Budgeting | Financial Planning | Personal Stories | Article

Should You Split the Bill Equally or Only Pay for What You Ordered?

by The Simple Sum Team | 28 Sep 2023 | 4 mins read

As Malaysians, few things in life brings us together as profoundly as gathering and dining over platters of food. However, after everyone’s bellies have been filled and the bill arrives, a common dilemma arises: how should you split the bill? 

 Questions such as ‘How should I pay for the meal?’, ‘Should we split the bill equally or do I just pay for what I ordered?’ or ‘Should I offer to foot the entire bill?’ often pop up, making the situation awkward and uncomfortable. 

We speak to three TSS members to learn about what they do whenever they dine out.   

Pay for what you ordered… unless its family 

The fairest way to go about splitting the bill is to only pay for what you ordered. Technically, if you craved for something, ordered it and ate it, it’s only logical that you alone should pay for it.  

When you split the bill in such a manner, it makes you more accountable and conscious of your spending. It can also help you when you are on a tight budget as you only pay for what you can afford.   

Athirah Idris follows this mantra when dining with her friends. “I calculate what I ordered, then add the tax according to my order,” she says.  

For example, if she ordered pasta and a drink that cost a total of RM60, she will add the 6% sales tax (RM3.60) and pay her share of RM63.60.  

Alyssa Lee also pays for only what she ordered when she eats out with friends. She feels it is unfair to them if she orders something more expensive and they have to absorb the cost of some of it. “I calculate [what I ordered] from the receipt then split the tax,” she says.  

And to ensure she doesn’t forget to pay the person who initially covered the bill, Alyssa makes it a point to immediately transfer the money to her friend via QR pay. 

However, it is quite a different story when it comes to dining with their families. Athirah and Alyssa always foot the bill whenever they dine out with their parents. 

As their child who is earning an income, I feel obligated to pay for my parents whenever we dine out, explains Alyssa.  


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It’s less complicated to split the bill equally 

Ooi May Sim, on the other hand, follows a different approach to dining in a group.  

“My friends and I used to just pay for what we ordered,” says Sim. “But as we grew older, we began ordering dishes and sharing platters, so now, we split the bill equally. 

“It’s simpler that way, plus, as there is no way of knowing who ate more (or less), it makes more sense to split it equally,” she adds. 

And while she agrees that this might not be the fairest method, she doesn’t like being too calculative about money when it comes to her friends. Sim also feels that this is possible because she doesn’t dine out very often.  

“Dining out is reserved for occasions so it doesn’t affect my budget much,” she says. 


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Don’t Get Burnt by Your Friends

Learning from bad experiences 

Although Athirah and Alyssa pay for what they order now, this wasn’t always the case.  

Athirah used to split the bill equally with her friends but realised she ended up paying twice as much as she would have if she had only paid for what she ordered.   

“I wasn’t comfortable (with that). So, since then, I always pay the bill first, then split it according to what everyone ordered,” she says. 

Alyssa shares a similar experience. “I don’t drink alcohol but somehow it was included in the split and my friends asked me to pay RM200 when I only ordered a RM20 item,” she recalls.  

Although she paid that staggering amount because she felt bad for the person who forked out RM2,000 to pay for the whole bill first, she has since ‘lost touch’ with this group of friends.  

It made her feel very upset and annoyed, she shared. To make matters worse, this one meal affected Alyssa’s budget for weeks.  


Make sure everyone is on the same page 

While splitting the bill equally is easier and more convenient, paying for what you ordered ensures fairness and helps you keep to your budget.   

Ultimately, deciding on whether to split the bill equally or based on what you ordered depends on the dynamics within the group. But instead of just thinking about the bill once it has arrived at the table, perhaps have a conversation about how the bill will be split with your dining buddies before the next gathering. This way, everyone is clear about what to do when the bill arrives.