Who Should Pay for Lunch?
For quite some time I’ve been wanting to write this post but never feel like the timing is right since I usually remind myself right after a lunch with someone and think, “If I write this, they’ll know I was talking about them.”
But, today is the day.
I have either lunch or coffee with someone about 5-10 times a week on average. No matter the cause for meeting, or who initiated contact, it’s somewhat of a social experiment when it comes to picking up the check.
These aren’t “biblical” rules or advice by any means. But, these rules and advice apparently aren’t common sense either so, maybe I can help. Here are some simple, polite rules and advice for “who pays for this?” situations.
- Whoever did the inviting should pay for lunch. This rule is the most important of all rules. It’s common sense and should win out in any situation where there is confusion. If you invite someone out and make it clear you will each pay for your own meal and “meet up” somewhere, that’s different. But, when you invite someone out, pay. If you were the person who was invited out, you might offer to pay for your portion of the lunch out of courtesy. However, if you are going out with someone you always hang out with, offer to pay for yourself even if they did the inviting.
- If you invite another to lunch by saying, “I need to talk to you” you should pay. The above rule applies here anyway but it is doubly important to pay when someone knows there are “things” to be discussed that may be a burden to you. It is common courtesy to pay for lunch if you are asking something of someone. Doesn’t matter if you want their advice, listening ear, or you want to complain to them; if you NEED to talk to them, buy their lunch. In those situations where you say, “I need to talk to you” and THEY suggest lunch, you should still pay. If you don’t want to pay, don’t agree to meet over lunch.
- If you are inviting your pastor to lunch you should pay. This is a hard one since I am a pastor and I know everyone reading this will think I’m asking for a free lunch. But, truth be told, it is courteous to pay for your pastor. This is true for anyone in a professional people-business field (teacher, city council, counselor, etc.). Professionals in the “people business” are rarely taken to lunch on a friend-to-friend basis. Usually someone wants something of him or her. Even if it is “to get to know them better” it is kind to pay for your pastor. If one pastor is inviting another pastor to lunch ask the questions: Did I do the inviting? Do I want something from them? In these cases, the first rule applies.
- If you take someone to lunch to reprimand him or her, you should pay.Seriously, if you take someone to lunch to give him or her a spanking and expect him or her to pay, you are a bit of a jerk. P.S., if that is the nature of your lunch, you should tell them beforehand with something like, “I want to talk about some things that need improvement. Can I please buy you lunch and talk them through?”
- If you invite a volunteer you oversee to lunch, pay for them. Period. Seriously. But, if they invite you to lunch, the first rule applies (invitee pays), though not strictly. If the volunteer invites you to lunch it may be appropriate to at least offer to pay for your own.
- If a boss invites someone to lunch, he or she should pay. If you are the boss, everyone will say, “yes” to you because they don’t want to say, “no” to the boss. However, if the boss and employee are friends outside of work, it’s okay for people to pay for themselves. Talk about the arrangement beforehand and keep the other rules in mind.
- If someone gives you free tickets to an event and invites you along, you should offer to pay for a meal while out. They can decline but it’s cool to offer. This can be tricky if THEY pick the restaurant you are going to that night and they pick an expensive one. In these cases, offer to pay for your own or simply be honest and say, “Hey, I’d like to pay for dinner but my budget is a little tight. Can we go somewhere more affordable?”
- If someone invites you to double-date pay for your own dinner.They are just saying they want your company. Double-date doesn’t mean they want to treat you.
- If you are interviewing someone for a job you should pay. If you don’t hire them, you want them to at least feel like it was worth their time and they aren’t out any money.
- If you agree to go to lunch with someone and expect they will be paying, have a backup plan for payment. I always make sure I can ay for myself even if it seems obvious to me they should be paying. When that check sits on the table forever or in those situations where they are trying to pawn the bill off on me, I speak up and say something like, “Let me make sure they put this on separate tickets.” This breaks the awkwardness and allows them to say they will cover the bill or, at least you know where you stand and you don’t get stuck with their bill.
- If you are “out and about” with someone and you pull your car into a restaurant for a coffee, you should offer to buy him or her something.They are in your car. You are in control. It’s not polite to drink coffee in front of someone without asking him or her.
- Be careful not to set up an expectation for a repeat offender.If I get invited to lunch because someone wants my counsel, I expect they will pay but I have my backup plan. If they invite me to lunch again, I expect I am going to have to pay for myself so I either say something like, “Why don’t we meet at my office?” and avoid having to buy my lunch or I say something like, “Just so I can plan ahead is this your treat?”
- If the server asks, “Is this on one or two bills?” and someone invited me to lunch, I let them answer. Then, I know where we stand right away.
- If a young student or an unemployed person asks you to lunch, you might offer to pay. Don’t assume the student knows the rules yet or that they have any money. Truth be told, they might assume you are paying since you are older and wiser and probably wealthier. Know this going in and don’t feel bad about paying for them if you agree to meet. It might even be nice to offer to pay for them buy saying, “I was a student once. Let me pick up the bill.”
- The unemployed person might not expect you to pay but it’s cool to offer. On some occasions, if the person is unemployed they may act a bit defensive because they are frustrated (and maybe a bit prideful). Still, take the weight off of them. Take the wondering out of the equation for them. Or, better yet, be honest from the start and say, “I know you’ve been out of work. I’d like to pay for this lunch.” They may refuse, but it’s nice to know someone cares.
- Honesty takes away the awkwardness. If I ever am in a situation where I am broke and someone asks me to lunch, I have no problem saying, “Hey, thanks. I’m totally broke. Can we meet somewhere else?” This way, I give them an opportunity to tell me it is their intention to pay or, I at least take myself off the hook. Whatever situation you are in, calling out the awkwardness makes it go away. Never be afraid to ask for clarity ahead of time. This works both ways. If you invite someone to lunch but don’t expect to pay for them, tell them.
I’m sure I haven’t covered EVERYTHING. Anything you want to add?