Who pays the bill? Restaurant etiquette.

The other day I enjoyed a fabulous breakfast with a friend. Anyway, everything was going splendidly until the check arrived. If you pardon the expression, all he** broke loose. I wanted to pay for breakfast. But he would not let me! Can you imagine that!?! The fight continued until we realized the breakfast was complementary. At which point I allowed his male ego to take credit for breakfast.

Have you found yourself in this uncomfortable situation? Did you handle it any better than I? I have done pretty much everything wrong at some point along my journey through life. So save some humiliation and learn from me.

So who should pay the check? Tradition dictates that the one who did the inviting typically pays for the meal. Ok, mistake number one, Brad invited me; I really should not have tried to upstage him. Pardon the pun. Going Dutch has become very popular these days. However, “going Dutch” is bad form on such occasions as a romantic date or a business lunch. In either situation there should be no confusion as to who is the host and therefore who is paying for the meal. The suave host can make arrangements prior to the meal with the server to handle the check out of sight, therefore eliminating the discomfort most people feel when the check arrives.

So what is the etiquette for “going Dutch”? It is acceptable for non-intimate friends to divvy up the check or split it evenly. This works well if everyone ordered similar meals and drinks. However, if you ordered a salad and ice tea, and one your dining partners, who ordered lobster and Dom Perignon, suggests you “just split the check,” what should you do? When the check comes, only offer to pay your portion. Here is my suggestion, “Ok, my salad and ice tea came to $13 and here is an extra $3 for the tip.” You were generous on the tip and if your dining partner is truly your friend, they should be happy to cover their own extravagance. If they insist on splitting the check evenly, you have just learned a great deal about this person. It is at this point you must make a decision on your future relationship with this person. Oh bother.

What happens if the check arrives and everyone ignores it because there is no clear host? Take the initiative. Just because you are the first to touch the bill does not mean you have to pay for the entire bill. Begin with friendly banter on how to divvy up the bill. Recently I was at a very nice dinner where we split the check evenly between diners. However, a few people were very stingy with their tips. Upon leaving I simply shook our servers hand with a folded $20 in my hand and said “thank you”. No one but the appreciative server and I were the wiser. There was no need to shame my dining partners and NO reason to short the server for her hard work. This is imperative for a restaurant you frequent, especially if it is a restaurant where you conduct business meals.