Splitting an entree: Frugal or cheap?

Sylvia Rector / Detroit Free Press /


Published Nov 14, 2012 at 04:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

DETROIT — We were in a restaurant in another city far from home. No one could possibly know me.

So why not just do this? I asked myself. What do I care what these people think? I’ll probably never see them again anyway.

Besides, I scolded myself, all kinds of people do it for all kinds of legitimate reasons.

I turned to my husband, looked him straight in the eyes and made a daring proposal: “Let’s split an entree.”

It was something I had never done before because of worries about a whole litany of things that, in retrospect, sound foolish: What would the server think — that I was too cheap or broke to pay for two meals? That we should have gone to a diner instead of this nice place if we weren’t ordering like other customers? Would we have poor service because it was assumed we would be lousy tippers? Would the people at the next table think we were pitiful? And in fairness to the business, shouldn’t we be ordering two meals because two of us were drinking water, using silverware, eating bread and occupying two chairs?

I know I’m not the only one in the world who has ended up with more food than they wanted to eat, leftovers that weren’t all that great the next day and a bill exceeding what they had intended to spend.

Portions are becoming more reasonable at some restaurants, especially chef-driven places whose guests come primarily for the quality — not quantity — of the food.

But at too many restaurants, serving sizes are absurdly large. Some people like having leftovers for lunch, but many dishes don’t handle being carted home in a box, stuck in the fridge and microwaved on high for 90 seconds the next day.

And there’s the issue of the bill: The two of you spent $50 on dinner when you really wanted only $20 or $25 worth of food.

Ordering a split plate can be the ideal solution, especially when you’re traveling. After working up my nerve to try it once, I know I’ll do it again under the right circumstances.

I’ve come to some conclusions that make sense and feel fair to me.

In a restaurant, some tables spend a lot and some don’t. That’s just the way the business works. My table’s split entree won’t make or break the house that night, so I won’t feel guilty about it. If I spend a little less this time and have a good experience, I’m likely to go back when I plan to spend a lot more.

If a server tries to make me feel awkward, uncomfortable or unwelcome for any reason, I won’t return. And if my service is poor, the server will get even less than the lower tip he or she assumed to get.

The restaurant’s extra costs for serving one meal to two people is a legitimate issue, depending on how it handles split-plate requests.

More upscale restaurants often add an extra charge to the entree price because they end up serving bread and two salads (if they’re included) and use extra garnishes and sauces when dividing and plating the dishes in the kitchen.

That’s absolutely fair; it’s still a lovely meal and a better value than ordering two entrees. (A split-plate charge should be shown on the menu, and your server should mention it to avoid surprises.)

More casual places usually don’t charge extra for dividing an entree because the food and plating tend to be simpler.

As for tips, I think anytime split plates are ordered and service is good, the gratuity should reflect the server’s work for two people, not just one.

The entree my husband and I split when we were out of town was a half-pound burger and fries at the Green Well in Grand Rapids, Mich. I told the waitress we would like to share it, and she said, “No problem!” I expected it to arrive on one plate for us to divide, but when it came out, the kitchen had split it for us, given each of us plenty of fries and made it look terrific.

Our server got a great tip, and I got over my embarrassment about splitting an entree now and then.