Picking up the tab when you’re out with friends

who pays when youre out with friends

Modified CC image, original by Flickr user khengsiong

Is there anything worse than restaurants that don’t allow you to split the bill?

I was out to yum cha with a group of friends from university the other day – one of those slightly awkward situations where we were all brought together by a central friend, the spoke in the wheel, so to speak. I wouldn’t really have hung out with any of the others of my own volition, but she was our mutual connection and our glue. And it was surprisingly fun.

Come time to leave, we lined up at the counter to settle the account. The person who was up first went to pay her portion (let’s call her H) but after being told the policy was one bill per table, paid for the entire lunch. I had cash because I’d anticipated this might happen, and so did one of the others  – yet despite us practically throwing our $20 bills at her, H wouldn’t accept any of it. “You guys can get it next time!”

Only thing is, if there IS a next time, it probably won’t be for another couple of years. I literally had not seen her since graduation.

That said, among those of us there that day, she outearned us all by far. I mean, I don’t know how much she makes, but I would say anywhere from $15-25k more than the best paid among the rest of us (journalists are poor! She may not be using her degree, but she started on a much higher income straight out of uni, and she certainly earns the most money now). In comparison, she’d have been best placed to afford it.

Some of my closer friends often do the same on a smaller scale (picking up a $10 meal or covering a drink or two, that kind of thing). Lunch for four of us, though, would probably have been between $50 and $80 (I wasn’t keeping a close track of what we ordered). I would definitely have accepted the cash.

How big of a tab would you willingly pick up for others? Acquaintances? Close friends?


19 thoughts on “Picking up the tab when you’re out with friends

  • Reply Tina @ My Shiny Pennies February 25, 2013 at 08:35

    I will pick up the tab when friends come into town to visit. We usually dine in pairs, so the tab usually isn’t more than $50-$60. It gets more complicated though when I’m dining with a group of Asian friends because the culture is such that splitting the bill is seen as tacky. Most of the time, one person does end up getting the entire bill and we rotate.

  • Reply Kevin Watts February 25, 2013 at 09:09

    I think it depends on the friends and their financial situation. If I invite them out and I earn more than them then I wouldn’t mind picking up the tab.

  • Reply Bridget February 25, 2013 at 10:03

    I’ve never picked up the tab for multiple meals before, but I rarely hesitate to buy a coffee, drink, or even bottle of wine for a group. I out-earn my closest friends. Some by a little, some by a lot. It’s tough because I like to treat them just because I like to have them with me and I know how much it sucks to make little money and have big student debt, but at the same time I’m careful because I don’t want to be rude about it either… even if my intentions are good there’s still that awkwardness that I could be rubbing it in their faces. We split the big things and sweep the small things under the rug.

    • Reply Life [Comma] Etc February 25, 2013 at 10:07

      I bet this is how my close friend who out-earns me feels — she very frequently wants to pick up the tab for things just out of kindness. Those are some good friends! And I try to get her back with small gifts and surprises to make sure the playing field is even.

  • Reply Life [Comma] Etc February 25, 2013 at 10:05

    I love picking up the tab when I’m in the position to be able to financially. So, if I budgeted $30 for the meal and the entire tab comes to $30, I might think of an excuse to pick up the whole thing. Usually I feel no embarrassment about asking for separate checks though!

  • Reply Amanda February 25, 2013 at 10:48

    My friends and I are pretty consistent about splitting the bill. We won’t ask for individual bills, but if it’s around $100 and there’s five of us, we’ll each put in $20, no matter whatever our meal cost. So someone who ordered a $10 meal might pay the same as someone who ordered a $20 meal once, but it evens out over time the more we eat out.

    I tend to be the one who pays on my card though, and I collect cash from everyone else. That’s because I have a Meal Entertainment Card though – I salary sacrifice a certain amount onto my card every month (perks of working at a not for profit!), and everything I put on the card is tax free. It makes eating out a lot more affordable for me!

  • Reply Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter February 25, 2013 at 12:22

    I actually really enjoy treating my friends. We often take turns. I guess there are those few people in my life where it makes me feel good to treat them. We don’t go out too often though so it never blows my budget.

  • Reply Mochimac February 25, 2013 at 13:25

    That’s a good question. Visitors to my city, I wouldn’t mind picking up the tab. They’re visitors, it’s a nice thing to do.

    Otherwise, I’d rather give cash to someone to cover it on their bill, or cover it on my card and have them give me cash.

  • Reply Katie C. February 25, 2013 at 13:49

    When I was still a student and paying off debt, I never picked up the tab, so I get really excited that I have the ability to do that now. (Okay, I had the *ability* to do it before, but I chose to spend money on debt instead.) We rarely get together with groups of people, so I can’t speak to that scenario. But I love picking up the tab when Amy and I go out. She’s in grad school, unemployed, while I’m making a decent salary and have no debt payments to worry about. It’s just something I enjoy being able to do now. Luckily, we both have pretty cheap tastes. 😉

  • Reply Kelly Abroad February 25, 2013 at 19:19

    My friends and I rarely dine out often, we’re all starting out in our careers so most of us earn more or less the same and those who do earn more usually have mortgages or high rents. We always split the bill and if the situation arises where one person is paying with a card (for example if we’re ordering pizza) we all make sure that person has the cash. I would never want to be in a situation where we took turns picking up the whole tab because I don’t think there would ever be an instance where I could afford to pick up the the meals of sometimes six different people. On the other hand I have no problem paying for little things like wine or taxis. I have a friend who is unemployed at the moment and spotted her a glass of wine the other day but it all comes in swings and round abouts with my friends but never more than a glass of wine or something.

    • Reply Kelly Abroad February 25, 2013 at 19:20

      I really need to start proof reading my comments.

  • Reply Kerry @ Planes, Trains and Plantagenets February 26, 2013 at 01:52

    Yeah, I’m happy to do this if I know I have significantly more income than the people I’m out with. It only becomes a problem IMO if it becomes expected – or if it happens too often, and the lower earning friends feel embarrassed. I’ve been on both sides of that. But I’m happy to treat student/lower income friends to a casual meal out every once in a while! It’s no big!

  • Reply Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies February 26, 2013 at 02:16

    We’re pretty good about alternating with friends we go out with regularly. Visitors or friends who we see rarely we pick up the check. And for the in-betweeners, we’ll pick up the check if 1- we’re the ones that did the inviting, or 2-we picked a restaurant that is a bit out of their budget-range. I’m not going to ask anyone to eat rice and beans for the rest of the month because I felt like Indian food that day!

  • Reply Funny about Money February 26, 2013 at 06:23

    I don’t carry cash around, and so when everyone else wants to pay in cash, I’ll pay the bill and take their money. But it’s a pain, because I pay my credit card bill in full at the end of each month, and of course a finite amount of money comes in for that purpose — meaning I have to traipse to the bank to deposit a fistful of cash, as though I had nothing else to do with my time.

    For this reason, I try to avoid dining out at places that won’t do separate checks.

  • Reply Manda February 27, 2013 at 02:14

    My friends and I exclusively split the tab. We’re all the same age, roughly earning the same, and I think it would be untold levels of awkward if one of us offered to pick up the check for everyone else.

  • Reply The Asian Pear February 28, 2013 at 01:34

    My friends know I am cheap and hate to be “indebted” so they know to split the bill or take the money. If not, I make plans to take the person later and treat him/her back.

  • Reply Miss JJ February 28, 2013 at 03:34

    I have picked up the tab for meals coming to several hundred dollars before, usually when I wanted to celebrate something, like raises and bonuses. I am also willing to pick up the tab for drinks and meals, but most of my friends prefer to split when we are in a large group. I don’t mind paying mostly because I go out with friends very infrequently these days. Like 2 – 3 times a year…oops, now i feel like a hermit.

  • Reply Michelle February 28, 2013 at 16:25

    If my friends are visiting me from overseas/out of town I insist on paying for a couple of their meals. They took time off from work and bought a plane ticket to see me. So, it’s a small gesture that makes them feel good. My friends do the same for me. As for going out to dinner, my Denver peeps and I very rarely pay for one another as we always seem to have cash on hand. I do regularly pay for people’s coffee/pastries when meeting up for hanging out on a patio and talking and my friends do the same for me.

  • Reply CF March 3, 2013 at 20:13

    My friends and I will usually just split the bill but I have picked up the tab for things like a drink or coffee before. I don’t really want or expect to be paid back for those small things though 🙂

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