For Singles, How to Split Checks with Couples

Widows have come up with clever solutions to an awkward issue.

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Dear Alpha Consumer,

As a single person with many married friends, I often run into trouble when I go out to dinner with another couple. If the couple offers to pay to simplify matters, I feel guilty that I'm not paying my way and I don't want these married friends to resent me as a financial burden. But it can be awkward to split a bill into thirds. What's the best way to handle the check? On a recent trip to visit my grandmother in Florida, we chatted about this subject with one of her friends, who is also a widow. She told us that especially among older couples, the man often offers to pay the whole bill. But as my grandmother says, no one really wants to always be burdened with an extra person to feed. (She also warns against sitting in the front seat while the husband drives and relegating the wife to the backseat -- if you accept the front seat, it might be the last time you go out with that couple.)

But that certainly doesn't mean singletons need to give up their married friends, or vice versa. My grandmother and her friends have come up with several clever ways to share the costs at the end of the meal. Here are a few ideas:

  • Let the couple pay at the table but then send a check to cover your portion of the bill. It might not be exact, but it's fair.
    • Alternate payments: For every one time you pay, let the couple pay two times. (My other set of grandparents also applied this strategy to inviting single friends over for dinner. For every time the widow or widower hosted, my grandparents hosted them twice.) 
      • Among younger couples who are more comfortable with throwing down multiple credit cards at the end of dinner, it might be easiest to ask the waiter to split the bill into thirds on the spot.
      • Are you single and dining with couples, or vice versa? How do you handle the check?