Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ordering Up at the Expense of Others

It always sounds like a good idea to round up a bunch of good friends and go out for dinner. The first round of drinks are served, and soon, the merriment kicks in. Menus are distributed and the evening is off and running. Ka-ching. Ka-ching.

One person is very hungry, so a starter and the grilled snapper entree sounds like a good idea. Another prefers just an appetizer, just enough to justify a second glass of champagne. Someone will mention the big, late lunch they had and thinks a bowl of mussels will do the job. The non-drinker in the group is in the mood for a burger.

The food starts arriving, more drinks are ordered. Everyone seems to be enjoying what they ordered. Some even pass their plate around, why not? They all have a vested interest in everything on the table because the bill will be split, but not before one person orders the dessert special.

Here comes the check.

The non-drinker burger eater will pay almost double for her burger. The three-courser will pay less than he would've payed had he eaten alone. Everyone quietly pays their share, some, no doubt, thinking, "Never again!"

When we note that a non-drinker is being asked to pay for wine, we'll say, "So and so shouldn't pay that much she doesn't drink." This can help others re-evaluate what's really fair. We are not encouraging the ole, "I had this, you had that" exchange.

Choose the place carefully where you want to dine with friends. It's important to be sensitive to the group, who's flush and who's not (you can argue that if you don't have a job, you shouldn't be sitting in a restaurant).

If you feel like having everything from soup to nuts, there's nothing wrong with that, but it's rude to expect your friends to pay for your private feast if they chose lighter fare. Fair share is only fair when everyone is ordering more or less the same.

If you've been invited out to dinner, don't order an entree that costs more than what your host is ordering. That doesn't mean you have to order the measly crab cake and a bowl of soup or a dish you really don't like because the price is right. If your host urges you to try the caviar and the lobster, have it. They are telling you that it's fine with them, don't be shy, forget about the tired, baby roasted chicken on a bed of mystery greens.

Over time, the problem eater is usually identified and probably won't be included when the group meets again or everyone will be on the lookout. It's probably not worth losing a friendship over. Maybe he or she knows not what they do. Maybe they think, "I ordered what I want, isn't that what everyone else is doing, too?"

True, but about the truffle special.


Anonymous said...

Y & Y -- this is the third rail of socializing. Because of the cost- transfer involved, I am no longer in favor of equally splitting the check. As a non-drinker I resent getting stuck with the tab for the drinkers, to say nothing about the food extravagance some display when they know they won't have to pay their fair share. From now on I will get the payment details agreed upon before the first drink or food order is placed! Thank you for discussing a very sensitive topic so beautifully.

Anonymous said...

Regarding your post on splitting bills: I've found that the best
policy is individual checks. When not possible, I usually play cashier and
just tell people what they owe. It must be human nature to minimize
debt--everyone underestimates. I make sure they over-pay, if anything. Say a
friend had two $10 drinks and two $8 small plates. I ask what they had (to
verify), then add it up FOR THEM. I'll say, "So that's $20 for drinks, $16
for food, which is $40 with tax and $48 with tip." They're instantly
relieved of doing any math, and no one has to make up a shortage by night's
end. For early departers, I never let them just throw down a $20 and take
off. I'll ask for a menu (or a server), go thru everything they consumed,
and tell them what they owe in the same fashion. It's a fine line. You have
to posture yourself as a fair friend, not as a bill collector.

Of course, this is never necessary with close friends.

Anonymous said...

If you are going out with friends who drink then you share in the cost, sorry. Its not about fairness in sharing because it will never be totally even. Its about being willing to spend the $ to be with these friends. Granted, if you don't drink at all then its a drag but I'm not a fan at all of figuring our per person by what they actually consumed. Hope for the best prepare for the worst. Most people are considerate but there are always a few who spoil it with inconsiderate ordering! Know your dinner mates!