanna be one of those people to point out the unfairness. I’d rather just write a passive aggressive article about it.
Turns out that many countries have their own way of splitting of bill, and while we can’t include them all, here’s a guide.
In the comments, kindly add the splitting the bill etiquette for countries not listed.
AUSTRALIA: The venue doesn’t usually offer to split the bill for you; instead, it’s just shared equally among the group regardless of what meal you ordered. Oftentimes, someone with a higher salary will foot a larger portion of the bill, and this is generally accepted by everyone. - Annie Bettis
CANADA: Usually guests pay exactly for what they ordered with separate bills.
CHINA: Many younger people will split the bill, but older folks consider it an honour to pay for the bill and will often compete for the right to do so. Readily allowing someone else to do it may be considered a social blunder. - Michael Tieso
COLOMBIA: Jeff Jung says: “You have to be a little careful about going out with a group. If I invite you to go out, it is assumed that I will pay. When I first came to Colombia, I got caught a couple of times with the bill unexpectedly. So, now when I want to go out with friends, I’m a little more vague about what the plans will be.”
EGYPT: People tend to pay for what they’ve had rather than chop the bill equally, but it depends on the group eating. And if you invite someone for dinner you may intend to pay for the whole thing. Especially if, for example, you haven’t seen the person for some time. “I’ve noticed that if I eat with Egyptians – especially those that I don’t see often or who aren’t close friends of mine – they are more likely to try to pay for me, and I’ve had arguments over who is going to take care of the bill!” – Matador Abroad editor, Nick Rowlands
GUATEMALA: “As a general rule, it’s either split, or someone steps in and pays the bill. If you invite someone out though, especially if you say “I invite you” it means that it’s good to pay. Amongst poorer Guatemalans (maybe 80%), the person who invites will generally pay because it would be rude to assume that the person you are inviting out has money to pay.” - Luke Armstrong
ICELAND: My friend Gylfi says you pay for what you ordered only.
INDIA: The most traditional way of splitting the bill is having the eldest male member pay for it. With younger generations, however, it’s not more common to split the bill evenly. If it’s a meeting between people from the bride’s side and groom’s side of an engaged couple, the men from the bride’s side will pay the bill. - Abhijit Gupta
IRAN: My good friend Masoud says splitting the tab depends on if you’re dining with family or friends. With family, the father pays for everything; with friends, it’s generally known beforehand who’s buying. If it’s for a special occasion (i.e. a graduation or birthday), the guest of honour must pay. On a date, the man always pays.
In a more casual situation with two or three friends, one person will pay the whole bill but it is expected that their meal will be covered next time by one of the other parties. Figuring out who pays first is a manner of Iranian culture known as Taarof, asking three times for everything. This is a matter of respect.
IRELAND: Ireland is popular for its bill one-upmanship. Anne Merrit, who has family there, says: “There’s lots of arguing and grabbing that toes the line between good-natured and ruthless. It’s really awkward to witness as an outsider. My grandfather goes as far as slipping the waiter his credit card before the meal has even begun in order to nip an argument in the bud.”
ISRAEL: If an Israeli or Palestinian says they want to pay for the meal, let them. There’s a certain honesty here when it comes to paying the bill: “Surprisingly, even when I say I will pay when I am having a meal with a male friend, tour guide, etc., my offer is accepted without argument.” - Sabina Lohr
ITALY: The bill is split equally, or people pay for what they ordered. When dining with relatives, the oldest usually pays. However, when it’s somebody’s birthday, the birthday boy/girl usually pays. – Doriana Briguglio & - Robin Locker Lacey
LEBANON: According to Dan Nabahedian, you do NOT split the tab at a restaurant… you fight to the death for the right to pay up (while wistfully thinking that the “opponent” is going to pay it all). Dan says, “You should always appear horrified, start making wide gestures while shouting, ‘No way! I can’t let you pay! It’s my turn now!’” He adds that you should be willing to jump over the table, trying to grab the bill before everyone else.
You can also try the ol’ bathroom trick: either you excuse yourself to go to the bathroom and discreetly pay without anyone noticing, or you head the bathroom just before you think the bill is going to arrive and then appear all surprised when you discover someone paid for it while you were gone.
NEW ZEALAND: According to a Twitter friend, if dining with a group, usually everyone pays their way rather than just splitting the bill evenly.
NORWAY: My friend Melissa who studied in Norway for two years says everyone pays for exactly what they ordered.
PHILIPPINES: It’s common for younger people to split bills, but older adults may compete for the honour of paying the bill despite protest from the guests (and the guests are expected to protest). BUT this is usually declared before hand, and if a guest orders a super-expensive item, it can be considered rude.
If it’s a family dining together, the parents or most senior person will pay the bill (which typically is the person earning the largest income in the family). However, if it’s a special occasion like a birthday, the birthday boy or girl usually pays the bill. - Josh Aggars
SENEGAL: In modern settings, such as a nice restaurant in Dakar, the person who has extended the invitation typically pays the bill. This is flexible, though; in a group of friends, it’s not uncommon for everyone to pitch in. In a business-meeting type of setting, the inviter usually pays. - Rachel Cullen
SOUTH AFRICA: A friend in Johannesburg says you pay for what you ordered. In some rural areas and townships, however, it’s often customary for the whole table to chip in and buy a whole bottle of liquor rather than single drinks.
SOUTH KOREA: In Korea, people never split the tab: the oldest person pays, no matter how many people are out to dinner or how much booze was consumed. Whenever foreigners go out to eat, the waiter will get impatient with all the calculations. “When I go out with a mixed crowd of Koreans and foreigners, the Koreans will usually take charge of the bill and collect money discreetly.” - Anne Merritt
SPAIN: In Spain, paying the bill largely depends on region and occasion. If the person who invited you to dinner insists on paying, don’t argue with them…it will appear rude. In other places, however, numbers are rounded so everyone pays the same price.
SYRIA: Most of the same principles apply as in Lebanon.
THAILAND: Many restaurants will ask beforehand who’s paying together and who’s paying separately. But if you’re invited out to a meal, never offer to split the bill – the host will pay. – Dan Nahabedian
USA: The bill is usually split evenly, and nickel and diming can even be considered tacky. However, it’s not uncommon to simply pay for what you ordered, but getting separate bills can be considered a pain.
VIETNAM: When eating at a restaurant with other people, it’s considered prestigious to pay for the meal. Preventing someone else from paying if they’ve made the offer first is considered rude, and it doesn’t matter when the offer was made. However, if you’re the one who extended the invitation, it’s expected that you foot the costs.