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Aug 6, 2008 07:21 AM

ETIQUETTE- who pay's?

Traditionally, for a birthday or special occasion my family goes out to dinner to celebrate the guest of honor. This occurs 2 or 3 times a year and we never go out to dinner together as a family except for these few occasions. Usually the guest of honor chooses the restaurant and sets up the plan. Everyone else in my family expects my father to pay on these occasions and does not open their wallet. I always offer at least the cost of my meal and my father accepts the money.

I have started to grow tired of this set up. My brother planned a lavish dinner out in the city after I already purchased him a gift, and I was the only one to throw $40 to my father. Had I known about this dinner out I would have skipped the gift and offered to chip in for his dinner as a gift. Last week there was another dinner that I indicated I couldn’t attend- my family was up in arms and insisted I go. Again, I was the only to resentfully offer the money for my meal.

How can I bring myself some peace and get this situation under control? I don’t mind paying for my meal but it really frosts my cookies that everyone puts their nose in the air while my father fumbles for a credit card. I feel that we should agree ahead of time what kind of dinner it will be- I would like everyone to be on the same page. Any suggestions about how to broach this subject????

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  1. No, but I feel your pain. In our case it is us who always pays for dinner regardless of who the other family members are. My inlaws, my brother (who I admit I don't mind paying for and realize that is not objective, but don't care <g>),daughter and boyfriend or her friends, our former stepchildren and their SO's....if it's family, we pay.

    1. Are you and your siblings all adults, working, on your own, etc.? If so, I'd suggest that your father tell everyone that from now on they are responsible for their share of the check at these events.

      2 Replies
      1. re: MMRuth

        I agree. Address the issue beforehand, not in the restaurant.

        1. re: MMRuth

          Myself and one brother are 25+ and working, he is a teacher and takes classes so claims to have a limited budget but goes out almost every night and picks over the top restaurants. The other two are high school and college but have summer jobs.

        2. As this is your dad's birthday, my view is that you should address this issue with your siblings, etc. before "taking your dad out," provided that they are all adults who are working, etc. I can see the dad paying for the meal if you guys are still children, teenagers, etc. But after a certain age, it really should be the other way around. I wouldn't involve your dad in these conversations.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Miss Needle

            I didn't have the sense that this involved the father's birthday in particular.

            1. re: Miss Needle

              This isn't just my father's birthday it is for all special events and birthdays

            2. Does your father mind?

              You aren't being taken advantage of. you are paying for your meal and nothing more. If you father minds, and feels he is being taken advantage of, then he can speak to the others. If he doesn't, then let it go.

              Some families, the kids are expected to pay their own way. In mine, offering to pay is a slight insult. It implies that I don't think my Father can handle it. My Dad lets me pay about once in 20 or 30 times we eat together as a family. But that is just to shut me up.

              Talk to your Dad first. He worked hard for his money. Let him spend it how he likes.

              18 Replies
              1. re: lgphil

                It is a bit odd though that the father accepts the money from one child though. I inferred from that that the father probably would appreciate the others paying as well.

                1. re: MMRuth

                  Yes, I agree. Because the father accepted money from one child, I don't think it would be an insult to him if the kids paid for his dinner. If the father refused to accept money from everybody, then you have a different story.

                  MMRuth, to answer your original question, it's not necessarily about the father, but about the guest of honor. I feel that these types of conversations shouldn't involve the guest of honor, where the GOH has to take it upon himself to bear the responsibility of discussing how everybody needs to pay his/her own share.

                  1. re: MMRuth

                    I agree that's the odd part. Maybe there is an income disparity between the paying party and the others? Or more kids in one family and the paying party is single and very successfu with no kids to feed or college to pay forl? Maybe there is a big age discrepancy with one party just starting out in life and the other well-established. These types of things may be factoring into Dad's thinking?

                    We eat with my family every Sunday. About every 6 weeks or so we go out...and on family occasions. Often my dad will pick up the bill....but we all always offer to pay. When we do split the bill we all kick in, not just one of us. We're all on equal footing financially though.

                    1. re: ziggylu

                      Yes - I think a lot of it has more to do with family dynamics and financial situations than "etiquette". I tend to pay for meals with my mother when we go out, whereas, with my father and his wife, we split the bill and then, as usually is the case, if our share of the bills during his visits are higher, I send him a check (this avoids dealing with it at the restaurant). When my sister visits, we usually pay, unless it's a cheap place and then we split the bill if her husband is along (sexist, probably, but ...).

                      My FIL usually insists on paying, but every once and awhile we insist on treating, and make sure to arrange it covertly with the maitre d'.

                      1. re: MMRuth

                        Yikes! I just reread the original post and now understand what you were saying about the father. For some reason, I was thinking it was the father's birthday. My bad. This is what I get for reading too quickly -- miss important details.

                        Well, whatever the family dynamics are, it seems that misslorelle takes issue with her brother not contributing. So I feel that she needs to just speak with her brother about this. It seems that it's between the two of them. If the father needs to get involved, I think that should be Step 2. It would be nice if it could just be resolved between the OP and her brother though.

                        1. re: MMRuth

                          So because I am responsible, hard working, and perhaps more financially savy I am the only one who has to pay? Doesn't seem fair to me.... Maybe that is life :(

                          1. re: misslorelle

                            Oh - I didn't mean that at all. I was just describing what we do in our family - mother, not v. much money so I/we pay, father - retired, doing ok, but it's better when we compensate for our wine drinking and eating more food than they do, sister - less money, can't afford some of the nicer places that we enjoy taking her to. FIL - plenty of money, but we don't like to feel as if he always pays, so we do so occasionally.

                            1. re: misslorelle

                              Well....this is also how it works in our family. When I was single and struggling my parents always took care of me where they might not have with my sisters who are quite a bit older and were well-established when I was in my early 20s.

                              Like MMRuth , in our family these days, it depends. When we were are with my husband's family we almost always foot the bill as we are much better off than any of them.

                              1. re: misslorelle

                                you are the one paying because you offer

                          2. re: MMRuth

                            I agree, I would like my siblings to chip in or my father to refuse my money. Being the only one chipping in makes me the "nice guy" I guess but irritates me.

                            1. re: misslorelle

                              I definitely don't think the HS sibling should contribute and not knowing the financial arrangements with the college student it is hard for me to say. In our case we are much older as are the parents and siblings and because we have the highest household income it is always assumed we will pay.

                              1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                Right - I would agree about the HS student and probably the college student, provided that the father can afford it, and it's not his birthday. And, it sounds like brother who goes out all the time, chooses lavish places, but doesn't pay, should stop picking the places.

                                1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                  I would not expect a high school or college student to pay for dinners out either. It's one thing if all parties are well into their professional careers and can easily afford it, but most high school and college job incomes aren't really in the income range to support paying for lavish dinners.

                                  I do agree that everyone should be on the same page about what type of establishment people should be picking out. If the brother goes lavish while everyone else is picking mid-range restaurants, the brother needs to get in line with everyone else. Obviously he shouldn't be expected to pay when he is the guest of honor, but at the same time he shouldn't be picking someplace that is twice as expensive as what everyone else picks.

                                  1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                    When I was a kid, my grandfather *always* paid when we went out to dinner as a family. Then one evening, probably when he was about in his late 70's, my grandfather didn't pull out his wallet at the end of the meal, and my father realized that he was now expected to pick up the check. My dad said later that he felt as though it were the end of an era. I don't think this was something my grandfather did deliberately, btw -- it was just that something about the family power structure had changed, so that now my dad was head of the family.

                                    All of which is to say that with family dinners, who pays has to do with a) habit, and b) politics. When my parents were first married they didn't have much money, and my grandfather, who was a surgeon, was the host. Over time, my parents' income increased and at some point the issue of who could afford to pay was moot; but the habit had been established and continued until my grandfather abdicated that role. Unless the kids start to insist on paying their way, the established habit tends to continue.

                                    As for politics, my mil *has* to pay the check. When we would visit her, she paid because we were her guests; when she visited us, she paid because she was "imposing on us." She moved to our area several years ago, and at this point the issue of who can better afford to pay is again moot. But she still pays unless we can redirect the check before she gets her mitts on it. The question is, if she wants to pay, why shouldn't we let her? Because there's something infantalizing about the way she does it. I can't quite put my finger on why -- she's not ostentatious, and she doesn't expect fulsome gratitude. Somehow, though, it's one of the many ways she tells us that we need to be taken care of -- by her. In an odd way, it's an assertion of privilege.

                                    1. re: jlafler

                                      "it's an assertion of privilege."

                                      Respect your elders. It won't kill you to let her pay, and it will make her feel good. Family politics perhaps, but relatively benign ones.

                                      1. re: jlafler

                                        jlafler, totally off topic but my father used to have the same issue with my grandma (his mil) and always felt insulted by it, until she passed away and he realized it had been something that gave her pleasure and he now says he wishes he had let her do it more often.

                                        1. re: jlafler


                                          My MIL's exactly the same way, and her insistence on paying got to the point where I felt a little uncomfortable. When I talked to her about it (after she got miffed when we had a meal together and I made sure nobody ever saw the check), she made an interesting point.

                                          She said that now her kids are grown there's precious little she can do for them. No more skinned knees to bandage, no more teenage angst to assuage, but she can still pay for dinner at a restaurant. And she claims that as her privilege.

                                          In other words, she doesn't think that we need to be taken care of; rather, she enjoys the now-rare feeling she gets from being able to do something to take care of her children. The older my kids get, the more I understand where she's coming from.

                                          1. re: alanbarnes

                                            You're all right: it won't hurt me to let her pay -- and I do, and try not to let it bother me. It's a trickier question when my own parents are along and she still insists on paying, but that's another issue....

                                            My mil actually does a lot for her kids. Being a nurturer is a big part of her identity -- she raised four kids, she was a special ed teacher, she spent many years caring for her husband as he became increasingly disabled, and now she's actively involved in raising two of her grandchildren. If she couldn't take care of people, she'd wither away. And I do appreciate what she does, but I also sometimes feel that I'm not quite a grownup in her eyes.

                                2. I had this issue when my Sainted Mother(tm) was still alive. I simply blasted those that thought she was a Rockefeller with pockets so deep she should pay for her own parties -- after someone else had made the arrangements. There was some initial sting, and I was persona non grata for a couple events, but it did take those with champagne tastes on other people's money to task. I have little tolerance for opportunistic sponges and conniving charlatans looking to spend their owed inheritance while a parent is still alive. The nice thing about family is you can be blunt thus saying things in such ways that make communication on most subjects quite clear.

                                  At the next 'function' your brother organizes grab the nearest 2"X4" and pop him in the head. Once you have the mule's attention, bluntly tell him his free ride's over. He will be paying for any event he organizes. If that's too much of a financial strain, then he should collect from everyone that attends the event prior. Any overages will be balanced at the end.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: The Ranger

                                    What an excellent post, Ranger.

                                    >>I have little tolerance for opportunistic sponges and conniving charlatans looking to spend their owed inheritance while a parent is still alive.


                                    >>The nice thing about family is you can be blunt thus saying things in such ways that make communication on most subjects quite clear.

                                    You'd think. Not true, sadly.

                                    >>then he should collect from everyone that attends the event prior. Any overages will be balanced at the end.

                                    Amen, that's all it takes.


                                    1. re: dolores

                                      I, too, am wondering if the father is at all bothered by this, and is accepting the OP's $ to assuage her guilt.

                                      My dad was like lqphil's -- he always picked up the check, and would argue with anyone who took it before he could. Offering him $ for my meal would have really upset him.

                                      It think the OP should probably just relax and enjoy the party. If picking up the whole bill is a problem for her dad (and she knows it) she should take it up with her siblings/mom to see if some discreet division of cost could be devised. The last place this should be done, however, is over the check at the end of the meal......

                                    2. re: The Ranger

                                      Perfect! That is the response I was looking for.