An idea for restaurant receipts 14 Mar 2005

54 comments Latest by jet

Wouldn't it be nice if receipts showed you how much it would cost each person if everyone split the bill evenly? So, for example, if the bill was $42, and there were 7 people at the table, there would be a note on the receipt that would say "$6/person if split evenly." Or, if the bill was $28.50 and there were 3 people, it would say "$9.50/person if split evenly." Wouldn't that be helpful?

54 comments (comments are closed)

Fred, the real Fred 14 Mar 05

Reminds me of an SNL thing with Father Sarducci and the bill for the “Last Supper.”

jankowski 14 Mar 05

What about building a disposable paper-thin calculator right into the receipt to let diners figure it out themselves, based on criteria of their own choosing (as opposed to assuming the even split)?

Steve, via Den, Fla and now RDU 14 Mar 05

Doing simple everyday math is good for you. Keeps your brain from turning into mush…

PS Man, my res on my monitors are tight but the fonts here are still HUGE!

Simon Jessey 14 Mar 05

I get where you are coming from; however, I would rather hope that anyone who earned enough money to eat out would have learned how to do simple division.

Sheldon Kotyk 14 Mar 05

I’m a big fan of receipts that show the cost for each seat at the table, even the tax. I use that way more than an even split across the board. When it comes to even splits I just round up, add a tip and divide by the number of seats.

For usability purposes, adding your suggestion to a receipt may backfire. Most people I talk to have trouble figuring out the receipt to calculate a tip.

Jamie 14 Mar 05

I think an even better idea is if servers first asked if the table would like separate checks or one bill (particularly at lunchtime). But yes, having something like a “if split evenly” number would be very useful.

Mark Fusco 14 Mar 05

That would be nice. But it seems I heard some good advice in Austin just yesterday…

“Encourage human solutions…give people just enough to solve their own problems their own way…do that, then get out of the way…”

Seriously though, I had a cellphone a couple of years ago which did exactly what you’re mentioning. It calculated a 15% tip (or whatever) and then split the cost evenly up to 99 people.

What I’d find more helpful is how much (if anything) one is supposed to tip for room service here at the Downtown Hilton after local sales tax, in-room dining charge and 15% gratuity is automatically added.

Jesper 14 Mar 05

Simon, it’s not about your knowledge as a diner, it’s about service. Jason once posted about a receipt with some common tip rates and what they’d translate to on the current sum. That’s what we’re talking about.

Adam Michela 14 Mar 05


I was just talking on Friday with my girlfriend and a buddy, after a few beers and a few too many margaritas, about how sweet it was that the restaurant we were at included a tip calculation on the receipt.

Trust me… you would like this too after a few “El Mariachi Margaritas”.

Like Sheldon said though, it might have a negative effect for the server if they usually get over-tipped by drunken fools like me. ;)

Zelnox 14 Mar 05

Haha, I sure would like this.

Charbel 14 Mar 05

What a great idea…why hasn’t anyone those of this already…Even better if there was a buzzer at the table so you can buzz the waiter/waitress anytime you needed something…

Benjy 14 Mar 05

I like the idea, but do wait staff typically enter the # of people in a party in to the computer?

Another possible spin would be to make those bill folders w/ a calculator built-in. I’ve seen them on similar folders w/ pads of paper.

JF 14 Mar 05

I like the idea, but do wait staff typically enter the # of people in a party in to the computer?

Yup, check your receipt — it usually says how many people are in the party.

Ryan 14 Mar 05

That would be a dream. It’s a nightmare here in Canada as we often have a federal, a provincial and a liquor tax.

So once you include tip, your ten dollar entree becomes thirteen dollars.

What’s funny is that people here somehow think that eleven is enough.

I like German practice whereby the server gets each person to pay personally, crossing off the items off the total bill as they’re paid.

Bryan 14 Mar 05

Every been to restaurant where there were no prices on the menu.

Yea, thats real fun. I find this pretty common with Desert menu’s if you are at a fancy restaurant.

John Kopanas 14 Mar 05

At a restaurant I frequent often, for my fix of good Souvlaki, on the bill itself it gives you the total price and the price of each individuals food and drinks that they ordered including the taxes.

Even better then dividing evenly for those who really want to pay for what they ate.

Dan Boland 14 Mar 05

Actually, I really don’t think that’s a good idea. It’s my personal belief that any time you give a person the answer rather than letting them figure it out for themselves, you’re shortchanging that person, especially when it comes to basic math skills, which people seem to have a lot less of these days (wonder why?). And I would also point back to Mark Fusco’s ironic reminder of 37’s own words.

Todd 14 Mar 05

Actually, there’s a Ruby Tuesday here outside of Philadelphia that splits the bill according to how many people are at the table. If you order an appetizer, it splits that up as well.

The first time I saw it I thought it was a great idea. I wish more places did that.

Jeff Croft 14 Mar 05

Well, I certianly don’t think it would be a bad idea (i.e. it can’t hurt anything), but I’m not sure how useful it would be, either. Do people often split their bills evenly? Usually, in my experience, people just simply pay for what they ordered, rather than splitting it evenly.

Jeremy Flint 14 Mar 05

Would have helped out numerous times at SXSW this past weekend with all the random groups of people eating lunch/dinner together.

Todd 14 Mar 05

Jeff’s comment reminds me to clarify: The orders are split according to what is ordered…it’s the appetizer that is split evenly amongst the people at the table. So you are only paying for what you got and splitting the appetizer.

Adam Michela 14 Mar 05

Jeff, in my experience, the bill is usually split evenly. I hate when people split hairs over who had a salad and who had soup.

Pete Prodoehl 14 Mar 05

Whew! Luckily I don’t have to calculate a tip since I just pay for my ramen with a quarter and then eat it at home by the light of the CRT…

CSC 14 Mar 05

Tip calculation at the bottom of the check is a great thing. I think it’d be great if it said “Total tab including 15% tip” and “Total tab including 20% tip”* at the bottom because, really, we should all be able to do simple long division if we’ve got a total tab and under ten people at the table. But I definitely second the person who said a calculator in the folder containing your bill is actually the perfect solution.

*Because seriously, unless your waiter spit in your food and left with your date, I think 15% is the bare minimum you can leave as a tip. Others might well disagree.

Steve 14 Mar 05

Maybe it’s a regional thing. If several of us go to lunch, we usually pay for what we ordered individually, not just split it.

And while the “if split” total could be useful, I don’t think it ultimately would be. What usually ends up complicating the payment discussion - whether it’s people paying for their own or splitting it evenly - is making sure there’s enough money left for a tip. And unless the computer is going to presume what everyone’s going to tip (which it does for large parties by just making it part of the bill), the even split is still going to leave a huge part of the question unanswered.

Paul 14 Mar 05

Reminds me of the “Friends” episode, where the three with jobs start discussing splitting the bill six ways, while the three without jobs (and who ordered much less) start complaining.

I like the idea of the receipt splitting it by seat, tax included. Pay for what you had, I say. Other than appetizers, what else is reasonably split among everyone at the table? Pitchers of libations, perhaps?

Adam Michela 14 Mar 05

CSC, I agree… 15% is bare minimum so long as service was acceptable.

I typically tip 20% for on average, 25-35% for good to exceptional service.

The more the merrier really, especially since I tend to visit the same places regularly. I consider it an investment… ;)

I once tipped 250% for a big meal at Sushi Kaoboi’s (Cowboy) restaurant in Montreal. Go there and you’ll find out why >;)

Jordan T. Cox 14 Mar 05

Maybe I’m crazy, but I figure my tips based on the mood that the waitperson left me in. I do it, humanly with an off the cuff estimate of how much my food cost; plus how good the waitperson was. I get angry when people tell me a percentage I must pay. I’m sorry, but my tip is not part of the bill; it is my own way to show happiness and thankfulness for the service received.

I’m also one of those bastards who tips everywhere that he deems logical; not just where there’s a tip jar (hell, tip jars annoy me and cause me to not tip half the time). My florist was confused the first time I went to him, because I wrote him a check for ten dollars more than what he told me the price was; and walked away. Again, it’s appreciation to me - not a gratuitous forced exchange of money.

With friends, my philosophy is that what goes around comes around. I always pay around, if I’m just with someone else. They always end up paying for me, at some point in the near future. If it’s a larger party - the waitstaff around these parts (MN) always has separate checks, unless asked for a single.

My two cents. :)

sloan 14 Mar 05

In the USA unfortunately, tips are not an optional part of the wage for the worker waiting tables and other jobs. They get paid less than minimum wage in many cases because of it and so busy hours with lots of patrons are hugely where they make their money. I believe it should be changed, let tips be based solely on extra service, not as a defacto standard. Pay the people a normal wage…

The tricky part of this “bill” problem is how to do it. If you do it in even parts, it is pretty simple to show the tip scale. If you break it down by individual bill, you get some problems with having to do a tip scale for each individual person. That takes a ton of space. With WIDTH being the main constriant in these cases, I think a compromise would work that would give individual totals (let them figure out tip on their own at such low numbers) but give an overall view of tip percentages. The question I have is wheter to show tip per person as a total, or as the added amount, I have it as the amount to add because I feel addition is much easier than the division work being done for them:

Beer $2.00
BLT $6.95
Dessert $3.95
(+tax $14.25)
Soda $1.25
Cheese Burger $8.95
Side Salad $3.95
(+tax $16.55)
Soda $1.25
Soup $2.95
Salad $3.95
(+tax $10.05)
Tax $5.20
TOTAL $40.40

SPLIT $13.47/person
15% - $6.06 $2.02/person
18% - $7.27 $2.43/person
20% - $8.08 $2.70/person

sloan 14 Mar 05

sorry, i forgot that the spacing would be ruined without doing HTML…

Lea 14 Mar 05

Yeah, that would be nice if it was immediately on the receipt. Though, my cell phone has a function where you can figure out just that and divide it as well. Though, I would feel like a nerd doing that, because it reminds me of those anal people that whip out a calculator to make an exact tip percentage.

Pedro 14 Mar 05

here in Brazil it’s already working in some places.

BillMc 14 Mar 05

What I wish for, is that most or all of my financial transactions were digitized in a machine readable format. Ariba has e-procurement applications for corporations, but I’d like to see that degree of detail built into our everyday systems. Buying gas? A detailed electronic receipt is generated, associated with the credit card you used for your later retrieval, or maybe you’ve configured your visa account to forward those receipts to your cell phone…. and so on. For the restaraunt scenario, I’d hope there could be a complete, itemized, XML-format receipt that provided unique skus for each item that could be use to fetch more detail about the items later on if desired (description, menu listing, calorie count, other nutritional information, etc.). Someday… someday…

paul haine 15 Mar 05

Christ, eating out in the US sounds complicated.

Brian 15 Mar 05

This is a good idea.

The comments saying, “I know how to do math” and “you’re shortchanging that person, especially when it comes to basic math skills” … come on.

If you want figure it out yourself feel free. If you don’t want to look at it don’t. It’s a feature of the receipt. There are features in all the products we use, we use some of them and we ignore others.

As for spliting evenly, the majority of the time I eat out everyone does split evenly unless someone has been consuming adult beverages at a faster pace. I agree with Adam, I’m not going to sit there and split hairs over a dollar or two. When it is obvious someone just had a salad while everyone else had $30 steaks then you say you just toss in the cost of the salad.

I know I eat out with the same people often so in the end it all works itself out.

Bryan C 15 Mar 05

That’s a great idea. I’d also be happy if more restaurants defaulted to per-person bills. I try not to be obsessive about it, but I sometimes budget my midweek lunch purchases pretty tightly.

One shortcut for figuring a tip is to base it off the sales tax. Here in Maryland it’s 5%, so a 15% tip is just the sales tax multipled by three. (Yes, I know, this doesn’t include the tax itself, but that’s easy to compensate for. I don’t personally view the tax as a part of the meal expense.)

Dan Boland 15 Mar 05

Sloan: I worked as a waiter about five years ago and never had a problem making ends meet earning a base of $3.25/hour. I guess, like with most things in life, it depends.

Brian: I don’t think I’m being unreasonable. I’m a firm believer that calculators, to various extents, have helped dumb down an entire generation of Americans. Math is the basis for logical thought. If we keep removing every instance in which a person might have to use math, I can’t see how that’s a good thing. Have you noticed the obesity levels in this country? It’s because nobody has to do anything physical. Imagine what will happen when nobody has to do anything mental either.

Andrew 15 Mar 05

Steak ‘n Shake, where we sometimes go for lunch, lists each “seat” separately on the check — this includes the items ordered and the total, plus the person’s share of the tax. You still have to do math when paying for more than yourself, but it does make it easy to ensure everyone pays his/her fair share.

Brian 15 Mar 05

Dan - The obesity levels in the country aren’t due to physical activity it is due to what we are eating.

This is entirely off topic but take a look at the chemicals in our food. Everything is artificial; our bodies cannot evolve quick enough to handle these things. Take away all the artificial sweeteners, take away Trans Fats, eat a healthy diet and you can probably sit on your ass all day long and be alright.

When Monsanto a chemical company makes Aspartame (NutraSweet) and the hormones injected into cows to produce more milk and beef I think that may be part of the problem. Monsanto is a whole other post.

The best advice I have seen about diet is go buy a cookbook from 1950 and eat that diet.

People have the choice not to use their mind or bodies. If someone wants to be a fat ass, be one, they will suffer later. If someone wants to a dumb ass and not use their brains, go for it.

I just want by bill divided for me!

Brian 15 Mar 05

Or MY bill….

Mr Anonymous 15 Mar 05

Cell phones have calculators. Almost everybody has cell phones. Restaurant owners shouldn’t bother as there’s a risk of increased prices…

Brian 15 Mar 05

Thats what I want to do, whip out my cell phone and use it as a calculator. Very convenient.

I guess since we want everyone to use their brain to figure this out lets get rid of the ability to store phone #’s in our phone. No more speed dial. Everyone needs to start remembering phone numbers. Speed dial drives up the cost of the cell phone doesnt it?

Adam Michela 15 Mar 05

Yeah… who’s the idiot that invented browser cookies anyway? I mean… how hard is it to remember your passwords?!

… and why does Amazon tell you how how much your order costs including tax and shipping? I mean… your computer has a calculator… you could just add it all up couldn’t you?!?

… and why does this stupid website tell you who the last person to reply was? I mean… couldn’t you just click the post and scroll down to the bottom?!?!

… and why does your car tell you how much gas you have left? I mean… couldn’t you just keep track of the miles you’ve driven?!?!? It’s simple math! Come on!

jacksemptybankaccount 15 Mar 05

Interestingly, I learned from my father to always pick up the check. So I haven’t experienced these mind-numbing “split the bill” sessions.

Obviously, when I dine frequently with the same people, a natural flow takes over where if I’ve purchased the last meal they’ll offer to pay this time, and I’ll accept.

I do understand the point about super-large parties who aren’t real close (some work lunches,) that’s what expense accounts are for. The biggest wig needs to pony up, or get verbally abused. IOW, if you go to lunch and Ballmer is at the table, he’s paying, so get the lobster.

Adam Michela 15 Mar 05

I’m with ya on “the flow” Jack. Couldn’t have, and didn’t, say it better myself.

beto 16 Mar 05

Cell phones have calculators. Almost everybody has cell phones.

Yep, and I’ve found myself do that a number of times.

However, having the result already printed in the receipt should help you save at least a minute or two of futzing with your phone’s calculator.

Unlike most other countries, local restaurants already include the “tip” on the receipt (a whopping 10% off total), so that extra calculation is not much of an issue for us, for better or worse.

Laur 17 Mar 05

“� and why does your car tell you how much gas you have left? I mean� couldn�t you just keep track of the miles you�ve driven?!?!? It�s simple math! Come on!”

Actually, my dad has this kind of car. A ‘69 Beetle that was his first car. He’s had several “nicer” cars since, but he can’t bear to part with it. Unfortunately, buying new cars means he can’t afford to keep up with the repairs on his poor old bug. The engine runs fine, but no gas meter, odometer, speedometer, or tachometer.

That’s a lot of potential math to do while driving…. except that every so often the passenger door flies open when he makes a turn, so most of those cacluating opportunities are lost since he’s so busy trying to drive straight while leaning over to shut the door over and over. :)

And now I’m really off topic… sorry.

Jeff 18 Mar 05

This is coming way late in the game here, but the only problem I have with splitting the bill evenly is that I don’t drink (alcohol) and that’s usually a very large part of the bill for dinners out with a bunch of friends. So in that case I don’t really think it’s splitting hairs, its that I shouldn’t be paying an extra $20 when all I had was a burger and and sprite (with free refills usually).