There’ll come a time in your life when you’ll want to pay for a meal if you’re out to dinner with someone you respect. While this is incredibly mature, it can also incite arguments and negotiations fit for the National Security Council. Yes, you admire and/or are scared of this person and want to defer to them, but you also want to man up and stake your claim as a real adult (you have a tie on, too!).
The time has come to fight back like the credit-card-wielding grown-up you’ve become (you beautiful butterfly, you). But don’t offend the other alpha male and cause a scene in front of the whole restaurant. Here’s how to avoid just that when dining with:
Bosses, Coworkers, or Clients
When you’re in a social situation with people you normally only interact with in the office, everything becomes a little tense — especially when authority figures are involved. Did you say the wrong thing? What the hell is that in your teeth?! Why are they looking at you that way?! When it’s all over, instead of getting to bask in your fancy food/wine coma and your relief that you survived, you have to negotiate the check without getting fired. It’s enough to make you want to quit your job and/or never eat again.
How to Handle This
Let your corporate card save the day. If you can justify this as a business-related expense, throw down your corporate card as soon as the check comes. In all likelihood, one of you is going to expense this meal, so it doesn’t really matter which card is used. But if you thrown down first, your bosses, clients, et al. are bound to admire your catlike reflexes.
Employ your best sales pitch. If the company won’t pay for your meal, reach for your personal card — all the while assuring your boss or clients that they have done so much for you over the past <insert timeframe here> and you want to show your gratitude. If you articulate your good intentions, they probably won’t try to wrestle the check from your sweaty palms. They want to avoid an argument too.
Pro tip: Don’t drink too much at dinner. One or two is fine, but too many pops will hamper your ability to negotiate, impress people, and do second-grade math. You won’t want to mess up the tip in front of your boss because you forgot to carry the two, or whatever. Cheers!
Fathers and Stepfathers
With an older male who likely wiped your butt, took you to T-ball, and drove you to prom, tread very carefully. On the one hand, you feel like you should pay for his meal once in a while to say thanks for said butt-wiping. But he’s fighting to hold on to his role as head honcho of the family. This guy has gotten used to having his cake and paying for it too. And he doesn’t like change. I mean, you upgraded his phone and he grumbled about it for months.
Navigating this battlefield proves tricky because you don’t want to struggle with your dad/stepdad while the waiter nervously hovers beside you trying desperately to get on with his life. Cue a very public fight and probably some hurt feelings.
How to Handle This
Initiate a surprise attack. Say you’re going to the bathroom then suavely slide your card to the waiter. That way, you’ll have settled the check while all of Poppa Bear’s mental energy is focused on the task at hand: finishing his chocolate cake. And while he may be astonished, he’ll probably forget about it by the time he gets home. That way you don’t have to worry too much about lingering bad feelings, AND you avoid the stress of debating it in front of the entire restaurant.
Know your audience. If he doesn’t like surprises, honest communication works best when it comes to family members. Just man up and say you want to pay. If he objects, tell him about your fancy new raise, promotion or the shiny new savings account you’ve been building up. He’ll be proud and won’t persist.
Pro tip: Don’t tell him in advance that you want to pay for the meal. It’s more tactful. You also don’t want your dad to spend precious eating time agonizing over which teeny, inexpensive shrimp cocktail appetizer he should order, when what he actually wants is gigantic steak or something. Because your dad is stingy and will mentally tally the cost of each item ordered.
Picking up the bill when out to dinner with your father-in-law is a very mature thing to do. Pulling out your wallet and boldly saying those four magic words — I got this one — basically gives you a lifetime pass to the adult table. But it’s nearly impossible.
At the mere suggestion of footing the bill, your father-in-law may feel like his manhood is being ripped away, and he might start an argument in front of your S.O. and the waitstaff (cringe). No one likes to feel emasculated, especially when they’re out to dinner with their family — and egos are bruised tenfold when they’re bruised by someone who is sleeping with their offspring. You’re stressed, he’s stressed, the table beside you is stressed. You need to right this immediately.
How to Handle This
Use some tact to mitigate their feelings of being one-upped. This is basically the Treaty of Versailles and you’re all the Allied Powers. When the check comes, very graciously offer to pay. Suck up a little by saying something like, “If you don’t mind, I’d love to get the check just this once. I want to thank you for raising such a lovely young person.” Flattery will always get you far in life. Bonus: you’ll score points with the S.O. as well!
If that fails, know when to back down. If he insists on paying for dinner, that’s okay. You can take the high road (more bonus points!). There’s a time and a place for an argument, and post-dessert at a nice restaurant is not it.
Pro tip: The magic number is three. If you offer three times and they still insist on getting this one, just let it go. Concede defeat to avoid an unnecessary tiff. Next time, you can bring up how you let it slide last time, and smoothly pay for the bill with very little opposition.
You’re going to be great! You’re going to fly through this meal like a real person with a real salary and a real bank account. With the above tips and some Gillette Clear Gel, you’ll be ready to get out there and dine like a gentleman. #NoSweat
Illustration by Rob Dobi.
Nandita Raghuram is a Senior Writer for Studio@Gawker. She tweets here.