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Wednesday, August 22, 2007 - Page updated at 10:33 AM

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Suggestions from an etiquette consultant

We asked Seattle etiquette consultant Mary Mitchell and area diners for advice when it comes to handling group dinner tabs in a comfortable way. Here are some of their suggestions.

Choose wisely. Select a restaurant within the price range of everyone invited, or a place where you pay separately before you sit down. If you're not sure, suggest a few options and see what's most popular. Call ahead to check if they itemize bills for large parties and how many credit cards they accept per party. Advise friends accordingly so they know whether to hit the ATM en route.

Have a game plan. If you're a nondrinker among drinkers and know you'll end up paying the same amount anyway, consider ordering an appetizer for yourself so you're getting your money's worth. If you're too shy to speak up, ask a confident friend to advocate on your behalf when the check comes.

Small bills are your friend. If you have exact change, it's easier to stand your ground than if you're asking around to break a $20 bill.

Be honest. If your order cost $30 more than others at the table, pay up. Make sure to add tax and tip into your share, and let others know when they've chipped in too much. "I feel very strongly that the person who tips the scales should be the one to be forthcoming and make other people comfortable," Mitchell says. "The bottom line here is that after a while people don't want to go out with you because you're a boor or they can't afford to go."

Speak up. When the split is way off, nicely ask your companions "Shall we take a quick look at the math?" Mitchell says. Or offer to treat this time in trade for them treating next time.

Suggest an alternative. If you can't find a remedy, consider other activities with these friends that enable you to pay your own way, like renting movies, baseball games, an art museum or bowling. Host a potluck. Or dine out with friends whose inclinations are more in line with yours.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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