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Aug 7, 2013 06:55 AM

Fighting over who pays the bill

I just experienced a situation and would like CHers’ feedback.

My cousins were visiting from abroad. For their last night in Toronto, we went out to a very elegant restaurant. My SO and I arrived first – I told our waiter and the maitre d’ that we wanted to pay for the dinner and that they should not allow our guests to pay. All good, but towards the end of the dinner my cousin excused himself and went and paid. I didn’t say anything but was quite upset with our waiter as I felt we had an understanding with the restaurant over who would pay.

What can I do next time to ensure this doesn’t happen? Is it worthwhile contacting the owner of the restaurant to discuss their policy? I do realize it sometimes puts the waiter in an untenable position.

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  1. Gosh, I wish I have to worry about something like this..most of my family members always try to avoid paying anything.
    Consider yourself lucky.

    I don't think it's worth contacting the restaurant. Just be greatful and send your cousin a nice package of chocolate or something.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Monica

      <<I wish I have to worry about something like this..most of my family members always try to avoid paying anything.>>

      That comment made me laugh! Thanks, I needed that.

      A few times, I can safely say "been there, done that."

      Just love it, when the entire family heads to the restroom, the second that the bill arrives - even if I had every intention of paying it. Sort of funny to observe.


      1. re: Bill Hunt

        I am SO lucky, usually when someone heads to the bathroom after a meal, it is to secretly pay the bill. Thanks!

    2. As you say, its very awkward for the restaurant staff in this type of situation. I think you should just let it go and send your cousin a thank you note.

      1. Your job is to smile and say thank you. I understand that, in some cultures, hosting can become competitive, and I suspect there was some of this going on. My advice comes from a culture where that's not supposed to happen, but where the role of someone who receives a gift is to express gratitude and suppress other less gracious alternatives.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Karl S

          Good point - like when someone compliments you on something - "thank you" is always (IMHO) the correct response. Much better than "this old thing?" or similar.

          I never fight over a bill, though usually do try to work the details out with the head server, beforehand. When someone bests me, regarding the bill, then a very heartfelt "thank you" is my favorite recourse.

          I might put the "stinkeye" on the server, but then will tell them that all is OK, but next time...


        2. I think the only thing to do to make sure it doesn't happen again is to tell your guests directly in advance that it's your treat and that you'll be paying. It's nice to mention in advance b/c then there's no discussion when the bill is at the table, and it avoids putting the waiter in the position of having to figure out competing guest demands.

          7 Replies
          1. re: Cachetes

            I prefer not to tell guests in advance that I am paying, because it may make them uncomfortable and only order cheap stuff. I want my guests to feast on the best!
            During the meal, I find a stealthy opportunity to make it very clear to the server that I alone am paying.

            1. re: Veggo

              Interesting. Because when someone tells me they are paying, it always has the opposite effect on me...

              (You make a good point. When we do this, it is typically with friends who we do a lot of back and forth with, so I think it's less of an issue.)

              1. re: Cachetes

                In some cases, I have observed exactly what you refer to. Once, while hosting some family members at a higher-end restaurant. One in-law was talking about some rather "middle-of-the-road" main courses. I mentioned that I would be paying, and suddenly she ordered a "double" of the Prime Rib @ US $65 per course. OK, I left myself open for that, and it was no big deal. Now, I think that I poured her smaller portions of the Bdx. that I had for the mostly beef mains, but that is life. I guess that she could have ordered 4 8 lb. Live Maine Lobsters, so I got off easy.


                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  I was kidding, so that's a pretty funny story about your in-law! Now that I think about it, my sister is the one most likely to host something swanky in our family (her financial situation most allows it), and there are those who see that as an opportunity to enjoy themselves in a way they never would if they were footing the bill. It's not as blatant as your example, but it's there.

                  1. re: Cachetes

                    I understand completely. I can afford much more, than most of our families, and love to host. I also enjoy introducing many to wines that I have had the opportunity to enjoy, and try to make sure that the entire bill comes to me. I have allowed the meals to be split, but the wines have always been "on me." To date, I think that all have enjoyed.

                    Once, my youngest nephew allowed, "My mom comments on how you whip out your American Express card, but then we all really enjoy your wines." That meant a lot, though he was only about 13 at the time. I am sure that the "wine police" will be at my door, in the AM, but so be it.

                    To me, life should be about enjoyment. I'd much rather pick up the tab for a nice meal, and wonderful wines, than spend those same $'s, drinking my great wines, by myself - they never taste so good, as when they are shared. The enjoyment, around the table is all the "payment," that I need.


                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                      We've gotten to a point in our lives where "making memories" is much more enjoyable than buying "more stuff" (a la George Carlin's routine). So, paying for a wonderful meal and drinks for a beloved group is a pleasure, and we're thankful we have the opportunity & blessed enough to do so.

              2. re: Veggo


                As usual, a good point.

                One of the things that I appreciate about planning on paying, is that I can then order what I want, without any reservations (not the kind that you secure on OpenTable).

                We often host some groups, where my wife will be paying the bill. She has some constraints on her expense account, and I always honor those. When I want special wines for our table, I work out the arrangements with my head server - the wine bill will be separate, and come directly to me. Then, I get exactly what I want, and no one needs to worry - just enjoy. [Just wish that some of her doctors would act the same way, instead of ordering a 12 year vertical of DRC's! However, that is between her, and them.]


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