How to Avoid the Suicide Split

6 May 2009 By Rubi McGrory

We’ve all been there: You go out to dinner with the rest of the crew, and when the check comes, your share for a burger, fries and a few beers is $120. While your crew mates ordered starters, dessert and premium cocktails all night, you thought you kept an eye on your budget – until the group decided to split the check evenly. Their oyster starter, lobster dinner and chocolate truffle dessert, as well as three fine bottles of French Bordeaux, crept onto your tab.

This is what we call a “Suicide Split.” Your hard-earned money underwrites your crew mates’ – and possibly some of their friends’ – fine dining experience.

You fume silently, stump up your dough, write it off as a loss and maybe pout for the rest of the night, while vowing you will never let this happen again. Two weeks later, an offer comes up to go out with a group and you find yourself in the same trap again. How can you avoid this?

Like the anonymous yachtie who started the “I’m not cheap, but…” Forum on, no one feels financially healthy in this economic environment. Most of us have seen a significant decrease in our personal fortunes (or lack thereof), and are making small sacrifices where we can. This does not mean we have to stop socializing; we just need to be a bit smarter about it – and that begins even before we sit down and give our order.

Here are some “Dos” and “Don’ts” to help you avoid the Suicide Split in future:

Do be honest. There is no shame in being financially smart. Whether you are going out with your crew or friends on other boats, let them know in advance you are saving for a house, car, education or are paying off your debts as a result of "the incident" in Vegas or Monaco. They'll likely respect your decision.

Do some research and find cheaper restaurants. There is no law of the universe stating that the amount of fun you have is directly proportional to the amount of money you spend. Many local or ethnic restaurants are inexpensive and a good time.

Don’t rely on being able to get a separate check. Many restaurants have a policy against this, and will not make exceptions. Some restaurants automatically charge up to 20 percent gratuity for groups larger than six, which can further add to your cost.

Do make plans to meet up after dinner. If you really want to go out for the good time and not the expensive food, have your burger and beer on your own or with a similarly cost-conscious friend and meet up with the gang for drinks afterwards.

Don’t rely on people noticing that you had a toasted cheese sandwich while they had Kobe steak with imported truffles. Likewise, don’t expect them to understand your frugality if they have just returned from a three-week charter with a king’s ransom for a tip.

Do be aware of what other people are ordering. If you have agreed to split evenly, don’t be a chump and nibble on a garlic bread if you are going to be paying for their Diver Scallops.

Finally, don’t be such a tightwad that no one wants to hang out with you. Know your budget and live socially within it. If you occasionally have to spend a few dollars, euros or pounds on a good time, then be a big kid about it and don’t complain.