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Why does being 'treated' provoke such anxiety in some?

It seems that time after time whenever one dining partner decides to pick up the check for someone at the end of a meal, anxiety ensues. ("I missed your birthday last week, I'd like to treat tonight." or "I had no idea you got a promotion, please the meal is on me in celebration.")

Then it inevitably turns into a bargaining situation: "Oh no, no, no, that's not necessary." " OK, then let me get the tip." "Drinks at the next place we go to are on me."

No, No and No.

Why can't people just be gracious and say thank you? There is no power thing going on on the part of the friend picking up the check. I notice that the discomfort gets amplified when there are 3 or more people.

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  1. and there is little more awkward for the server than when guests are wrestling over the bill.

    people have forgotten how to behave graciously, i guess. a polite, "thanks so much" said sincerely would be much nicer for everybody.

    1. a friend of mine put a stop to that years ago, with a simple: "Can't I buy a friend a meatball sandwich?'
      now we simply trade off.
      On a visit to NYC, I bought the theater tickets, he bought the seats at the yankee game a few days later.

      1. As far as the amplification with 3 or more people, I'm sure every one else is thinking, maybe I should have offered or maybe we should all chip in or some such thing. Also in some cultures the birthday person is supposed to be the one treating everyone else so it depends on who you hang out with.

        1. we laid down a rule among our group of friends, if someone wants to buy you something...the correct reponse is *thank you*. Now, whenever it becomes an issue, I'll look at my dining partner wide-eyed and say, "Don't you know the rule?" it usually becomes a jokey thing and lets the person realize that they aren't being very gracious...much like the "can't I buy a friend a meatball sandwich?" that PB mentioned. Now as I joke, we've changed the correct response to "thank you. May I have another?"

          1. I think it's a personality thing. Some people don't mind treating back and forth, others feel like it's a lot to keep track of in their minds. In some cultures, it's an age issue, so if someone pays for the whole table it feels like that person's "older" or more "in charge" depending how you grew up. I live by the theory that it all evens out in the end and it's not worth worrying about. I have some friends with whom I usually split the bill evenly, others who switch off paying for meals here and there, and my younger sisters who I never let pay. I operate off the assumption that one day they'll spoil my kids rotten in return. Then there are people who take it too far for me, like an acquaintance who was bragging about buying her mom a car. The next time her own birthday rolled around, her parents bought her a car. To me, it seems like their family just likes to brag about giving each other big gifts.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Pei

              Holy Deadweight Loss, Batman!

            2. It depends on the circumstances and how well you know the person.

              I only accept to be treated by family, close friends or established relationships. I know it's done out of caring not obligation, and that I'll have the chance to reciprocate. I don't let others pick up the tab on first dates because I hate to feel indebted.

              I might let others pay if I'm doing them a favor - helping them move, letting them crash at my place for a few days, etc.

              If it's my birthday, you'd better pay. ;-)

              2 Replies
              1. re: piccola

                oh oh oh- but how about when people arrange a bday dinner for themselves at an expensive resto and then expect you to pay? I always WOULD pay, it is the people who sit back and say, "ah well, its my bday!" when the check comes...so lemme see, i'm buying you a gift, i'm ponying up for an expensive dinner for myself and DH (because you won't host a party I guess?) AND i'm buying your dinner?

                1. re: nummanumma

                  that's just rude. I meant when someone proposes to take me out for my b-day *instead* of a gift. If I'm the one suggesting we go out, I expect to pay for my own share - and since I'm not a big spender in the first place, if people end up unexpectedly treating me, I don't feel guilty.

              2. I grew up in a Korean family and from my personal experience, it is almost a tradition to "fight"over the check. I can't think of a single restaurant meal in which my mom and my aunt (or my dad and my aunt or any configuration of family members) didn't argue about who would pay the check. it may sound strange, but if there wasn't argument over the check, that meant that someone hadn't offered to pay, and that would be considered to be rude. I don't know how common this is within Asian families and especially within non-Asian families, but almost every single asian friend of mine is familiar with this strange phenomenon.
                and the birthday issue is an interesting one, one that confused me a lot in elementary school when birthday parties were a huuuuuge deal - while my parents believed that the birthday person (or parent) should pay for the celebratory meal, I grew up under the impression that the birthday person's meal should be paid for by friends and family.

                3 Replies
                1. re: bijoux16

                  That's what happened with my Spanish family too (fierce fighting over the bill). The American side of my family was pretty bad at the game -- too gracious and shy to be pushy enough -- and often ended up losing.

                  I think it depends on a lot of factors -- cultural, the respective age of the diners, the respective wealth, whose hometown you're in (that is, who is more like the host). It would be ridiculous for me to try to pretend to treat my stock trader uncle to dinner when he chooses a fancy restaurant on my visit to Manhattan. But if you're on equal footing, to me it seems downright rude, not gracious, to not argue with someone offering to pay the bill unless there is some sort of understanding that you're taking turns. Isn't there a chance the friend is just being gracious in offering?

                  It seems like it's the waiter's job to grin and bear the akwardness. It usually is a good nature fight afterall.

                  1. re: Zabalburu

                    I agree that it can be largely driven by cultural and generational expectations. I have yet to dine with a Chinese family where a fight for the check doesn't ensue. Frankly, it's exhausting -- whether you're being treated or trying to treat (holy smokes -- it must be annoying to the wait staff)! I like the idea of a simple gracious "thank you." It can be hard to relax and enjoy the food if you're dreading the tussle at the end of the meal. I've actually tried arranging with the waiter ahead of time to give me the check only to have my guest (older aunt) go behind my back and pay the waiter without telling me.

                    1. re: amyleechen

                      I think it's cultural, too, plus in the Asian culture, if you don't make an effort to pay, even though the other person has offered, then you're considered rude.

                2. I agree that a simple "thank you!!!" should be the response.

                  But I have this one friend who NEVER lets me treat. She will trick me into letting *her* pay (like once she nabbed the check as it was delivered when in I was in the restroom) but never lets me treat her. It does stress me out, as I WANT to pay, and at this point I am starting to feel like a freeloader. Now I don't want to let her pay at all, so I too put up a fuss...am I being neurotic? ;-)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: lisa13

                    I don't think you are being neurotic, but there must be a way to deal with this if you really want to pay. Try calling the restaurant in advance and giving them your credit card with strict instructions that the entire meal is to be charged to it...

                  2. My BF has the ultimate reply when HE wants to pay and some one else asks "Are you sure?" He says "No, YOU go ahead and pay!" Everyone remembers and no one makes the same mistake twice. BTW, he is only kidding with his "no" and will still insist on paying.

                    1. It's definitely expected by many people to make a fuss if someone else picks up the check. I have a friend who is Vietnamese (I am not asian) and we end up going to dinner a lot with her extended family and friends. It's usually a "so-and-so is coming and brought a friend/sibling/cousin." I too have noticed the picking up the check thing in that my meal is almost always bought by one or other of my friend's family or friends. Unfortunately, I can't afford and don't want to pick up the check for a table where I don't know half the people. It makes me uncomfortable because I am not unwilling to pay my share. I always try to give money to whoever paid (it's never accepted). However, I'm not willing to offer to pay the whole thing as I don't want my $30 lunch turning into a $300 lunch. I guess it would be different if it was a group of friends that I knew everyone and this was a tradition we had established. I solve the dilemma by treating my friend when it's the 2 of us or just a small group that includes her family that I'm close to.

                      Also, there are people who do this as a power trip. Had a friend's close friend (read, not my friend) who would constantly try to upstage me by picking up the check. After a conversation with my friend, I finally decided to let her and just made sure to buy my share of drinks. I feel like her insecurity is not my issue. I don't go out with that friend's friend much!

                      1. Lisa13: I think lots of us get a good feeling from buying someone else a meal, but we forget that the other person would like to experience that feeling too. You're not being neurotic -- or if you are, your friend has made you that way;-)

                        If someone asks me out "their treat," I just say "thank you" and mean it. I try to treat next time.

                        However: I HATE when we have arranged to go Dutch, and the other person tries to grab the check anyway. (I once invited a bunch of friends to a restaurant, my treat. It was to celebrate an occasion that was special to me, not particularly to them. One of them got up to "visit the restroom" but snuck his credit card to the server while he was gone. When it was time to pay, I found out what he'd done. I mean, bless his heart, but it kind of spoiled the evening for me. It was kind of like inviting people over for dinner, and while you're in the kitchen checking on the roast, someone puts an entire turkey on the table.)

                        1. Japanese host-guest relationships are a battle: the host to not let the guest do anything and to make sure that the guest has everything; the guest to make sure he or she is no bother to the host (guests are well advised to bring their own towel and to do the spring cleaning if the host steps out for a minute to buy the guest a bottle of $500 single malt). This plays out in paying the bill: no one wants to be a guest.