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Does food taste better when someone else pays?

I'm just wondering what other hounds think. My one friend keeps raving about this mediocre Italian restaurant. I'm trying to be kind, patient and understanding. It's not my job to burst his bubble. But in the back of my mind I'm thinking, yeah if your parents didn't pick up the tab most of the time, and you had to pay for the meal yourself, you would probably be a lot more picky.

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  1. Take this friend out to one of your really good restaurants, and pay. You'll find out soon enough if all they care about is the free meal. To answer the question, no, the food doesn't taste better. It tastes free, which is to say, free and good and are two separate inputs.

    Ask anyone wo has eaten half their meals on someone else's expense account, or anyone who has expensed many meals.

    1. Depends. If the food's not good, it's just not good. Sometimes I feel embarrassed when other people pay for me.

      Drinks taste better when they're free, though. :)

      1. I don't think so at all. There are a lot of mediocre mexican restaurants around here and everyone has their own personal favorites. So I politely go with friends to their favorites, which I really don't like, and they treat, and it doesn't taste good to me even though it's free! Of course, for all I know when I take them to my favorite place and I treat they might not like it either ;-) Even though it's free!

        1. Towards the end of my career, I got recognized as enough of a foodie that people (especially vendors) always asked me where to go even as they were willing to pay for it. That was always the best option - expensive sushi, Korean bbq with lots of kalbi, great oyster bars and seafood - places I really enjoyed, and yes, enjoyed even more on their tab!

          But I never enjoyed going with them to places they wanted to go - usually the chain steak houses. Nothing wrong with a good steak, but it's nothing I can't make at home. I actually once took one of my account reps from a UK company I used to deal with, home, and cooked strip steaks from Costco on hardwood charcoal. I also brought out my scotch (mostly single/vatted malt) collection for a tasting session in the evening light, on the deck, which led to a surprise present on his next visit of a truly wonderful scotch!

          2 Replies
          1. re: applehome

            Great responses! I hear you about the steaks applehome! And now Costco is selling prime steaks too. Sounds like you really got things to work out for you. I love hearing stories about win-win situations. Everyone makes out! This is sort of off topic but I have noticed over the years that I eat the most when I cook the entire meal at home. Everything is exactly to my liking. Once I got in a rough situation. My parents and I went out to a long late lunch and afterwards picked my boyfriend up from his work. He immediately asked me how lunch was. I didn't want to make him too jealous (he loved food and eating out too) so I said it wasn't all that great. My parents, who had picked up the tab, got mad at me and said I wasn't very appreciative. In retrospect, I should have said lunch was terrific, better a bit of jealousy than angering the parental units. The lunch really was mediocre though. :)

            1. re: givemecarbs

              I think that last bit is key. Although the meal doesn't actually taste better if someone else pays, for politeness, if someone else pays I will generally add a star or so to the experience when talking about it to the host or to anyone who might report back to the host. If I pay and the food was bad, I'll say so. If someone else pays and the food was bad, I won't say so unless they do first.

          2. Nope. I think food tastes better when I pay - I get to have exactly what I want and not have to worry about over-ordering on another person's dime. I can have a starter, a salad, a main, a dessert, a drink, and a coffee if I want. :)

            1. A good meal tastes better when I pay. (no guilt)
              A bad meal tastes worse. (oh, the remorse!)

              1. I can't say that food tastes any better if someone else pays. If the restaurant is good I do find i enjoy the experience a bit more.

                What I've found on the other side is that people will wolf down the most atrocious food if it's free. That still amazes me.

                1. I agree cant go wrong with some free food

                  1. One of the best meals of my life was at a Franco-Russian restaurant. Multi course started with caviar & housemade blinis and ended with housemade shots of vodka. Main courses were brought out under silver domes- all the waiters stood behind each diner and liftied the covers in a synchronized fashion.

                    Did the food taste good? It was fabulous, financially heart attack inducing and free! The entire meal was paid for by my friend's ex-bf who was attempting to win her back after he dumped her in the idiotic belief that he could do better.

                    1. I think like most things, if you pay with your own money, you appreciate it more. I have a friend with a pretty good expense account and she treats me to some amazing meals, so I've seen it from both ends. I love good food either way, but I'm a little less tolerant of mistakes when I pay.

                      1. I can answer both "yes" and "no" on this one.

                        The "yes" is based on experience with one of the most tight, stingy, cheap, miserly (you get the idea) persons I'd ever known in my life. She NEVER had a good thing to say about a meal she paid for. However, any meal purchased for her she raved about. The hubby and I always had a good laugh about it.

                        The "no" is my personal experience. It doesn't make any difference who pays.

                        1. For me, who pays has no impact on the flavor of the food. But food does often taste better if someone else cooks it. '-)

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Caroline1

                            This is exactly how I feel....for me, food tastes much better in general when someone else prepares it. Especially if it's involved and/or time consuming, I am "tired" of it before it hits the table.

                          2. Freebee's can't make bad food taste good, bad is bad, you'll still need the Tums!

                            1. If it is my parents picking up the tab, I will be even pickier. I know they did like a mediocre italian restaurant, but I went once and never again.

                              I dreamed last night that I was going to a fancy brunch on somebody else's tab and I was happy.

                              What does bother me is somebody offering to treat me to dinner for say my birthday or because I helped them land a job. And then they take you to some place like Pasta Pomodoro or ignore your request I'd just like a place where I can order mussels.

                              1. guilt affects my enjoyment, no matter how good the food. I got treated last night and still feel guilty because I didn't pick the cheapest dish.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: im_nomad

                                  I've been thinking more about this topic and doing some "research". At the card tournament on friday John ran and got us cheesesteaks and onion rings and fried cheese sticks. He wouldn't take any money for my share. I couldn't really stifle the food critic aspect of my personality so I knew the onion rings were pretty decent and the cheese sticks were meh, but I really enjoyed the cheesesteak even though it was just average. I think I would have been more critical if I had paid for it. Or maybe I was just really really hungry. I agree with you Caroline about food tasting better if someone else cooks it. Especially for some of the dishes that involve a lot of attention. By the time I sit down to eat, I'm tired of looking at the stuff.

                                2. hmm... if anything, i'd say that being able to treat my loved ones makes dining experiences more enjoyable.

                                  i DO find that the company I keep and how much I enjoy it skews my judgment of a restaurant. i really have to guard against letting that affect my reviews. maybe your friend really likes his parents? :)

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: cimui

                                    Naw. A lot of people do really like their parents but John complains about them constantly. I know that actions speak louder than words though. He was so happy to be scheduled to work on Easter at cvs til eight pm so that he could get away from them for the holiday. And here I had started to feel all sorry for the boy. Dang if his parents ever find chowhound John and I will be in Sooo much trouble!

                                  2. Not really, but I ain't complaining~

                                    1. I’ll second what Axalady wrote.

                                      I don’t think the food tastes any better when someone else pays for it. I eat out enough playing host or guest, and the food is either good or bad depending on the restaurant. When I’m playing guest, to avoid appearing ungrateful, I thank the host and find something positive about the food or resto to comment on, even if it was a crappy meal.