When you’re eating out with a group, chances are you’ll face that awkward moment everyone dreads: when the server brings one bill — and everyone looks at it, waiting to see who will pick it up.

Everyone may have different ideas about how to split it; and if you split it evenly, some people may feel they’re paying more than they should. To get ahead of these situations and make them less awkward, follow these tips from national etiquette expert Diane Gottsman.

  1. TAKE THE LEAD ON MAKING RESERVATIONS

    Taking the initiative to plan lets you choose a restaurant within your budget, so you are less likely to overpay. Suggest restaurants that have fixed-price menus, food or drink specials your friends might enjoy, or where you can bring in bottles of wine to keep costs down.

  2. COMMUNICATE CLEARLY

    If you invite a group out to celebrate a special event, some may think that you are footing the bill.

    “The host is responsible for paying,” Gottsman said. “However, you can make it clear that you’re not the host by saying, ‘Let’s get a group together and all buy John’s dinner.’”

  3. EXPLAIN YOUR SITUATION

    There is nothing wrong with telling your friends that you can’t afford the restaurant they chose but would love to see them another time.

    “We always have options and alternatives,” Gottsman said, adding that it’s OK to be up front about not wanting to spend a lot of money. “Let them know. Friends will understand.”

  4. PAY YOUR OWN WAY

    Before you order, ask your friends and the server if you can do separate checks so that everyone is on the same page and the server can keep track of who ordered what.

    Gottsman said that as long as you do it early and don’t have too many guests, it shouldn’t be a problem: “It’s easy and it’s assertive and it’s confident — in a nice way.”

  5. Taking the initiative to plan lets you choose a restaurant within your budget so you are less likely to overpay.
  6. BRING CASH

    Have cash on hand so that you can give the exact amount you owe and don’t have to use your card. However, if the group wants to split the bill evenly and it’s more than you planned for, offer to put in the cash that you have and explain that you had not expected to pay that much.

    “We can’t walk away upset if we haven’t spoken up,” Gottsman said. “It really is a matter of being civil, polite and respectful when we do.”

  7. MEET UP BEFORE OR AFTER

    Instead of sharing an entire meal, offer to meet everyone for just drinks or dessert.

  8. GO WITH THE FLOW

    Whether you’re with old friends or new ones, sometimes going with the flow helps to avoid drama or confrontation. If you feel you were overcharged and don’t feel comfortable saying something in the moment, remember it for next time and think about how you could do things differently.

    “You have to look at the message you’re sending,” Gottsman said. “If you’re asking for separate checks rather than just putting your credit card in at the end like everyone else, it might be better to just go with the flow.”

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