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Splitting checks

Question:

Groups of 10 or more will come in and ask to split the check in almost as many ways, on credit cards. We are considering either: limiting a table to only four cards, or adding a fee to offset the swipe fee. What do you feel is the best way?

– Stephen Justynski, Chef-Owner, Cafe Madrid, Dallas, TX

Answer:

Accepting credit cards and splitting checks the way guests request are courtesies to the consumer that can be good for business. POS systems have become very sophisticated and allow you to split a check in every possible way. But if the fees outweigh the profits, you need to hold a firm line. 

My first piece of advice is to be sure you are attacking the problem and not its symptoms. Review your processing program. Many owners and managers can quote their recent food and energy costs on command but credit card fees are complicated—is it a rewards card, debit or credit, business or consumer; or which tier in the agreement with the processor?  While credit card merchant fees may be significant overall, the additional swipe fee may not be, especially if you have a high check average. Robert Becker, author of Merchant Processing 101, says that if you are in a fair program, the swipe fees may be as low as ten cents (one dollar for your 10-top), hardly worth inconveniencing the guest.    

If in fact the costs are prohibitive—and they very well may be—my suggestions, in order, are to:

  1. Renegotiate or switch processors.
  2. Make sure your menu pricing has enough wiggle room that you can weather these large parties.
  3. Limit the number of cards you accept per party rather than adding any sort of surcharge or fee passed to the guest.

Dan Bell, Vice President for Leisure and Entertainment at Micros, agrees that while it is possible to split a check between any number of cards, “It is fair to allow a maximum number of splits per check. Four or five would make sense as a max and that info should be communicated…making sure that servers let large parties know in advance of taking orders so the diners can plan accordingly.”

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