Who pays the bill? Restaurant etiquette.

The other day I enjoyed a fabulous breakfast with Brad Montgomery, yes Corporate Humorist, Strategist, & Funny-ist (www.bradmontgomery.com). 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.


No, I'll pay the bill!


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.


On the subject of the business lunch, you must read:  Breaking Bread for Better Business www.womenentrepreneur.com/article/2462.html. Please learn from my mistakes and always Consider Etiquette!Check out Brad, you will be glad you did! www.bradmontgomery.com

18 Replies to “Who pays the bill? Restaurant etiquette.”

  1. Holly,
    Loved the blog. Many a time I have almost had to arm wrestle a friend for the bill. Pre-paying is always the best and no sport required.

  2. Great site Holly! The blog on handling the bill was timely. We just had a situation that the tips you gave could have been helpful. I’m better prepared than before.

  3. Holly!
    In this ever changing world the constant is always money, who has it, who doesn’t and with it comes power. Taking the check or not is a part of that!

  4. I have been in that situation many of times, thanks for the info., from now on I wait to be invited instead of doing the inviting. Just kidding….can I take you to lunch?

  5. my question refers to having dinner with close friends, when the bill comes 1 person inparticular, is always jumping for the bill… other person in the party have become because accustomed to this being the norm. I of course have not, and do not expect him to pay for the group. when i offer to hey he refuses, so in this circumstance, I don’t have a second time are you sure. should you then ask a third time or is that bad form.


    1. Thank you for the question Jim. That is a problem many people face. When do you stop offering to pay for your meal? If this person is clearly the host and “invited” you to dine, then you don’t need to offer. However, it is always good form to offer to pay for your meal in a group of people who happen to go eat together, even when you know a certain person will insist on paying for everyone.

      I would suggest inviting this person to a meal and make it clear that you are hosting and they are your special guest.

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  7. Holly:

    My wife is having a big birthday coming up and she wants us to go to a rather expensive restaurant that night. I think it would be fun to ask some of her best friends if they’d like to join us there as a surprise. A few are wealthy and others are not and this would be a very big tab for them (e.g., prix fixe and $100/person). In such a case, would I be expected to pay for everyone I invite or is it proper/acceptable for all of us to split the bill? Thank you.

    1. How wonderful of you to want to create a beautiful experience for your wife’s birthday. Etiquette is less about the rules, and more about relationship. If it is within your budget and you know your wife would approve, then you can pay for another couple or two. More than two couples and you won’t be able to talk and enjoy each other’s company.

      It is okay to invite others, let them know the price and that they will be responsible for their own meal IF it is within their means to do so. However, you have presented a case where some would not be able to comfortably afford the dinner, this may lead to hard feelings all around. In this case I would leave the surprise for after dinner. Have your wife’s friends congregate at your house while you are at dinner. Purchase a cake and champagne for them to set up when the two of you arrive. This way all of her friends can attend and she will have time to visit with each one.

      Your wife may be looking forward to an elegant and romantic evening with you. With this in mind you can plan several special surprises throughout the evening to let her know just how much you value and cherish her. The least expensive and most treasured would be a love letter written from you. Of course, a piece of jewelry or even a perfect red rose attached doesn’t hurt.

      Let me know what you decide!

  8. excellent post, very informative. I wonder why the other specialists of this sector do not notice this. You must continue your writing. I’m sure, you have a great readers’ base already!

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