checkI have a test for evaluating a new friend: Go out eat and split the bill. If the “friend” is willing to divide the bill evenly, she’s a keeper. If she demands to pay only based on what she ate, she may be worth a second dinner, but we aren’t likely to ever be close. And if she only has cash, and not enough to cover her share, well, that second date isn’t going to happen. For me, sharing food has always been a way to enjoy and express appreciation for other people. On birthdays, I make cupcakes. During the holidays, I bake desserts. On Sundays, I have friends over for dinner. Going out for a meal is no less of an opportunity to share–and paying the bill the final moment for someone else to tell you if they too perceive food as a way to give to another. Sure, swapping bites and chatting with the server gives you a sense of whether a potential friend is generous or calculated, but the bill is decisive–and real money must be laid down.

My preference has always been to split the bill evenly. So what if my friend orders two brunch mimosas and I got one? The next time we head out to Duo or Bistro Vendome, it might be the opposite. Besides, nitpicking about an $8 drink hardly seems an appropriate way to appreciate the French toast and good conversation that came before. I do understand that some people live on tightly balanced budgets or might be light eaters. If I eat a salad and my dining companion gets a steak, a 50-50 bill split doesn’t seem fair. Or what if he orders an appetizer and I don’t? Do we both pay? Perhaps the rules for dividing a bill aren’t as simple as I’ve made them–or even a particularly fair way to evaluate a friend. But I’m still not convinced. How do you split the restaurant check?