What's the best bill-splitting etiquette when using a Groupon?

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The rise of Groupon, LivingSocial, Deal Stork, and other advance-purchase coupons has created a new source of social anxiety: how to split the check.

Washington DC's City Paper recently looked into the question of dining-by-deal-site etiquette when a blog post's author relayed the story of having invited a friend to a Bethesda mussel bar to take advantage of a coupon she had purchased from LivingSocial. She wanted to know if her deal-dining companion should pay a larger portion of the final bill to help cover the initial cost of the deal, or if the deal-buyer should assume the responsibility for the initial cost.

CityPaper looked to Slate's Emily Yoffe, who writes the "Dear Prudence" column and recently covered the question in her Digital Manners Podcast. Yoffe advised that anyone who brings a coupon or gift certificate should share the spoils with the entire group versus just using it to discount their own portion of the bill. This totally makes sense for situations that assume no cash outlay on the behalf of the discount holder, such as a free, clipped coupon or a certificate they were gifted.

But what about the case of a LivingSocial deal that required a $20 investment? Here's how the situation went down:

My friend and I split the bill evenly. With the $40 discount, our roughly $72 meal cost just $32, or $16 each. She never mentioned anything about covering part of the initial cost. I couldn't help but feel a bit put-off when she expressed excitement that her bill, including tip, was just $23, considering that I was essentially paying $43. At the same time, I felt that it would have been too awkward to ask her to cover half of what I originally paid for the deal since I invited her to dine with me on the basis of that deal.

The author then calculated that she actually ended up spending one dollar more on her meal (plus the price of the online deal) than she would had she not purchased the discount. Meanwhile, her friend saved $20.

Was she wrong to feel stiffed?

Yes. While it would certainly be polite for the invitee to offer to cover half the cost of the online deal, or compensate in some other fashion, say by covering the entire cost of the tip or buying the deal-holder a drink, the deal-holder should not expect their invitee to chip in. (You're the one who dragged them out to Bethesda, a move they unlikely would have otherwise initiated had you not bought the deal, remember?)

CityPaper asked LivingSocial's communications director how to handle the quandary and she suggested that there was no set answer--but that the discussion about payment should happen before you hit the restaurant, so no one is surprised.

It seems that if you'd like your companion to share the cost of the deal, that conversation has to be made even further in advance: You have to ask the person before you make your deal purchase. Otherwise, if you can't afford to treat on the deal, you probably shouldn't be buying it in the first place.

Have you been in a similar situation? What do you think should be the proper protocol?

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Mark Snyder
Mark Snyder

I have a friend that I regularly dine out with using these deals. We basically take turns where whoever didn't buy the deal covers the rest of the tab. Since we take turns doing this, we figure it pretty much breaks even.


Luckily, being a strange man in the driveway I have no friends so I have no worries.


Easy enough to solve:Don't drive out to Bethesda for mussels.

I have to disagree with you, Rachel.  I don't think the author is wrong for feeling stiffed.  As someone with a card that earns points and who almost never carries cash, there have been MANY times where I put the bill on my card, gather up cash from the other attendees and notice I am paying more than my fair share.  And this can foster a sense of resentment which isn't good for anyone.

What she may be wrong for though is not being clear about the upfront cost she had endured.  Nowhere in the original post does she indicate whether or not her friend KNEW about the cost of the coupon.  I've never heard of LivingSocial (probably because I am NOT- ba-DUM-bum!), and it's possible her friend did not either.

If her friend did know about the cost, then the friend is being slightly inconsiderate.  If the friend didn't, then the author has nothing to legitimately gripe about- except paying $9 each beer!

The ideal solution would be to take turns buying said coupons and treating each other to lunch/dinner.  That way, everyone is happy and you get 2 meals instead of 1!

Mensch Maschine
Mensch Maschine

These types of pre-paid discounts work best if you are thinking about paying for the whole bill - it's rare that you are going to order enough food yourself to cover the initial cost, much less benefit from the added discount. In situations where you do think you'll benefit from the discount, from your order alone, and decide to bring it to a typical "everyone pays for their own food" meal, let everyone know up front that you are going to use the cost of it against your bill, and that you will be splitting the discount amongst everyone else (including yourself).  So if you buy a $20 certificate for $40 worth of food, and with a group of 4.  The certificate would be worth $25 to you, and everyone else would have $5 taken off their check.

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