How to with John Wilson (2020–…): Season 1, Episode 5 - How To Split the Check - full transcript

John attempts to make sense of the intricacies - and fairness practices - behind the complex art of splitting the check.

Hey, New York.

There's nothing like a relaxing meal
at the end of a long day.

And if you want to eat
with other people,

you usually find yourself
at a restaurant.

The combination of eating and
socializing can be absolute ecstasy.

But when the bill finally arrives,
what should be a simple transaction

often turns into
a torturous calculation

based on who ate what
and how they should pay for it.

We like to pretend everything's fine
once the bill is settled.

But someone is always
quietly suffering,

knowing that they had to pay too much.

And they wonder if it all
could have been avoided.

But I figured someone out there
had a solution.

So I went on an expedition

to figure out if anybody knows
the right way to split the check.


Figuring out what we owe each other

is one of the most challenging parts
of living in a healthy society.

When you get into a car crash,
there's a debt that has to be settled,

and we can't be trusted
to figure it out on our own.

Nobody likes to admit that they're at
fault when confronted with a big bill,

and even if you agree
to split it evenly,

someone might still end up
feeling like a sucker.

This is why we have certain authorities
that tell us who owes what.

But when it comes to group dining,
there's no one to turn to.

And everyone is expected to already
know how to figure things out fairly.

People usually don't want to make
a big deal over a couple of bucks.

But over time,
these tiny injustices can add up

and create long term resentment.

In a perfect world,
we would all order the same dish.

And everyone would know
how much to pay.

But the nature of group dining
is frenzied and disorderly.

And there are way too many
factors to keep track

of what everyone should pay
when the check comes.

Here's a familiar scenario.

You get all dolled up to go out.

And then you call a friend
to make plans for dinner.

At first it's just the two of you,
but then he invites his friend,

and that friend invites another friend.
And before you know it,

you've completely lost count of how
many people you've agreed to eat with.

Somebody always invites that one friend
that nobody wants there,

but he usually just keeps to himself.

Someone begins the meal by ordering
some soup dumplings for the table,

even though you didn't want any.

And an order of tofu
for the vegetarians.

And someone else gets
a basket of shrimp.

The drunks will start ordering booze.

And even though you're trying to be
frugal, all you can do is quietly panic

as you watch your friends
run up a massive tab.

You order the smallest entrée
on the menu, hoping to start a trend.

But that doesn't stop
everyone else from going big.

Other people might want to eat organic
food, which can be very expensive.

One of your friends might have the nerve
to return their entrée to the kitchen,

which may eliminate their meal
from the grand total.

And then someone might come
to the meal really late,

and they just start to pick
at everyone else's food.

And then someone else
actually has to leave early

and asks someone to cover for them.

And at this point, it's impossible
to tell who consumed what,

but nobody seems to care.

And when the waiter finally
puts down the check,

the guy who ordered four beers declares
that you should all split it evenly.

When you work up the courage to look
at the bill, you find yourself wondering

how it's costing you 30 bucks
for a pierogi and a seltzer.

And you feel intense regret
for agreeing to an equal split

and you begin to wonder
why it always turns out this way.

Are you not ordering enough ? Or is
everyone else trying to swindle you ?

Maybe the people who ate more stuff
could throw in a little extra.

But why is it always impolite to ask
people for money that they owe you ?

And you start thinking about
that cab ride

you didn't take from the airport
because you were trying to save money.

And you begin to resent
your friends for their greed.

And you enter a dissociative fugue,
as you yearn for the day

when you can finally escape
this vessel you call a body.

Until you finally snap out of it
and throw your friend a dollar.

For weeks I observed
people in restaurants,

trying to see if there was
a fair way to split the check

that I hadn't thought of before.

But I discovered that without some
kind of authority figure to look to,

the dining experience becomes
a game of winners and losers.

And only the savviest diners
know how to avoid overpaying.

Some people will stand their ground
and refuse to pay

a penny more than the exact amount
of what they ate... Of what they owe.

Being this anal could initiate
a much more exhausting audit

of how much each person ingested,
and inevitably cost you friends.

Others will look for their wallet
for an abnormally long amount of time,

in the hopes that they can get
out of paying entirely.

This is a crafty maneuver,

because it gives your dining partner
the time and opportunity

to object to any contribution
that you're pretending to make.

They'll also say that
you don't owe them anything.

Because your friendship is precious.

But a seasoned pro
will go to great lengths

to avoid ever revealing
their wallet at all.

This involves filling your pockets
with several decoys

to prolong the illusion
of an authentic wallet hunt.

But this strategy's popularity
is also its weakness,

as many will recognize this bit
of theater you're putting on

and wait it out, forcing you
to eventually chip in.

But I found that professionals
have a much more sophisticated way

of paying less for dinner.

Professionals love to write
things off for tax purposes.

Giving them an economic advantage
over everybody else.

But telling someone that
you're about to expense dinner,

is the perfect way to suck
the romance out of any meal.

It seems like it strains relationships
once money is involved.

And there's something about
the four walls of a restaurant

that puts our ideas
of fairness on full display.

But it was my birthday recently.

And a bunch of friends took me out
to a nice Italian restaurant,

and it was actually very fun.

We got some wine and a few appetizers,
and I ordered the Chicken Alfredo.

At one point I got excited

because the waitress started walking a
cupcake towards me with a candle in it,

but it turned out to be
for someone else's birthday dinner.

All my friend's thought it was funny,
I didn't think it was so funny though.

It's never clear if the birthday boy
should pay, so I kept my mouth shut.

But when the waiter brought
the check over,

one of my friends put everything
onto a single card

and everyone else paid him
on their phones.

At first, I felt proud of my friends
for making it seem so effortless.

But then I realized the person who paid
had used a business debit card.

Which means that he could profit off
the meal after he files his taxes.

Why were they using my party
as a way to make money ?

They were trying to squeeze every
last drop out of my special night.

I felt sick...

It seemed like more
of a business opportunity

to these people
than an historic milestone.

There they were, flashing their cards,
hoping to get points.

I was an expense.

And I started to think about what
other precious memories of mine

were secretly an expense
for someone else.

Did someone write off those
fireworks that we enjoyed ?

Or that funny night at the movies ?

Did someone write off the gift card they
gave me for the foot... The fish thing ?

Maybe I'd been going
about this the wrong way.

I've been in perfect harmony
with the IRS my whole life

while everyone else was discovering
ways to cheat the system.

Maybe it was time for me to grow up

and start looking for financial
loopholes of my own.

So I met up with an accountant
to figure out once and for all

what was for business
and what was for pleasure.

But he was in between
offices at the time,

and he asked me to rent
a work space for him

so that he could look like
a professional, so I did.

If I film a dinner with friends
could I write it off ?

That's pretty cool.

I think it's not a 100 percent yes,
but I probably would say yes, why not,

your occupation is you're a filmmaker,

you told me moments ago
that you make documentaries,

you make documentaries of whatever
you feel is right and good,

so if your documentary is about
you hanging out with your friend

and you're going to try to possibly
upload that on your social media

for the sake of attracting, you know,

channels like HBO to knock
on your door, then why not ?

I view it as like a marketing
or promotion type of expense.

What about if I film myself buying
Listerine ? Could I write that off ?

That's pretty cool,

if you can justify it with good faith,

then I believe it's a business expense.

This sounded like a great idea.

So with my accountant's blessing,
I was now able to write off

all the stuff that I just
normally spend money on.

All I had to do was film a few seconds
of every single thing that I did,

and it all magically turned
into a business expense.

Just like that.

And if the IRS wanted to audit me

they would have to look through all
of my footage, every single shot,

and you better believe that there's a
whole lot more where this came from.

I wondered what else
I could write off.

- How much does this cost ?
- $35,000.

What would this do for me ?

It's a great deal.

I always wanted a neon sign, so I went
by this place down the street from me,

to see if they might have
any ready-mades I could buy.

The guy in there was really friendly,

but when I told him about
my plan to abuse the tax system,

he got very upset and started
lecturing me about income inequality.

If I was, you know,
a millionaire making millions,

I would understand
that my moneys gotta go.

I'm doing a little better.

So maybe I gotta pay a little more.
Gee ! You know...

You gotta fucking pay.

Because everybody's gotta
live better. Everybody.

He kind of took the wind
out of my sails,

but I told him that I still
wanted to buy something.

I made it for a lady,
apparently she didn't pay her taxes

cause she never came back for it.

You know, that's a nice blue glow.

You put that in your bedroom, you know,
you turn it on at the right moment.

I started to feel really selfish.

Maybe I hadn't thought through the
consequences of a scheme like this.

And I was ruining the mood
for everybody else.

Was I the guy at the table who was
eating the most but paying the least ?

Or are we all this selfish
when we think we can get away with it ?

If everyone paid
as little tax as possible,

who would collect the trash ?

Or keep the trains
running on time ?

And if nobody paid their taxes,

who would tell the crossing
guards to cross ?

Even if we had rules
for splitting the check,

there will probably
always be someone

who finds a loophole
and ruins it for everyone else.

And maybe looking for a fair
solution was hopeless.

I was walking around
my neighborhood recently,

and I noticed that there was a place
called the Referee Store.

I wasn't really sure what they sold,

but I figured maybe there was something
small in there that I could write off.

Supposedly it's the only
ref store in New York City,

and they had more whistles
than I could ever have dreamed of.

This one's called the Sonic Blast.
It's really high pitched.

We also have Fuziuns. Fuziuns just
means a combination of two whistles.

Cushioned mouth grip,
just protecting anyone

that likes to bite down
on the tips of the whistle.

Fingered Classic,
more of a mellow sounding.

Volleyball, handball,
football and soccer.

- How much is this one ?
- This one goes for about $52.95.

This is a funny shape for a whistle...

So, how many referees
are there in New York ?

So if I'm going about
8 million people in New York.

- I'd say about 250,000 referees.
- 250,000 ?

- Yes.
- In New York ?

There are a lot more referees out there
than you actually think.

The city was crawling with refs
and I had no idea.

If anyone knew about fairness,
it had to be one of these people.

Maybe the answer was in here.

Is there a place I can go where referees
hang out if I want to meet one of them ?

I mean, on the weekend you probably
go to just a local field or park...

- Does he wanna get in ?
- Who's that ?

- Are you a referee ?
- Yeah. Hi.

Do you ever go out to eat
with other referee friends ?

We have... Every association
they might have like dinner parties.

- Really ?
- Yeah.

As a matter of fact, we're just
gonna have one in December now.

- Really ?
- December 12th. So we gather around...

You're going to have
a referee dinner party ?

- Yeah.
- Where do you have it ?

Somewhere in Long Island.

This could be it. A dinner
made up entirely of referees.

As far as I knew, an all-referee dinner
had never been captured on film.

Maybe this could act
as a guide for the rest of us,

and future generations would use it as
a bible for how we ought to behave.

If there are 8.6 million
people in New York,

that makes roughly
3% of them referees.

Any one of these people
could be a ref.

Hiding in plain sight.

Why don't they just
reveal themselves ?

They could settle any number of disputes
about check splitting or taxation.

If only we could know who they are.

The dinner was happening
at a VFW hall in Long Island.

And I got permission to attend.

I even dressed up for the occasion.

Even though when I got there,

I realized that nobody else there
had dressed like a ref.

Someone even told me that
I was dressed up for the wrong sport

because these were all soccer refs, and
I was dressed like a basketball ref.

As I had hoped, everyone was extremely
punctual, and showed up right on time.

At the beginning of the dinner,

they were selling tickets
for a raffle for the refs.

A reffle. And they were reffling off
a big screen TV.

And there were a bunch
of high rollers.

The dinner was buffet style,

which seemed like the perfect choice
for such a fair minded, orderly bunch.

All of the food was presented
at perfect right angles.

And every single piece of ziti
was evenly sauced.

This was about to be a masterclass
in considerate dining,

and I had a front row seat.

Alright, guys ! C'mon.
C'mon, let's have a seat !

Let's have a seat !
C'mon guys, let's go.

Alright, guys, we gotta get going.
There we go, let's go.

Alright, c'mon, guys !

Guys ! C'mon !

Guys !

C'mon man... Stop !

It's embarrassing to have
some people are in this room

that are watching us,
and we're acting like kids.

Stop it right now.
If we don't finish the meeting,

we are not going to serve any food.
So, it's up to you.

Food first ! Then the meeting.

When everyone finally settled down,
the first 15 minutes or so of the event

was devoted to berating the referees
for not following the rules.

First of all, the reports
have to be on time.

Next, it's your responsibility
to get paid before the game.

If you don't get paid,
we are not gonna be able to help you.

You're on your own.

If they're short a player,
and the home team doesn't want to pay,

what do you want me to do ?
There's nothing I can do about it.

We did the best we can.

It seemed like things
were off to a rocky start,

but maybe they were all just hungry.

At least the line
for the buffet was orderly,

except for maybe one or two people
that cut the line,

but I assume that
they had a good reason.

While the elders ate in silence,

I thought it was a good opportunity to
learn the code that the refs lived by,

but all they seemed to wanna do
was complain about the association.

You're still waiting
on payment from somebody ?

- Yes, that's for sure.
- What happened ?

- They don't pay me.
- Wait, who didn't pay you ?

The league and team.

There's another referee
didn't get paid.

You're waiting on a payment too ?

The association does nothing
for you, basically.

Except take your money.

It's crazy.

It seemed like the refs
felt so cheated,

that they started seeking
payback however they could.

- Some stuff to go ?
- I get my money's worth.

You have to get your money's worth.

People were packing up
multiple containers of food

before they even finished their first.

Others even started taking as many
soda cans as they could possibly...

As they could fit into a bag,

because they wanted to bleed
this party for all it was worth.

Maybe this wasn't going to be the
model of fairness I was looking for.

The one glimmer of hope
that the refs had

was the prospect
of winning a television.

This is the big one !

- 50 inch TV !
- Final prize !

But before the winning
ticket was revealed,

the refs were treated
to one final indignity.

Hold on !

Before we raffle this, make sure all
the garbage is off in the garbage can !

Let's do that now before we raffle it

because then you guys are gonna run
out of here and everybody else cleans.

I was stunned to learn that the refs

could not even be trusted
to clean up after themselves

unless they were bribed
with a flat screen TV.

Don't leave anything on the table or on
the floor ! We're not here to clean up.

After the room was deemed clean enough,
and the winner was finally announced...

5-9-4 !

5-9-4 !

The room erupted into chaos, when
everyone discovered the prize was going

to a high ranking affiliate
of the association.

The refs started booing,

because they suspected
the draw had been rigged.

People started yelling fraud.

Fraud !

But unfortunately the allegations
only seemed to arouse him.

Petty theft increased dramatically.

And when a gold-plated whistle
was awarded to the guy

had been yelling at everyone
the whole night,

it seemed to be the final straw.

Smile for the camera !
The camera's over here.

Smile for the camera.

And everyone left almost instantly,
as predicted.

As people were filing out, the guy that
won the golden whistle seemed upset.

It appeared that his golden whistle
was actually stolen

straight from his display case.

It was stolen.
His golden whistle was stolen.

He was really hoping that it was a joke,
but after about a half an hour,

it didn't seem like it was gonna
be reappearing anytime soon.

So I left the ref dinner
with a heavy heart.

I was wrong in assuming that refs would
be less flawed than the rest of us.

And if that's the case,
then what hope do we have

to act with any civility
when we're out with our friends.

Stealing from anybody
never feels nice,

but maybe people feel
like they need to steal

because they're not getting support
from the places they need it the most.

A lack of fairness at the top
can create chaos at the bottom.

And causes some people to cheat.

But it's kind of hard to blame
them for taking advantage,

when they feel completely
invisible to everyone else.

Because at the end of the day,
we're all getting kind of a raw deal.

If we don't figure out how
to support each other,

then we're all cooked.

This is ref Wilson.
Thanks for watching.