Life skills: Who picks up the check?

By Nara Schoenberg – Chicago Tribune

Who pays for dinner on the first date? On the third? What if the event is an evening out with relatives, a birthday celebration or an impromptu office outing? Deborah King, president of Final Touch Finishing School in Seattle, clears up the confusion.

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Scenario No. 1: Dating

First date: Whoever issues the invitation picks up the tab. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, going out for lunch or dinner. If you asked, you pay. Second date: The second date goes by the same principle as the first. Third date: Sometime around the third date, the person who is not paying may want to start chipping in. A gracious way to indicate this might be to say, “I’ll buy the tickets for the show, why don’t you pick up the tab for dinner?” Or go ahead and purchase tickets ahead of time for a sporting event you know your date will enjoy. Similarly, there may come a point where the person who has been paying wants to split expenses more evenly. A polite way to broach this topic is to pick a time when you’re both comfortable and ask a gentle, hypothetical question, maybe, “What do you think about the woman sometimes picking up the tab?” If the answer is along the lines of, “I’d never stand for that,” you may not want to pursue the topic. If the answer is more favorable, press on. 32nd date: Some women never, ever feel comfortable paying, and King says that’s perfectly fine – if communication is good and both lovebirds are on the same page. Double date: The couple that does the inviting pays. If you’re not paying, it’s a nice gesture to cover the tip. school of etiquette

Scenario No. 2: Parties

Birthday party: The restaurant birthday party can be a socially ambiguous affair. Who’s hosting: the birthday girl or the best friend who made the reservation? Still, King points out, “somebody had to put the word out” that the event was taking place. This person may not be the host in the classic sense, but he or she is the person to whom you can address the relevant question, “Are we all chipping in?” Group of co-workers: Again, it’s a good idea to ask upfront and be clear about who is paying. Faced with the dreaded splitting of the bill, King likes to estimate her share, rather than doing elaborate calculations, and to err on the side of generosity. The worst thing that can happen when you take that approach, she says, is that the server gets a bonus. Family affair: Just because you’re the one organizing the periodic night out, complete with in-laws and uncles, doesn’t mean that you have to foot the bill. Everyone does their part financially, just as everyone would help out (bringing dessert, clearing the table) if they were eating at your home. Out-of-town guest: It’s a nice thank-you gesture for the guest to pay for a restaurant meal. One more thing: Congratulations! Now you know the rules. Unfortunately, your dining companions may not. Always prepare for this possibility, King says. For instance, bring enough money (or the appropriate credit card) on a first date, even if you were not the one who issued the invitation.