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Self-Improvement & Hobbies

Charge it to multiple cards

The Western practice of splitting dining bills with several credit cards is becoming popular here.
The Straits Times - September 30, 2012
By: Nicholas Yong
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Charge it to multiple cards -- ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LIM

A dining practice once confined to the West - splitting bills with several credit cards - seems to have become commonplace with diners in Singapore.

While the old practice of paying with cash or letting one person foot the bill first has not gone away, many dining parties are now going Dutch the cashless way, perhaps influenced by increasing travel to countries where it is often done.

And bills are not just being split equally - many diners pay for their individual items and drinks.

Lawyer Ranjan Indiran, 31, dines out with friends two to three times a week and has become used to splitting the bill four ways: "If more than one person in the group does not have enough cash, then it necessitates the split billing."

Personal assistant Jennifer Lim, 27, recently saw a bill split seven ways among her dining party of eight: "The staff did not complain at all. That's what good service is about." She adds that the bill tends to be split when she dines with Caucasians, rather than local colleagues and friends.

Some restaurants have begun imposing a limit on the number of credit cards that can be used when splitting a bill, although most of the restaurants SundayLife! spoke to say they do not have such a practice.

Newly opened American restaurant Morganfield's at Star Vista and cajun seafood restaurant The Cajun Kings in Jalan Riang tell SundayLife! that they each have a four and three credit card limit respectively.

However, of the more than 30 restaurants polled - ranging from the Sushi Tei chain to restaurants such as Min Jiang and Pietra Santa - the vast majority say they are willing to accommodate requests to split the bill several times over.

But they add the caveat that customers should notify them in advance in order to speed up the process, and that discounts tied to specific credit cards cannot be accorded when the bill is split.

For example, Ms Janice Wong, co-owner of fine dining restaurant Iggy's, says the maximum she has seen is 13 individual bills for 13 people. "It has been a very common request since we started eight years ago. This has been going on for a while, so I'm surprised if a restaurateur says no."

She adds that at Uma Uma Ramen, which is also co-owned by the owners of Iggy's, bills are often split even when the cost is only $14 a head.

For the Deliciae Group, whose restaurants include L'Entrecote and Forlino, public relations and marketing director Helene Denaiffe says the process of splitting bills is common in Europe and has been imported here.

On the flip side, chef and owner of the Akashi chain of 13 mid-range and high-end restaurants Mervin Goh says his staff rarely get such requests and then only from mostly Western tourists, but they will oblige.

He says: "Some will ask, put this dish into one bill, put that dish into another bill. It's not our culture to split bills like this, but I think most restaurants are fine with it."

He adds: "It will slow down the process for a few precious minutes as you have to zap card by card. This is especially during lunchtime and peak hours when everyone just wants to pay and get out."

The co-owner of Platters Wine Bar & Bistro located in Club Street, Mr Choo Boon Seh, notes that things are easier for restaurants if the bill is split equally.

He adds: "If not, then the staff will need to do some manual calculations. For example, $49.30 cash by one customer, $173.50 Visa by the next and so on. You can imagine that this will likely cause some errors, especially during busy periods."

The owners of Morganfield's and The Cajun Kings both cite the extra time needed to process bills, which in turn affects the quality of service to other guests.

The Cajun Kings co-owner Melvin Chen points out: "We run a very tight ship, so if there're a lot of people coming in through the door on a busy night and we have to swipe 10 cards for one table, service becomes very slow. We tried doing it at the start, but it really slowed operations down."

But customers such as Ms Lim reckon that restaurants should offer the service of splitting bills. "After all, we pay service charge."

Other customers such as businessman Sim King Huei, 31, had been unaware they could ask to split their bills. He prefers the old-fashioned way of letting one person settle the bill with his credit card before the rest of the dinner party settle the account.

He points out: "If the restaurant is running at full capacity, swiping five credit cards and issuing five receipts may mean that they serve fewer customers. I think it's a real hassle for the restaurant and the staff get bogged down doing this kind of stuff."

But even restaurants such as The Cajun Kings may not always have a limit on how many credit cards can be used.

Mr Chen says: "We are feeling our way through it, so I guess if we get more requests for this service, we will re-evaluate and try to accommodate our customers as much as possible."

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