Written by Miriam Cross, this appeared in Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine, July 2015
Dining out should be an opportunity to relax with friends, impress a client or bond with someone special, not fret over the protocol for paying and tipping. Here’s how to handle three awkward situations.
When I try to pay the check, I get an argument. If you have formally invited someone to join you for a meal (for example, “I want to take you out to celebrate”), you’re the host—be prepared to pay. But if your guest insists on splitting the tab, accept the offer rather than argue.
When you’re determined to treat someone for a special occasion, do some advance planning: Choose a restaurant you know well, arrive early and slip the waiter your credit card with instructions to charge the meal and gratuity to the card.
As the invitee, it doesn’t hurt to offer (sincerely) to share the bill; most hosts appreciate the gesture, even if they plan to pay. If you get no for an answer, simply thank your host and say the meal is on you next time. Don’t spoil a pleasant occasion by bickering over the bill.
For occasions such as a large birthday dinner at a restaurant that you’re not planning to host, let guests know ahead of time that you’re putting together a pay-your-own-way type of event, says Daniel Post Senning, spokesman for the Emily Post Institute. Keep your tone casual when spreading the word.
The group wants to split the bill evenly, but my meal costs less. Light eaters or sparing drinkers may resent having to subsidize their tablemates’ lobster entrees or bottles of wine. If you’re out with a regular group of friends and suspect you’ll end up feeling stiffed, request a separate check from your server—but do so when he or she is taking your order, says etiquette expert Diane Gottsman. (Volunteer an explanation to your friends if you like, such as “I’m just having a salad tonight” or “I’m sticking with water this time.”) Once everyone is throwing their credit cards down for the waiter to charge equally, you’ve missed the chance to bow out gracefully.
In other situations—especially business contexts—avoid the nickel-and-diming. “You run the risk of looking cheap,” says Gottsman. Instead, be prepared to fork over your equal share and enjoy the group experience.
I noticed my host left a terrible tip. Much as you might like to add to the tip yourself, “that’s making a comment on the generosity of your host,” says Post Senning. He advises dropping the issue altogether. If your conscience won’t let you shortchange the waiter by proxy, however, walk out with your host and say good-bye, then discreetly return to make up the difference, advises Gottsman.