Friday, April 04, 2008

A Dinner with Friends

I went out the other night with 3 college friends:

Annabelle was visiting from out of town. She was just made a Vice President at a Silicon Valley company and though she totally downplays any sign of material success, I think she must make a lot of money.

Beatrice and Charlotte both live here in NYC. They are both involved in theater: one has a day job to support herself, and the other is currently living off some grant money.

Charlotte picked the restaurant, a cute Italian place in Hell's Kitchen. I figured she would pick something reasonably priced but it turned out to be rather pricey-- appetizers and salads were over $10, and pasta dishes were $13-18 for portions that were not skimpy, but not large enough to share either. The wine list didn't have many choices under $30.

We had a nice dinner: Beatrice and Charlotte just had an entrée each-- actually Charlotte had half an entrée, since she took the rest home in a doggie bag. Annabelle and I split a salad to start. All four of us shared one bottle of wine. (I know, this sounds shocking for me! When we were ordering I originally proposed we get a bottle each of red and white, but no one else seemed to like that idea, so I just nursed my one large glass...) We all split 2 desserts, I had a coffee, and Annabelle and Charlotte each had a brandy. I definitely felt like Annabelle and I were more inclined to just order whatever we felt like having, whereas Beatrice and Charlotte were being more careful.

When the bill came, it was about $180 before tip. We all took out our wallets and started trying to figure out the tip, when Annabelle said, "I should pay for this," saying she'd come into town and invited us all out at the last minute. We all of course protested, saying that was a silly reason for her to think she should pay. Then I semi-jokingly added, "Unless you're expensing it!" We joked about her new Vice Presidency for a minute, and she said, "Hey, yeah, I've been telling you about my company all night and you're all going to check out our website, right? I should expense it!" At that, Beatrice and Charlotte said "Whoo-hoo, thanks!" I said "Are you sure?" Annabelle insisted it was no problem so I let it go and thanked her too. But I suspect that she may have actually used a personal credit card to pay for it anyway!

Anyway, I guess I just found it interesting to see how different people seem to deal with accepting the generosity of a friend. Sometimes it seems awkward to accept, and sometimes when you know the person wants to be generous, and can afford to be generous, you can just relax and enjoy it, especially if it eases your own money worries a bit!


Escape Brooklyn said...

That was so nice of your friend! My younger brother makes way more money than I do and when he's visiting he will sometimes buy me a drink (not so much since he got married), but he always seems really annoyed about it -- like I'm taking advantage of him or something. (Which I'm not, believe me.)

I also have this friend who earns about the same salary as me but probably is paid more overall because she gets bonuses and I don't. Last time we went out to lunch she said she'd treat because she'd recently blown me off when we had other plans. To be polite, I said, "Oh, you don't have to treat!" -- assuming that of course she still would -- but as soon as I said that she took me up on it and didn't. And I find myself being annoyed with her for not understanding the social ritual aspect of my comment and treating anyway! (We have other money history that's probably making me extra sensitive and aggravated, but still.)

Anonymous said...

There are non-monetary ways that you, B, and C can show gratitude for A's monetary generousity. Do you, B, or C make arts and crafts? Bake delicious cookies? Something personal and thoughtful often is more remembered and cherished than an expensive dinner.

Anonymous said...

Love the "so I just nursed my one large glass..." line. I chuckled since my frugality often has me pondering what to do when out to dinner. One glass is never enough, but a half-carafe of house wine or a full bottle of moderately priced wine is over kill. Don't you just hate paying for 2 glasses of wine so you can enjoy a decent dinner? (rarely am I will someone who sees 'dinner wine' the same way I do)

Zoë said...

Funny, I have totally used that line before, especially when treating people who work for me or have lower-paying positions in my company. My company will actually not reimburse me, but saying so makes everyone feel less awkward about me picking up the tab. Your friend is a sweetie.

Anonymous said...

It was, of course, very nice of Annabelle to pay, whether out of her own pocket or on the company's dime, but it bothers me when people so readily accept when "expense account" is brought into the picture.

I'm not in the same position with respect to the company card, but I grew up in a well to do neighborhood and always had a lot of spending money in college, at least compared with fellow college students. I was - and still am - so fortunate to have my parents.

Still, sometimes my friends expect me to pay or accept my half-politeness-only offers to foot the bill. What bothers me is that this happens at very low-priced restaurants, like BJ's or Applebee's. If it were a very expensive restaurant and my invitation, of course I would expect to pay... but I just feel that a lot of people are too happy to let others foot the bill when they think others have another source of "free" money - parents, companies...

But in reality, to either the child with family money or the ewly minted vice president, it's still our own money, and we should treat it as such!


FB @ said...

I think it was very generous of her to pay. And it must make her feel good to have offered to pay... at least, thats how I'd feel if I just made VP - to treat my good friends once. But not to let them expect it every time

It was very nice of her.. but if it was expensed I guess people think "great, it's a company paying for it, not my friend"... still. :\

Anonymous said...

I am better off than most of my friends and my wife and I pick up the tab more often than not. We never thought it that big of a deal, but in reading some of the comments here, I have been thinking. I can't remember a time when they ever returned the favor in any way other than a thank you at dinner. No offer to babysit, no card, no anything to show that little extra "Thank You".

Now I am wondering if I have "trained" our friends that picking up the tab is no big deal. The next dinner should be interesting!

Anonymous said...

"To be polite, I said, "Oh, you don't have to treat!" -- assuming that of course she still would -- but as soon as I said that she took me up on it and didn't. And I find myself being annoyed with her for not understanding the social ritual aspect of my comment and treating anyway!"

Not to be harsh, but don't say something out of 'social ritual' unless you really mean it (unless the white lie to be preserve someone's feelings, ie Your granny asks if you like her meatloaf). If you're upset that your friend didn't pay, then next time just say "Thank you" when she offers to pay. When people say things to me I want to know it's the truth. When I ask a friend for a favor and she accepts, I want to know she's doing it willingly and not worry that she's secretly pissed. Likewise if we she says she wants to split the bill, I want to know we can split the bill and everyone's OK with that decision. Personally the only person I ever anticipate picking up the tab are my parents. That's just the way they do things. However, if someday that changes I'm OK with it.

meara said...

Hmm. I travel a lot for work, and often go out with friends for dinner while I'm there. I usually feel a bit guilty knowing that I am not paying for my dinner, my company is, but my friend has to pay for hers. At the same time, my company won't pay for both of our dinners! So usually I suggest we order appetizers or dessert or whatever to share, and then pick up everything except the other person's entree. Still valid and believable for the expense report, but slightly more fair for the friend, I figure!

Unknown said...

I actually really love paying for my friends' meals when I see them during business travel. Sometimes I can legitimately expense their meals or drinks, though usually they are not so it's my dime. But even if I end up not submitting the recipt to work, I usually imply that I can expense it all. It's one of those things I think everyone knows is a fiction, but makes me feel less presumptuous offering to pay and makes them feel less moochy for letting me. But I am happy to do it when I didn't have to pay for my flight or my hotel or my meals and they are playing tour guide or entertaining me for an evening.

Anonymous said...

This issue comes up with some of my friends. I'm very open about my financial situation but even if I wasn't, they can see that I own a house and they don't. I have rental income and they pay rent. I have seniority at our company compared to them. So we usually go with the restaurant chosen with the financial concerns of the least well-off person in mind. On the rare occasions when I've wanted to celebrate something (a promotion, a raise, buying a house) with friends, I have invited a few of them to a restaurant of my choosing and when the bill came, offered to pick up the tab. (They accepted the invitation not knowing I would pay.) Once when I wanted to order another bottle of wine and one of my friends looked aghast because we usually split the bill, I said "my treat" and the fear went out of her eyes. I know what it's like to eat with people in a restaurant that's a stretch for me and not for them. I might go if I feel like treating myself, but there is always the stress that people will order more and when the check comes, they'll want to split it. In turn, I don't want to do that to my friends who are in a lower income bracket.

Earning more or less than your friends isn't a problem as long as everyone is understanding about it and no one takes advantage. I don't feel my lower-earning friends are taking advantage of me by accepting my invitation, and allowing me to pay. I feel the same way about my higher-income friends. Friendship isn't tit for tat. I wouldn't be friends with these people if they were not givers as much as takers -- it's just as annoying to be friends with people who never accept your generosity as it is to have people in your life you accept it but never return it. They all give back in some way, whether it's by listening when I need an ear, helping me out in a tough situation, giving me a ride to work when my car's in the shop, inviting me to their parties. Giving doesn't always come in the form of dollar bills.

Anonymous said...

B, a friend, and I have lunch together almost every weekend. We're in a habit where we just trade off - I pay one week, he pays the next, no matter where we go. We also did the same thing with movies when we went to the movies every week (our movie watching has dropped off a bit recently). This is totally fine with me.

Here's what makes it interesting:

1. Another friend, J, often joins us. J never pays. (When he started coming with us, he was unemployed, but he didn't start paying when he got a job.)

2. B makes more than I do. Probably not quite twice what I do, but definitely a significant amount more.

3. B and I have been friends since we were 10, and on paper it makes no sense: I'm a liberal vegetarian lesbian, he's a meat-eating straight Republican. I think part of what holds our friendship together is that we were always the ones who had money in our group of friends. Our socioeconomic backgrounds are similar, although his family was always richer than mine.

4. I now expect that if I pay one time, the other person will pay the next time. When making new friends, I find myself getting annoyed with them for violating this unspoken rule.