Some restaurants and cafes are happy to split bills, and good on them. They’re recognising a demand from customers.
What about restaurants and cafes who refuse? Are restaurants required to offer to split bills? That’s a question of who’s liable pay for the meal. There are some circumstances which can make this a little different, but they’re pretty rare.
A contract forms (just like all others) when the food and drink gets ordered. It’s a contract that the diners pay at the end of the meal for the food and drink at the prices on the menu.
Old case law says the contract is between the restaurant and each diner at the table. Each diner is jointly liable to pay the whole bill. That means each diner has promised to pay the entire bill.
The debt is paid (and all liability is extinguished) when the whole bill is paid. It doesn’t matter who it’s paid by.
Because of that joint liability, the contract is with the whole table for the entire amount, rather than each individual diner for what he or she ordered or is prepared to pay for.
That means there’s not legal obligation to give split bills.
That position also is useful for restaurants and cafes who only want to offer split bills when it’s quiet or at certain times.
This Small Plate is an extended analysis of whether restaurants are required to offer to split bills, briefly described in Richard Edwards’ article in the Daily Life section of The Australian on 12 April 2016.