We’ll Just Split This

Dear Helena,

I went into an Italian restaurant with my boyfriend and ordered a plate of lobster ravioli. We weren’t superhungry, so we asked to split it. We didn’t order anything else but a glass of wine. The waiter became very chilly, like it was really tacky of us to take up a two-top if we were just going to order one entrée. Is it OK for a dining couple to order one dish and halve it? If so, can you ask them to divide it in the kitchen? I like to have my own plate. —Split Decision

Dear Split Decision,

Unless the menu lists a minimum charge per customer, you can share a salad, drink water, and skip dessert. You have as much right to go to a restaurant as someone who wants to pig out. Many restaurants are more interested in getting your repeat business than in how much you spend on any particular visit. “We have no issue with low tabs whatsoever,” says David Mantelmacher, owner of Plate in Ardmore, Pennsylvania (where guests often ask to split the hearty portions). But Ben Rose, manager of Joseph’s Table, an upscale restaurant in Taos, New Mexico, says: “If a couple just dawdles over a salad, it can be a little annoying if it’s Friday or Saturday and people are waiting for tables.” If a restaurant is crowded, do as Rose suggests and tell the maître d’, “We’d just like to order some appetizers and/or split an entrée.” That way, he has the option to seat you at the bar.

If you divide the dish yourselves at the table, it’s barely any bother for the server. “All we have to do is bring an extra plate,” says Louis Sheppard, a server at Nobu Dallas. But if you ask the kitchen to divide the dish, it can be extra hassle for the restaurant. “If we’re very busy, it can throw off the rhythm in the back of the house,” says Mantelmacher.

Sometimes splitting can also disrupt the aesthetics of a dish, and this reflects badly on the restaurant. Half a pork chop balanced on half a potato-gratin cylinder does not look elegant on the plate. Even if you don’t care, other diners may notice as the waiter carries the half portions out. Esteban Garibay, maître d’ at Manresa in Los Gatos, California, says: “We get asked to split a dish maybe once a month, but we don’t do it. The courses are too carefully composed.”

Some restaurants may add a little extra food to make the plate look better, and charge a “splitting fee.” At Plate, the charge is $2.50 for an appetizer and $5 for an entrée. The fee is for the extra food and is not intended as a disincentive to split. “Otherwise, we’d charge you even if you split the dish yourselves at the table,” Mantelmacher points out. If a place doesn’t charge a fee and it looks like the kitchen’s made a split dish a little bigger, you should reward the effort when you tip.

But even if a restaurant is happy to split your dish in the kitchen, if you’re on a date, you might want to reconsider. Sharing a plate of ravioli can be foreplay. If the kitchen plates your halves separately, it’s just a very small dinner.

Table Manners appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena.