Germany v.s. Hong Kong: Can you separate your bill when eating out?

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One thing I like about eating out in Germany is that you can separate your bill. Yes you can separate the bill! In a very unproblematic way.

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After finishing your meal in a restaurant, you can ask for the bill and the waiter/waitress will come. First thing they are going to ask you, if you want to pay together or separately.

If you want to pay together, they will need to know whom they should give the bill to. Even if you are on a date, they are not going to assume that the man is going to pay. Instead, they will wait for your indication before giving the bill to someone.

If you say you want to pay it separately, the waiter/waitress will come by to each of you, one by one. They will ask each of you what you have ordered. And you can pay your part separately and get your changes if needed.

In case you would like to share the total bill equally, you can also ask the waiter/waitress to make a separate bill based on the total sum divided by the number of people.

It is very flexible, for example, if you are inviting people for your birthday and will pay for all your guests’ drinks (but not their food). With a separate bill, you can tell the waiter/waitress to count all the drinks in your name and you can then pay for your meal portion plus all the drinks at the table. Very convenient, isn’t it?

Back in my home city Hong Kong, it is a chaos

In Hong Kong, let say, we are going out with 10 other friends to a restaurant. Sharing dishes is the Chinese way of eating. So everybody looks at the menu, think about what dishes they want to eat. Then we order 10 dishes, put them in the middle of a round table, and share the dishes, with rice as a side dish.

Everyone may get their own drink, if it is in a bottle like a soda. Or we can have a big jar of something to share, e.g. Juice. Or we are ordering several tea kettles so everyone can drink it from their own cup.

After the meal, we ask for the bill, and the bill comes with a total sum of all the food and drinks. Then we are going through a chaos process of collecting money. Normally the waiter/waitress is not going to give us a separate bill per each person. This is to avoid extra work. 10 separate bill means collecting money 10 times and making necessarily changes for 10 times.

Without the option to get separated bills, we will have to deal with the changes ourselves. Normally one person will pay the waiter/waitress first. Then this person is going to make a calculation how much everyone should pay him back by dividing the bill by 10.

Then everyone will be searching in their wallet and hoping that they get the necessary changes for this amount. If not, they are going to ask each other to see if anyone is able to make the changes. Even worse, we may need to owe someone money and pay back at a later point. Or maybe we are going to lend money to someone else and not sure when you will get the money back later.

Sound chaotic, right?

Hong Kong: the drama starts when the bill comes

Sometimes people may even fight to be the person who pay the total bill first. Why? Because it is normally a big bill (10 people amount for food and drinks). And it is very common in Hong Kong to collect credit card points. You get certain award points when paying with the credit card. You can later then use these points in exchange for cash coupon or other gifts. Funny, uh?

The culture in Hong Kong of not separating bill also causes a lot of drama. It is a Chinese culture to “fight” for inviting someone else for eating out. If you are eating out with a smaller group, let say two or three people, and you pay the bill first, you may not feel comfortable to let the others pay you back their part. Because this is seen as stingy and “no face”. This happens mostly when you are eating with family members. So often you can see drama of people fighting in restaurants for the bill.

Yes, I mean literally FIGHTING.

Another situation is when people going out on a date. Since there is only one bill, most of the time the waiter/waitress is going to put the bill at the man’s side. It is still traditional in Hong Kong that people think the man should be the one who is paying. The man may want to retain his “face” and may not ask for getting back the part from his partner. That also contributes to a situation that most of the time men are paying for the date.

That’s why I like it in Germany with this bill separation option.There is no culture of fighting to pay the bill. Everyone can pay the bill. No hassle to look for changes, no issue with owing or lending someone money, whatsoever. You just need to remember what you have ordered. No more stress at the time when the bill comes!

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About the author

Originally from Hong Kong, Sindy spent 13 years in Germany before moving to the US. Her blog is your ultimate resource for navigating Germany, offering pro tips on bureaucracy, job hunting, education, culture, family life, and more.

With a "been there, done that" attitude, Sindy, a certified public accountant, draws on her extensive finance and accounting background to provide professional insights with a friendly touch.

Having navigated German life with her German husband and raising two kids there, Sindy brings a personal touch to her advice. Let this blog help fellow expats like you navigate the ins and outs of life in Germany!

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