Who Pays for Dinner? The Long Answer…

Kate, at One More Thing, wrote a post asking about who pays when you go out with friends.  I started to leave a comment, but my response got so long I moved it here.  It rambles, but whatever.

Kate asked, “Is it always separate checks, each man for himself, or is the bill carefully split in equal amounts regardless of whether you got a salad or lobster? Or does one person pay, with the understanding that, next time, it’ll be someone else’s turn?”

Generally, I want to split the bill based on what’s been ordered – kind of a hybrid of  Kate’s first two choices (I don’t like nor think it’s necessary to ask for separate checks).   It’s just not fair for me to pay $30 for an early bird special and a Diet Coke, when others have had 3 chocolate martinis and the lobster thermidor, nor vice versa.   And don’t even get me started on people who don’t factor in tax and tip!

And  speaking of tips… I remember one time I went to a very fancy restaurant with several people.  The meal and the service were both so terrific my friend asked to see the chef to give his personal thanks.  When the check came we each paid what we owed, and this friend was the keeper of the money.  I noticed that on a $200 check he left only $20!!  This for the “best meal of my life”!  So I slipped another $20 onto the table when he wasn’t  looking.

I can’t help feeling a bit resentful when I come out on the short end of the split-equally stick, as I’ve always ordered with my wallet and waistline in mind, never ordering appetizers or desserts.  Being stuck happened more often when I was single, as Husband rarely holds back ordering what he wants no matter the cost.   But it still happens occasionally.

Of course we don’t split based on what’s ordered all the time – it really depends on who we’re with. And in cases where the bill is split equally (like when we get a very large group going to Buca di Beppo) I have no problem with requesting that the bar bill be separated out.  I don’t drink (not for any reason other than I just don’t like alcohol – except for perhaps a rum runner while sitting on the beach in some exotic locale), and I don’t want to pay for yours.

Other times, for example with certain good friends, we have the same casual alternating scenario Kate described, where we alternate who picks up the check without keeping score.  It’s stress-free and easy and lovely.

And still other times there is no way on G-d’s green earth I’m allowing them to pay – like when I take Husband’s 96 year-old grandmother to lunch.   Or after my father just spent more for 2 pairs of shoes for Son than I’d spend on 6 pair of my own.

My father’s who-pays rules are interesting, too.  In his circle whomever invites, pays.  There is a required reach for the wallet for all of the gentlemen in attendance,  quickly brushed aside.  He also considers it his duty to pay for most of our family meals.  He does let me pay every once in awhile even when shoes are not  involved.

The only one that really causes stress for me is the out-of-town guest scenario.  Some people believe that guests should pay for nothing, others that out-of-towners are no different than in-towners and should follow regular social rules.  I never know what to do in these situations.  I’d gladly play by the rules if only I knew them!

Several years ago Husband and I went to stay a weekend with friends of ours on the other coast of Florida.  Not only did they insist on paying for most of our meals, they bought and would not accept reimbursement for tickets to Cirque de Soleil.  It was very generous, and it made me a little uncomfortable.  In this case (and others since) I sent a commensurate (not dollar for dollar, necessarily, but not a $10 trinket, either) gift upon my return home.  Otherwise I feared I might get a permanent tic.  It’s not that I can’t accept the generosity of others.  I think I need to acknowledge that generosity.  And, I don’t think inviting someone to spend time with you should put anyone in the poorhouse.

When I go to visit for an extended period with family, I always buy groceries, try to keep our area clean, and generally try to make myself useful.  Basically be the best guest I can be.  And certainly be the antithesis of extended family that once came to stay with my Dad, whose habits  (eating everything in sight, being slovenly, expecting all meals  and entertainment to be provided at no cost to them) earned them the nickname “the Griswalds”, and no return invitation.

So, that’s it.  Some may think me petty for begrudging paying an extra $2o for someone else’s booze.  But the way I look at it those evenly split checks don’t ever even out in the end for me.  It makes me a bit resentful – something I don’t want to feel after a night out with people I like.

So, please, let’s get together.  Let’s have a wonderful meal, and laugh and get a little too loud occasionally.  And when the check comes, be safe knowing that I will pay my share, you pay for your Fuzzy Navel, and I won’t stiff you on the tax and tip.


2 Responses to “Who Pays for Dinner? The Long Answer…”

  1. brenda Says:

    I have a question.. for Father’s Day my two step daughters and son in law met us for dinner.. after the waitress took the orders, one of my husbands daughters told the waitress that they were splitting the bill for their father and that i was to pay for mine alone.. this was very upsetting to me and i could not sit there any longer so i got up and left.. am i overly sensitive or were they out of line… thanksl.

    • BeThisWay Says:


      In my opinion you did not handle this the best way.

      Let’s forget a moment that this situation involves your husband and his daughters. When we get together with a group of friends and it is someone’s birthday or a special occasion like Father’s Day or Mother’ Day, we usually split that person’s meal – the spouse is not included. If I was wealthy I’d gladly buy for both, but I am not. But our group of friends has done this for years, so there are no hard feelings. So it isn’t unusual in and of itself that they presented it this way, regardless of any prior bad feelings between you and them.

      There are always “issues” between stepparents and stepkids. Always. You don’t give a hint as to your relationship with them prior to this, but I’m going to venture a guess that you are not close. In my opinion it would have been much better for you to smile and be gracious, even though you were a bit hurt. Why?

      Well, what have you accomplished by basically throwing what they would likely call a tantrum and walking out? If they didn’t like you before you have certainly given them reason to like you less. You made a holiday that was all about HIM all about YOU. It doesn’t matter if they were being petty or not.

      You have nothing to gain by getting in between your husband and his daughters. All that will do is stress out your husband. They are his daughters, forever, and when you chose to marry him you chose to have them in your life, too. The best thing you can do is always be polite and gracious. If you don’t react to things you perceive as intentional slights, you take away their power. If the slight was unintentional, then no one is the wiser. If the slight WAS intentional, you take the wind right out of their sails.

      And, your husband will be happier. Which will make you happier.

      That’s how I see it.

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