I’m curious how you handle the awkward situation of the pick-up-the-tab-dance.

Picture the scene: you’ve gone out for a nice dinner with friends. Along comes the check and suddenly the tug of war beings:

“I’ll get it.”

“No, I’ll get it.”

“You shouldn’t.”

“What do I owe you?”


“OK, thanks…I’ll get it next time.”

And, with each passing moment what was a great get together becomes mildly uncomfortable to downright awkward. Who should pick up the bill? If your friends pick it up does that mean you have to pick it up for the group next time? If you pick it up, will it totally sink your dining out budget? How will it affect your relationship and willingness to go out for the next dining out gathering?

If you’re gathering at some diner somewhere it is not such a big deal. The total damage from the bill won’t be too high (although depending on your budget it could be a big deal to you). If you’re out for a nice evening out of dining, a check for 4 or more people can quickly add up to the several hundred dollar range, especially with drinks. Picking up the check can totally hurt your pocketbook and allowing others to pick up the check can leave you feeling obligated to get it next time or even a bit guilty.

So, how do you handle these moments?

Thankfully, I don’t find myself in this scenario often. Usually if we’re with a group we simply split up the check either evenly across the group or according to each person’s share (if people ordered wildly different priced things). There’s no bickering or showmanship with picking up the tab. Whew! Other times I’ve been out with others for very pricey meals and found myself in the grips of the pick-up-the-tab-dance. In those occasions I’ve often just gone along, graciously allowing someone to pick up the tab knowing that I’ll pick up the tab next time. Although I do know I need to remember to budget for that next time because it’ll be a whopper. What if you’re with others who couldn’t possibly afford to pick up the tab (either now or next time), what then?

With the holiday season upon us, many of us will connect and re-connect with friends, family, and colleagues for a meal or round of drinks. That makes this time of year ripe for the pick-up-the-tab-dance so be prepared with how you want to handle it. Keep in mind that there is nothing wrong with setting a boundary and simply being gracious, thanking someone for offering to pick up the tab, and then contributing your portion (or perhaps offering to handle the gratuities). The holiday spirit is about being in relationship with others, not breaking the bank because of an awkward social situation. That hangover can be far worse than drinking a few bottles of Two Buck Chuck.

What is your mode of operation for handling the check when you go out for dinner? How do you handle the pick-up-the-tab-dance? What would you do? Please share your stories in the comments below….

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