Going Out With Friends: Who Pays?

by Miranda Marquit · 4 comments

Going out with friends is always a fraught situation. When you sit down for a meal in a restaurant, trying to figure out who pays can be difficult. Do you each pay for your own meal? Split the bill evenly? Or is someone responsible for paying the whole thing?

In the end, the most important thing is to talk about it up front and figure things out ahead of time – before the check shows up at the end of dinner.

Who Invited Whom?

One of the easiest rules of thumb is to base who pays on who did the inviting. You should probably pay if you invite everyone out to dinner on your birthday. You did the inviting after all. When I asked my parents, siblings, and cousins to dinner for my birthday last year, I took care of the bill since I had invited everyone to a dinner that required driving.

The same rule is true if you are inviting people to hold a meal in honor of someone else. However, if you just want to organize an outing, rather than host it, you can let everyone know that they are responsible for their own food and drink. Make it clear you are just coordinating efforts and not hosting them so everyone is on their own.

With modern dating, the same rule can apply. I pay when I invite someone out to dinner. It gets a little weird in my conservative, traditional community sometimes, but I also use it as a way to determine who is actually “man enough” to let me pay if I’ve done the inviting. On the other hand, I have no problem allowing my date to pay if he invited me out. You’ll need to navigate this on your own since “going Dutch” is always an option as well.

And, of course, there are those situations when someone is particularly insistent that they pay, no matter who did the inviting. You can always offer to pick up the check next time you go out in those cases.

Make It Easy to Split the Bill

In some cases, large parties prefer to have one person pay the bill and everyone else repays the main person. This makes it easier on the server. (In some companies, this arrangement results in good-natured bickering as everyone tries to be the one to pay with a credit card and get the rewards.)

Cash is often the way this is settled, but people are increasingly carrying less cash with them. As a result, it can help if you use a person-to-person payment app to help you split the bill. Apps like Venmo can help you quickly send money (without the need for cash) to someone who is covering the check and you need to contribute.

If you do have a large party and you decide to split the cost, it’s usually a good idea split it evenly just for the sanity of the server. This means you have to decide whether or not you are going to be “that person” who gets something really expensive. You also have to realize that some of your friends might be the person who gets the expensive item.

David’s Note: One of my friends always excuses herself during dinner and settles her part of the bill with the server before we are done eating. She just pays for the dishes she orders and then she would tell us that she has already taken care of her portion. I would feel awkward doing the same thing myself but she pulls it off beautifully every time and no one ever complains. I don’t know anyone else who does this but you can give this a try if you think you can pull it off.

In the end, the key is clear communication and a desire to enjoy good company more than worry too much about the money.

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  • Caroline says:

    Oh yes… we’ve been stuck with massive bills when some bright spark shouts ”oh who is so petty… let’s just split it” when they have ordered shots and expensive stuff, lots of it, and makes a fortune…

    Best is to be upfront and just say what you intend, so if you’ve ordered wine for the table, say so, and split it among the drinkers of that wine. It doesn’t have to go down to the last penny, but be fair!

    • David @ MoneyNing.com says:

      Being fair is always a best way to go. If only there was an easy way to split everything, then we would all be better off and leave every get together with no hard feelings!

  • Ryan G says:

    For small group dinners (2-3 couples total) we will generally have good luck getting the server to separate the checks. My wife and I have some friends that will match us drink for drink, and dish for dish, so we generally just split the bill between two cards. If we are off by a few dollars, it isn’t a big deal for us. However, when we go out with larger groups, I have started bringing cash so I can pay my portion separately. I have been stuck with paying more than my fair share several times, so I generally try to chip in a little extra when I’m throwing in cash.

    However, the best bet is for us to meet at a bar that serves food, or somewhere else where we can order our own food and pay our own bill.

    • David @ MoneyNing.com says:

      Big groups are always hard with splitting bills, because there are bound to be people who drink while others who don’t. I wonder if there’s a way to order food but separate the bills for drinks. That will probably reduce much of the friction.

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