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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Friday, July 13, 2007

To pay or not to pay

A buddy called me this morning and shared this scenario:


He met a new woman recently. He likes her. She apparently likes him. They've been dating long enough that her parents, while visiting the city where my buddy and his soon-to-be girlfriend live (soon-to-be, because they're dating, but haven't really formalized anything), decided it would be a good idea that they all go to dinner. My buddy liked that idea, except he doesn't have very deep pockets.


So he went into to dinner with the plan of just paying for him and his girlfriend-to-be. But when the bill came, neither of her parents made any move to grab the check. Not wanting to be conspicuous, my buddy quietly laid down enough money to cover him, his girl, and their half of the tip. Her parents still made no move to even look at the check.


There was a stalemate. After several minutes, her father, in a huff, picked up the check, studied it for a moment, dug in his wallet, and tossed the balance of the check onto the table. Later, my buddy said, dad told daughter to drop the bum - that he wasn't worth keeping if he couldn't or wouldn't treat his sweetheart's parents to dinner.

"What would you have done," my buddy asked.

Very tough question. Very tough. As a Monday Morning Quarterback, I like to think that I would have simply told soon-to-be girlfriend something to this effect: "Listen, I'm really looking forward to meeting your parents. And I'd love to have dinner with them. But with me wrecking my car last week and my main computer (he's self-employed) crashing, I'm unexpectedly broke, and I will be for another week or so. So why don't we do this - I'm not completely tapped out. I can buy some nice gourmet groceries and a nice bottle of wine, and you and I can prepare dinner for your parents right here at your house...or at mine?"

Option two - and a very undesirable option it is - would be prior to the dinner, when they were all hanging out at soon-to-be-girlfriend's apartment, if I was feeling particularly nervy, I would have pulled the dad aside, reiterated to him that I care deeply about his daughter, yadda, yadda, yadda and then said something to this effect: "I'm looking forward to dining with you and your wife this evening. But circumstances over the past week or two have left my pockets a bit thin. My car was wrecked. A necessary, but expensive piece of computer equipment in my business (he's self-employed) needed to be replaced. I can pay for your daughter and myself, but I'd appreciate it if you could get the other half of the tab. I could charge it, but I don't believe in using credit cards lightly. And one of the things (daughter) and I have in common are smart spending habits."

Option two is probably a deal-breaker though, and could make dad think you're a loser. So that would be equivalent to the Hail Mary pass.

So as Monday Morning backup Quarterback, I think I probably would have just gone to my closest guy friend, my best buddy, and borrowed a couple hundred bucks from him. That way we could have had a smooth tension-free dinner, I could have paid for it all, as was apparently expected, and no one would have been wiser about the situation. And my buddy/benefactor and I could work out how quickly I'd pay him back, without anyone else having to know.

I don't envy my guy. It's tough being in a position you want to be in, but not being able to afford it temporarily.

For the record, I told him I would have gone with option one, hands down.

How would you have handled it if you were him?

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34 Comments:

  • I would go with Option 1. I think that would have been a nice gesture, if I were soon-to-be girlfriend, that he would care enough to say "I still want to have dinner with your parents" and not "well, I'm broke so sorry, I can't." And I think STB girlfriend should have explained the circumstances to her dad ahead of time. That's what I would have done. Or they could have just gone to the Olive Garden.

    I'm just sayin'!

    By Blogger Balou, at 12:50 PM  

  • I've been lucky enough in my life where even when I WANT to pay for everyone, the parent (either hers or mine depending on who we're with) insists on paying for at least 75% of the dinner no matter who did the inviting. But, aside from that...

    I wouldn't have done Option 1. Only because I think it would look cheap and the whole prepare dinner and clean up would take away from spending time with everyone.

    I wouldn't have gone with Option 2 (explaining things to the dad) but I probably would have ended up charging it to the card. OK, so he doesn't believe in using credit cards lightly. I get that. But this was one instance that was out of the ordinary.

    Ultimately, though, I think I would have ended up angry at the presumption that I would be paying for all of it.

    By Blogger Kevin, at 1:14 PM  

  • Option 1 is a great idea, and I'd like to think I would have thought of something similar. Your poor buddy, what an awful sitation to be put in. Shame on the parents though, in my opinion THEY should have been the ones picking up the check. I think the DAD was the cheapskate.

    By Blogger fiwa, at 1:29 PM  

  • I've done option 1 in the past as well as option 3 which is hit it on the credit card and dig out later.

    Option 1 has always worked the best. It allows for a much more relaxed atmosphere, and if you are a good cook (I am) it makes you look good too.

    I never borrow money from friends. That makes people into not friends.

    By Blogger Wavemancali, at 2:01 PM  

  • I went with (now ex-) boyfriend to dinner with my parents for the first time and when the check came, boyfriend picked it up. He then told my Dad that he was getting tab for himself and me so that my Dad didn't have to pay for us. It could have gone either way at that point. But the way he worded it came out just right and ended up working out so that my Dad didn't even realize that he wasn't being treated. Dad just took out money and tab was split. Then again, maybe dad was just so used to paying for 'his little girl" that he had been expecting to pay for both me and my boyfriend.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:11 PM  

  • Honesty is the best policy. The relationship is with the woman not her parents.

    If he couldn't call off the dinner till finances were better then just telling the truth is the only other option.

    By Blogger Hammer, at 2:15 PM  

  • I think your option one was the best way to go.

    Southern Rule #1 - He who invites pays the bill.

    By Blogger Angie, at 2:36 PM  

  • Hey! I was just going to ask who had done the inviting who to this meal anyway? If he'd made the offer, then he should have been prepared to pay the whole tab -either cash on the barrelhead or by credit card.
    If the invite was the girlfriend's idea, why couldn't they have shared the expense? Equal opportunity thing there ya know!
    I think option #2 would have totally bombed out though. The cook-at-home deal would have been good, provided one of the two cooking was a decent enough cook, not necessarily gourmet though.

    I do feel for the poor guy getting kind of pushed in a corner with no really good way out.

    By Blogger Jeni, at 4:02 PM  

  • Oh- by the way - I posted a piece the other day pertaining to your earlier post this week about the domestic violence/abuse issues. Stop by and read it and see if it provides a couple of answers to some of your questions. A cousin of mine who, like me, got out of a not-so-nice marriage after more than 20 years, read my post and yours too and though she appreciated your thoughts about the "background check" her comment was that just doing that doesn't show near enough information though that you only really get once you live with 'em!

    By Blogger Jeni, at 4:07 PM  

  • I think it was ballsy of the older couple to expect to be treated to dinner, frankly, and especially rude to get upset when it didn't happen.

    I bet they're Yankees. :-D

    By Blogger SWF41, at 5:08 PM  

  • whomever did the inviting should have picked up the full tab, that's the "correct" way.

    i feel sorry for your buddy, the girl should have made sure both the parents and her boyfriend understood who was doing the "inviting" in the first place.

    i blame this girl. get rid of her, she has no manners!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:20 PM  

  • If the dinner was the parents' idea, they were wrong to assume they'd be paid for. That is rude! I sense he's in for much drama if he stays with this girl.

    By Blogger katrice, at 5:34 PM  

  • Furthermore, these are awful people to judge your friend based on his ability/inability to pay for one dinner.

    Drama cometh.

    By Blogger katrice, at 5:37 PM  

  • ^5 swf *LOL* i think that option 1 is a lovely idea, but i did ask myself why girlfriend, who MUST have known about boyfriend's financial situation, didn't have a suggestion or offer to split the check with him before they went out with her parents.

    By Blogger savannah, at 5:45 PM  

  • Hey! I think your buddy did excatly the right thing. The parents should have never assumed that he would be throwing down for the group. If it were my dad he would have paid the entire bill no questions unless my BF would have offered. At least your buddy had the decency to pay for him and the girl. The parents were WAY in the wrong here.
    Also I agree that the girl should have known her BF financial state as I am guessing it has come up before even minorly (is that a word?) Would he not have shared with her about his computer and car situation?

    By Anonymous Cheryll, at 6:01 PM  

  • Ugh. I probably would have paid by credit card (maybe that's not an option for him) but what a lousy night.

    That's a sad story. They still togehter?

    By Blogger Matt, at 6:22 PM  

  • well, considering her parents are the ones that suggested this dinner, they should have at least paid for themselves, if not the whole dinner. I don't see where anyone has the right to suggest a dinner and then expect for the other party to pay for them. That's just rude.
    As for your friend, he probably should have discussed it ahead of time with his soon-to-be, especially if he had the suspicion that he would be expected to cover it all. I don't know, I wouldn't have expected it.

    By Blogger Claudia, at 9:21 PM  

  • Sounds like overprotective papa was testing the boy to see if he's good enough for his little princess.

    Tell him to keep the girl and dump the old man.

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 9:42 PM  

  • I agree that making dinner (or if neither cooks, buying the best prepared food possible) at his or her place would have been preferable to his paying for half the bill.

    But as the parent of grown children (and not in the least wealthy,) it still seems to me that the parents, as the older, more established couple AND the parents of one of the young people, should have automatically paid the bill.

    I am shocked that they did not, and concerned that their daughter, who was raised by such people, may have outrageous expectations of what your friend should provide in general.

    Furthermore, I suspect that their arrival in town was for the purpose of checking out their daughter's new boyfriend, which connotes serious control issues as the young people are not even an official couple yet.

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, at 10:12 PM  

  • i would've went option 1, and borrowed money as a last resort.

    Plus dinner at home can be more relaxing, and you can show off the culinary expertise.

    By Blogger Evil Spock, at 12:28 AM  

  • Whoever proposed the dinner (parents? would have been obligated to pay for it in my book. Probably an old book.

    Your first paragraph indicates the parents suggested it.

    It's either a hosted invite or it should be clarified at the negotiations.

    Poor communications - new relationship - bad omen.

    By Blogger Pamela, at 1:11 AM  

  • My advice would have been to let the girlfriend know how much he had to spend for the evening and have her direct her parents to a place in that budget or as you say, make a meal for a quiet intimate dinner only at her place though. This way, if the parents are super annoying, he can make an excuse up to leave when he wants.

    By Blogger My Reflecting Pool, at 11:21 AM  

  • I would dump the girl. No reason to get involved with and possibly marry someone who doesn't stand to inherit. LOL ... kidding! But it is good to know the if the girlfriends dad is a tightwad early.

    I would work it out up front with the girlfriend somehow. Either eat at home or ... what the hell? Am I the only person in America who DOESN'T have a maxed out credit card? Seriously, I can't believe the number of people I meet or read about who get stuck in this type of situation.

    Seriously people. Get one credit card with no annual fee and keep it aside for emergencies like car wrecks. That way your personal card isn't in danger of being maxed if you want to buy dinner for four.

    By Blogger Jay, at 2:51 PM  

  • If you extended the invitation, you can't stick them with part of the bill. If the GF extended the invitation, you should make an arrangement with her: either #1, or that you and she split the bill.
    Eating out is generally a good idea, because it puts you in "neutral territory." But if your finances don't cover it, preparing something special at home is a good alternative.

    By Blogger C.L. Jahn, at 10:12 PM  

  • The relationship is doomed! ;p

    By Blogger Irene, at 11:35 PM  

  • seriuosly at this point its not a matter of what i would have done because i've been in that situation and i would have just charged it and moved on. then i would have explained to her that i'm broke because of the drama so its home cookin for us the next few weeks.

    and another thing.. how could she as his date not realize the situation? its not like he was at dinner alone with her parents... step up to the plate ladies and don't let your man hang with with your parents for chivalry's sake.

    By Blogger What A Crock, at 2:25 PM  

  • As inlaws these people would be a pain in the tuckas. The girl knows how her parents are and she did nothing to warn the guy before hand and made no move to ease the situation when it occured. Tell your friend to run, not walk, to the nearest exit from this relationship.

    By Blogger wordsonwater, at 8:56 PM  

  • I would have proudly dropped our half of the bill and tip on the table, then fakedwww.somecrankyguy.com a cell phone ring. Picking up the phone, I would listen, freeze up, then shout "Oh MY God!" and jump up from the table and shout, "My grandma's weasel has his winker stuck in the bicycle spokes again, I gotta run!!!

    Problem solved.

    SCG

    By Anonymous scg, at 9:41 PM  

  • Yea, my experience has been that I always have to fight to get to pay the check. That dad was an asshole.

    By Blogger Fathairybastard, at 10:49 PM  

  • Get ou of town, what presumptious parents they are...I say, ditch the parents!!

    By Blogger Cazzie!!!, at 2:31 AM  

  • This wouldn't have happened in my generation. The older couple would have picked up the check, plain and simple, no questions asked.

    The initial meeting would have happened at the girl's house, it would have never happened at a restaurant. The issue would have been on intimacy and talking. If possible, both sets of parents would have been there.

    Restaurant? Certainly not.

    By Blogger The CEO, at 12:37 PM  

  • I'm going along with the "whoever decided to make the dinner date" idea. In my time, if I had made a dinner date with my parents and a boyfriend, I(!)would pay for the dinner. After all, they are MY parents and the guy would be in a really tough spot. But then, MY parents (particularly my dad) would race you to the check...still do to this day..

    By Anonymous dogncatmom, at 4:23 PM  

  • The important thing is, how is he going to handle it, now that her folks have an unfortunate impression of him?

    At least he didn't do what a boyfriend of mine is fond of doing: turn me down when I publicly offered to pay for my portion before he publicly picks up and pays for the whole check himself, accepting everyone's gratitude for buying dinner, and then later telling me in private that I owed him for half the tab (i.e. not just my half, but half of the whole ticket).

    My blood pressure is rising just thinking of it...

    By Blogger thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy, at 4:48 PM  

  • Was he supposed to KNOW that this was expected? I was surprised reading this. And, agree with a few other comments -- who called for the dinner outing, and though I would have thought everyone would pitch in for his/her own (or the dates pay for their g/f / wife), or even the elder couple if they hosted. It was likely awkward for your buddy, too. What's his girlfriend think of it, now?

    By Anonymous Ceilisundancer, at 4:53 PM  

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