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CompareCards Survey: How Americans Differ When Paying the Check

CompareCards Survey: How Americans Differ When Paying the Check

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If you ask a table of friends how they would prefer to settle the restaurant bill, you’ll likely receive differing responses. Some people prefer to whip out a calculator and analyze the bill to be sure everyone gets a fair shake, while others are casual about it, preferring to split the bill evenly no matter who ordered an extra drink or the market price red snapper special.

It’s also no longer as simple as divvying up the check to decide who pays what or agreeing on a group tip. These days, you’ve also got to agree on how you’ll pay what you owe and, increasingly, which among the ever-increasing menu of bill-splitting apps to use.

CompareCards surveyed 1,000 Americans about how they pay for restaurant tabs.

  • Most Americans prefer to split the check and don’t mind using multiple credit or debit cards to accomplish it.
  • Splitters outnumber non-splitters. Some 70% prefer splitting the check in some fashion, while 28% prefer a one-person-pays-all solution.
  • Nationwide, 75% of dining patrons prefer to split based on what each person ordered, rather than equally. However, there are some regional differences. Restaurant goers in the Northeast are twice as likely to prefer splitting the check equally. And in five northeastern states, splitting equally is the primary preference.
  • 55% of Americans think splitting four or more cards is too many to settle the dinner bill.
  • 53% of Americans think it’s unfair for one person to earn all the credit card rewards points by paying the whole bill with one card, and leaving others to reimburse.
  • Dining rewards cards aren’t as popular as one might expect. Only 35% of Americans surveyed said they had at least one credit card that rewarded them extra cash back or multiple rewards points for paying for dining.
  • 41% of Americans said they turned down a dining invitation with friends because they were working on paying down debt.

Who pays the bill

The era of the table captain seems to be a thing of the past, according to our survey. More than two-thirds (70%) of diners say that when dining with friends, they’ll usually split the bill. Of that 70%, most prefer to use multiple cards (either credit or debit) to settle the bill, while a minority prefer to pay their portion in cash (more on that in a minute).

Among the diners who don’t want to split the bill, the solutions are varied and creative. The most common solution is to take turns. But other methods include writing a check for one’s share of the meal or using apps like Venmo and Zelle. Other folks prefer to play to credit card “roulette,” where the “winner” pays for everyone’s meal. (The rules can vary, but either the card is chosen randomly out of a hat, or the server chooses the card he or she will use.)

Four cards is the bill-splitting limit

Is there a limit to how many cards a person in a party is comfortable using to pay a single check? Apparently, four cards are where things start getting uncomfortable for most Americans.

More than half (55%) of Americans think splitting four cards is too many to settle the dinner bill, while one in five (19%) don’t even want to hand two cards to the server. Hopefully, the person who answers “two” doesn’t often go to dinner with the “splitting any number is fine” person, but they probably do.

How to split the costs

OK, that settles how many cards we tend to want to use. But now comes the hard part: How exactly do we split the costs? Here, we noted significant regional differences.

Nationally, about three-quarters of people think if you ordered the mussels as an appetizer, then you should be paying for it. This may also explain why most Americans are fine with their fellow diners ordering an appetizer or dessert when others at the table aren’t: Only 14% of those we surveyed said it was rude for someone to order a course that others at the table weren’t.

However, the number varies greatly by region. In the Northeast, apparently diners don’t have any time for calculators. They prefer to divide the check by the number of diners and be done with it.

The more reasonable way to split the check is "Everybody pays the same"Percent

Intrigued, we dug deeper, and found that, in certain states – looking your way New Jersey – splitting the check evenly is the preferred way to settle the bill. New Jersey, as well as four other northeastern states, and, for some reason, North Dakota, also settle the bill this way.

New Jersey is also out of step with the rest of the nation in terms of how many cards are acceptable to pay for the check. For 33% of New Jerseyans (more than any other state) one is the only acceptable number when it comes to paying your meal with a credit card.

Are you getting the most out of your rewards?

We also asked Americans if they had a rewards card that rewards dining more than other credit card payment activity. Surprisingly, only about a third of respondents said they did.

Using a rewards card that offers generous rewards for restaurant dining can take some of the sting out of picking up a check. One example: A check costing $250 that’s paid with the new a rewards cards with a 4% cash back rate on dining would put $10 back in the user’s pocket, versus a 1% rewards card that only credits you with $2.50 worth of cash back or rewards.

But users are split when it comes to one user trying to make the payment, scooping up the rewards, and still expecting to recoup the share from other diners. Only 47% say this is acceptable behavior, while 53% wrinkle their noses, presumably preferring to pay with multiple credit cards instead of making a Venmo payment or paying cash to the recipient.


CompareCards used Google Consumer Surveys to ask 1,000 Americans about their dining habits when it comes to paying for meals by credit cards in restaurants from Mar. 29 – Mar. 31, 2018.

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