Readers: Split on the issue of charging for split plates

Categories: Cafe Society

Laura Shunk just served up the "five things that should always be free at a restaurant," including the glass of water she requested after ordering a round of drinks. And while some readers added a few she'd missed -- chips and salsa at a Mexican restaurant, tea at a Chinese restaurant -- most were in agreement with her list.

Except on the issue of the dreaded split plate.

Here's the view of Keithr0jas:

The biggest asset for a restaurant is an occupied seat. A split plate cuts the value of that occupied seat in half. So if the operator takes a 50% loss, I think it fair to add a 25% charge to meet the loss half way. Plus I've worked at places that increase the portions on split plates, in sake of a decent presentation.

That inspired this from Bagwhan:

I disagree, the biggest asset for a restaurant is customers, customers ordering food. So what if we split our order, we're still ordering drinks and other stuff Would you rather have us be "customers", ie people who enjoy your establishment and return, or just have us order once and never return.

The split plate charge always bugs me, and is proven silly when you go to other restaurants that do it happily and successfully.

Where do you stand on split plates? And what's really a restaurant's biggest asset?

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My wife and I never ask for a "split plate" because we eat family style, ordering what looks good on the menu, like 4 small plates, one salad, two soups and one entree, instead of 1 starter each, 1 salad each, 1 entree each.  And we eat off of the same plate.

Don't punish us for being adventurous and romantic and sharing, by splitting our dishes up because you want to "plate it" to look pretty, then nickle and dime us for it.  If margins are so slim you need to upsell this "service", God knows where you're getting your lettuce. 

Oh and where's my rebate for only using one plate for the both of us?  And do I get more of a rebate if she sits on my lap?  (that one's for you franknfrank)


I respectfully disagree with Bagwhan. 

The biggest asset for a restaurant is *paying* customers. When a restaurant prices its menu, it does so based on the number of seats X number of turns X average meal ticket. The restaurant has a ton of fixed costs (ingredients, labor, rent, power, gas, insurance, etc) and relies on this average "ticket" to pay them. If you occupy one of those slots and don't pay full freight, you are effectively free riding, and if everyone did what you did, the restaurant would either go out of business or have to double its prices.

Some restaurants accommodate this (not happily, I assure you), but just because you aren't eating doesn't mean you aren't costing the restaurant something.

That said, maybe a restaurant that has a lot of split-plate requests should consider reducing its portions and lowering the per-portion cost. And we, as customers, could occasionally suck it up and pay for a full entree when a half-portion will suffice.

[ This also makes me think it would be an interesting concept for a restaurant to charge a "seating fee" which covers their fixed costs, and then price the food much lower and more variably with the actual ingredient/labor cost... ]


Hi Joe,

My wife and I eat the same way: ordering whatever looks good and splitting it as we go. Often, we end up just getting a handful of appetizers and salads. 

My point is *not* that everyone should have to buy an entree. What I am saying is that when you take a table in a restaurant, you are using up an opportunity for the restaurant to make money, and it is reasonable of them to expect you to pay a fair price for it. Whether you pay that in entrees or appetizers or whatever is irrelevant. Would you blame a restaurant for being upset if four people sat down and only one ate?

Ultimately, of course, it is up to the restaurant how they want to hand plate-splitting. I, for one, appreciate the fact that the restaurant is not charging me (via higher entree prices) for other people's plate-splitting.

If your wife sits on your lap, and a willing stranger eats at your table, yeah, I think you deserve a rebate. :)


Huh?  I don't get this: "If you occupy one of those slots and don't pay full freight, you are effectively free riding, and if everyone did what you did, the restaurant would either go out of business or have to double its prices. . . . but just because you aren't eating doesn't mean you aren't costing the restaurant something."

I'm most certainly eating and not "free riding" when I request a split plate.  I'm most likely to do so when we don't want two whole entrees, or perhaps really want an appetizer but don't want that plus 2 entrees.  And I'm probably having a drink or two while I'm at it. 

I am every bit a paying customer, and charging me for a split plate is not much different than requiring every guest to order entrees, or deciding that nobody can choose (without extra charge) to just have an appetizer or a salad for dinner.  Would you think someone is "free riding" or "not eating" if they only ordered an appetizer, and didn't order the "average" meal ticket?  That's preposterous.  And there's really nothing different about 2 diners asking to split an entree.


I think you are missing one difference between ordering just a salad or appetizer and requesting a split plate: the price of a salad or appetizer (presumably) has some of the per-seat cost built into it, since restaurants generally expect a certain number of people to order just that. An entree does not; it is priced for one person, and so it is reasonable for the restaurant to re-price it when it is designated for two.

Perhaps we disagree (more fundamentally) about what determines the price of an entree. I am saying, in addition to cost of ingredients and labor(*), there is a "seat cost" component, and that it is fair for a restaurant to make plate-splitters bear the extra seat cost. The alternative is to raise the price of the entree a little, so that plate-splitters end up being subsidized by everyone else (many restaurants do that, maybe without even realizing it).

To your point that you may be ordering a drink, too, that is implicit in their pricing. And in a perfect world, I guess, maybe they could lower your plate-splitting charge by a little since you ordered a drink or two. That's why it would be interesting to have a restaurant that charged a fixed "seat fee" and then the food and drink would be marginal charges above and beyond that. Would never work, but it would be interesting.

(*) I'm not even trying to make the argument that plate-splitting adds to the labor cost, in that it requires more execution work, twice as many plates to be brought to and from the table, and then later washed, etc., but it does (a little).


I do think we disagree fundamentally. 

Imagine 2 people walk in, they order (and split) one $20 entree.  They also order one $10 appetizer and one $8 dessert.

Another couple walks in and orders two $19 entrees.

Another couple walks in and orders two inexpensive entrees (perhaps there is a burger or pizza on the menu) at $12 each.

Another couple walks in, but aren't terribly hungry.  They each order a $10 appetizer for their meals.

How can you justify charging a split plate charge to the first couple?  They ordered the same dollar amount of food as the second couple and more than the third and fourth couple.  Where are they "violating" your seat cost, where are they not every bit the paying customers as the other couples in my example?

FWIW, as has been discussed here, I never ask a restaurant to "split" my order, if we're going to split we'll just do it ourselves, and at most ask for an extra plate.  And I don't recall being charged for that, but I would not return to any restaurant that tried to charge me for that.

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