Last week, reality television’s newest controversial couple, Shereé Whitfield and Martell Holt, sparked discourse on social media due to an unfilmed scene on Bravo’s Real Housewives of Atlanta. According to several housewives on the show, Whitfield’s birthday dinner during Nobu Atlanta in January of this year became a heated topic on and off the show, especially during her appearance on Bravo’s RHOA After Show with Marlo Hampton and Sanya Richards-Ross. A producer mentioned that Whitfield’s new boo, Holt, asked several of her castmates to help pay for the birthday dinner via Cash App. “The streets are saying Martell didn’t pay for your birthday dinner,” said the producer.
Whitfield quickly confronted Hampton and Richards-Ross, insinuating they had spread the rumor. While both housewives denied spreading the gossip amongst the other ladies, they began to delve into the details of the celebratory occasion. Of course, Whitfield decided to defend her beau for not paying for the meal and chastised her friends, in the process, for not giving her a gift. “At the end of the day, it was just a little much for anybody to think that they were gonna come to my birthday party and not bring me a gift and not do this and not do that, and then you think that you’re gonna get your meal paid for,” Whitfield argued. “We’re not married or anything like that.”
In response to her, Richards-Ross shared that while she “originally thought that Martell would pay,” she later realized “how new the relationship was” and came to the conclusion that “Martell shouldn’t have that responsibility.” While the conversation seemed resolved between Whitfield and Richards-Ross, their exchange created quite a flurry on the internet, with the commentators feeling like Holt should’ve paid for not only Whitfield’s guests but for her as well, since he gathered everyone there and it was her special day.
These discussions got me curious to do my exploration on what’s appropriate when it comes down to covering the bill for group dinners versus splitting the check evenly amongst friends and loved ones, as I’d imagine the topic and action can get quickly complicated and messy, causing unnecessary confusion and chaos. Given that, almost all financial apps can split or easily transfer money for payment, splitting the bill has become increasingly popular. Guidelines can be situational. However, proper and respectful etiquette ensures that you and those around you are comfortable and considerate. According to the founder of Charm Etiquette and etiquette expert Erika Preval, proper communication before any event is crucial but is ultimately situational. “Proper communication before the event is the key to good manners when dining out. Everything should be spelled out in the invitation. Something casually worded, like ‘Let’s get together for lunch,’ is indicative that the group will be paying individually. ‘Please join us as we celebrate the (birthday, shower, and wedding) of’ relays that the event will be fully paid for by the host, and guests should bring an appropriate gift,” she says to ESSENCE.
Preval suggests including an option of what the host will cover within the invitation. “‘Please join us for small bites and cocktails as we celebrate…’ lets guests know that it will be separate from any group bill if they’d like more. Some hosts will opt to offer a set menu for a large gathering, and if pricing for the menu is mentioned, that is another occasion where the guests are being asked to pay separately,” she states.
However, if you decide to split the bill amongst friends at any celebration, everyone should do their due diligence to stay within a similar price range so that no one feels the split was unfair. “As a host, your goal is to ensure the event is a success from beginning to end, and all guests leave on a happy accord,” she says.
However, the founders of Common Courtesy, a millennial-based etiquette boutique agency, Christin Gomes and Ida Gibson, suggest prioritizing the payment for the one who has an actual birthday. “If you are coordinating friends together to treat one person for a special event or birthday, then that is made clear from the outset that everyone will pay their way and chip in for the birthday girl,” they state.
However, the conversation shifts a bit when it comes to casual dinners. “For casual dinners amongst friends, there’s no right or wrong way to split a check. It depends on the group you are dining with on which approach you take,” the duo says.
They continue, “Although splitting a check evenly can be easiest, everyone doesn’t always have the financial means, and it might not feel fair for someone to subsidize others when they only ordered a few things off the menu. The most important thing is to establish these details before you head to dinner, bring cash, and inform the waiter at the beginning so there is no confusion.”
When it comes to the curious case of Whitfield and Holt, the duo states that the issue of Holt not paying has less to do with splitting the bill and more with his decision to host the dinner for her. “If you are hosting a birthday party or special event where you extend invitations to others, the founders expect you to pay the bill,” the founders say.
Regarding who pays for group dinners, and birthday celebrations, active and intentional communication with all parties should be top of mind. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation to Holt and Whitfield, consider these expert etiquette tips from Monica Lewis, Chief Etiquette Officer of Monica Lewis School of Etiquette shares a few situationally polite and appropriate ways to address this common issue.
Dining with a large group:
When dining with a large group of friends or colleagues, deciding how the bill will be split up-front is best. The best time to do so is once the group has agreed on the venue; confirming if the restaurant allows multiple checks from larger groups is a good idea. If the restaurant doesn’t allow split checks or has a limit, then you and the group should decide how the bill will be divided. Inform the server how the bill will be divided before you place your orders. This will help reduce the server’s stress and confusion at the end of the meal when it’s time to pay. If you agree to share the bill with someone, you must pay them back immediately; Cash App, Venmo, Zelle, and cash are all acceptable forms. Ensure you include your bill, tax, and gratuity portion before leaving the restaurant.
Dining with a small group of friends:
This can be tricky, especially if you routinely gather. It’s common for the friends to split the bill evenly or take turns covering the meal. Both are great options as long as the group sticks to the plan. However, sometimes, one person orders something dramatically more expensive than the rest of the group. In that case, the person is expected to contribute more to help offset the cost. Yes, it may require some math, but your friendship is worth it. If you’re that friend who likes to splurge on a meal or drinks, be sure you’re considerate of your friends and don’t expect them to pay for your extravagance.
Group dining for special events:
For birthdays, anniversaries, promotions, or other celebrations, covering the meal for the person(s) of honor is standard. You don’t have to make a grand announcement, but you can inform the server and the guest that you or the group will cover their meal at the beginning. This will allow the server to divide the meal among the group or to one of the guests. If another person agrees to pay for the special guest, it’s okay to help cover the tab. Send them a message or text and let them know you would like to contribute something to the guest(s) of honor’s meal. This leads me to my last tip.
Your words matter – be clear in the invite:
Be clear in your invitation regarding who’s hosting the meal, whether a formal invitation via mail or a quick text. The way you word your invitation may need to be more accurate. If you invite someone or a group to dine with you and will cover the bill, your words should be ‘Join me for…’ or ‘Be My Guest’ or ‘Lunch is on me.’ This statement will send a clear message that you are covering the meal. However, if you want guests to join you and pay for their meal, your invitation can say, ‘Hello, I’m going to try the restaurant, let me know who’s in” or “Join me for lunch, we’ll go split it evenly.’
If it’s a group meal and you want guests to pay for themselves, I suggest you choose a restaurant that offers a prix fixe menu, share the menu and prices in the invite, or establish a fixed price for all the guests and let them know in the invitation.