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The Art of Dining Out in a Large Group

There are many checks and balances to deal with when gathering in a large group at a restaurant

Navigating the etiquette of dining out in a large group can be very tricky. Many issues can arise - from getting everyone rounded up in one place and on time to who pays and how much. It's from these issues that awkwardness rears its ugly head for one or more individuals at the table.

There are many ways to make the dining experience more pleasurable. The first is making sure everyone understands ahead of time how the checks will be divided. Surely if it's a hosted party, this won't be an issue. The host pays, period. He or should certainly would never leave anyone hanging as to how the check is to be handled. The person who issues the invitation should be very clear that it is his or her treat.

However, if a group arrives and assumes the bill is going to be divvied up evenly, here's a recipe for disaster. First of all, couples or individuals who do not drink should not be shouldering the burdens of those who do. In many cases, there may be one or two who do a lot - several drinks will add considerably to any tab.

It's so easy to arrange for separate checks and this is the obvious answer. In fact, it's just simpler when getting the group together to make the arrangements in advance. You will be making reservations, right? When descending upon any restaurant en masses, it's always wise to call ahead, even on short notice. First, it eliminates waiting while tables are shuffled and gathered. Second, it allows the owner or manager to find out what it is you'll be doing in their establishment. Namely, will you be eating a meal or simply lingering over drinks and appetizers.

Keep in mind that some restaurants won't allow stragglers. They should be clear up front that no one will be seated until the entire party has begun blocking the entryway. Find out what the policies are. More casual environments probably won't care.

From a manners standpoint, if someone in the party is running late, it is rude not to call. Last-minute emergencies do happen, so be forgiving if traffic is tied up or the babysitter didn't show.

Once the reservations are made, don't change them. Do not decide to cancel and don't even think about switching from a full dinner to "just appetizers, tonight." That will get you in serious trouble from a service standpoint.

Also, if you know that someone in your group is a "bargain" tipper and you still want their company, there are ways to handle that. First, know that this person is probably not open to enlightenment of his or her evil ways. It's up to you to simply make up the difference and subtly, of course. With cash in hand, you can - out of earshot or line of sight - approach the server and give them a "little something extra" for doing such a good job. No need to imply your friend is the tightest wad in the wastebasket.

As always, there may be a slacker in the group who won't even pay their fair share of the food portion. They may plan on leaving early and handing over a few bills or escape to the restroom as everyone is adding a little more to the tab. No sense grousing. Pony up and don't invite the freeloader again.

Try to be good guests. It the place is loud and noisy, have at it. On the other hand, larger groups tend to have more lively discussions so choose a restaurant based on your group's personality. You're there to have a great amount of fun, but not at the other patrons' expense. They're paying for the experience, too - theirs, not yours. If the ambience is more sedate, plan on holding the meeting/greeting portion outside, in the bar, or at a separate location. Once at the table, limit discussions to those around you and not the friend seated twelve people away.

By creating a pleasant and courteous environment around you, the entire experience will be much more fun.

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