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Who pays the bill?

· French Etiquette

You’ve reached the end of a delicious meal shared with a group of close friends. The waiter passes by and drops the bill for dinner in the middle of the table. At that moment, you take a look at the total amount, and yes, it is painful.

We all know the meaning of that face…

In China, it is often the will of one single person to pay for the others. In the West, rules can be different…

The Most Useful Guideline

If you do the inviting, or are responsible for putting a dinner party together, whether it is in a business occasion or in a personal context, you are acting as the host. In that case, you are expected to pay the bill.

Paying the bill in front of your guests can make them feel awkward

When doing so, don’t let the waiter bring the bill to the table for you to pay in front of your guests. This is not polite. Instead, towards the end of the meal, excuse yourself, leave the table and go to the front desk to pay. Go back to your table naturally.

In fine dining restaurants, payment of the bill is always done at the front desk at the end of the meal

On the other hand, if you have been invited to lunch or dinner, you are the guest. In that case, it is more likely that you will not be responsible for picking up the bill. Once your host has paid, thank carefully for the meal.

Finally, if an event was organized by mutual assent, then it is more likely that everyone will be « going Dutch », meaning everyone will pay their share.

Splitting the bill or not? We have all been there...

With a group of friends

When you are out with a large group of friends - that is couples, singles, etc. – the best way to handle the bill is to let each party pay for themselves. Traditionally, etiquette says split the bill equally amongst everyone.

When dining out between close couples of friends, a common option is for one couple to pick up the tab, knowing the other will pick it up next time

However, in younger circles of friends, it is common nowadays in France and in the West that everyone only pays for what they respectively ate and drank. This way, someone on a budget can order just a soup, while someone who wants to splurge can have his steak and wine, without having a fight.

The exception here is if your friend has invited the group with language like « I’d like to take you all out to eat » or including « my treat » in the invitation.

Unlike the US, it is not mandatory to tip in Europe. But it is always encouraged when service is outstanding.

Also, if celebrating a birthday, many groups will choose to have the birthday celebrator not pay for their meal, particularly when his or her friends arranged for the dinner out; in this case, they’re acting as the “hosts.”

One-on-one dinners

When it’s a man and a woman, in a business occasion, the rule does not change a bit, the host should pay, regardless of the gender. However, it could get slightly more complicated in other types of occasions.

A female host, just like a male host, has the responsibility to pay the bill

In a romantic occasion, the man is traditionally expected to pay the bill. However, with the increasing trend of feminism and the quest for equality between genders, this tends to evolve.

On the first date, a gentleman will pay the bill

What could be a general guideline nowadays is for the man to always pay the bill on the first date. On a second date, the woman could then pick up the bill. On the first date, if the lady really fights for it, each of the parties could pay half.

It is common for young couples to split the bill equally

When the relationship is unclear between a man and a woman, you can ask for separate checks which signals that the relationship remains friendly only.

Dining with coworkers

When eating out with coworkers who are on the same hierarchical level as you, everyone pays their own way.

In France, coworkers often have lunch in a nearby « café » sitting outside on the terrace

When dining with a manager, even if it’s just out for lunch and not related to business, they often pick up the bill as a company expense. That said, certainly don’t expect it, and always offer to pay your share.

Fighting to pay the bil

In China, when two or more friends believe it is their duty to pay, it’s common to see them fight for the bill, as a way to save face. In the West, it would be of good habit to do it too, but without letting it become a spectacle !

If someone reaches for the check, but you wish to pay it yourself, make your desire known warmly, sincerely, and firmly. If the other party insists on paying with equal sincerity and firmness, ask “Are you sure?” out of politeness.

If indeed the other person is sure about it, simply accede to their wishes, offering to invite the next time.

Our final advice will be to feel the situation and understand who you are dining with. Some might be old-fashioned and expect one person to handle the bill, others might adopt more contemporary thinking and will want to pay their own way.

That’s why you need to be flexible and free !

Founded in 2018 by Matthieu Ventelon, Hedonia is the first institution in China combining professional Wine and Etiquette expertise in the same training offer.

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