11 Rules to Determine Who Pays on Dates, Lunches, Dinner and more

Last week was the most humiliating week of my life.

  • Tuesday: Had happy hour with a professional colleague who was younger than me. She paid. The bartender wouldn’t even accept my card even after I professed to be older.
  • Thursday: Office was out for happy hour. One of the staff, fifth in the line of succession, snuck away and paid for all drinks. I berated our Executive Director, “How could you let this happen!? Now we’ll have to fire her for usurping our authority.”
  • Friday: A friend invited me out to lunch. She had an entrée with a chicken thigh that was as big as a turducken while I had an appetizer. In an effort to make amends with the universe and reclaim my honor, I paid the bill and then ate 1/16th of her chicken.
  • Saturday: At a fundraising dinner with a few program staff. A staffer, two levels below me, offered to buy a round of drinks for everyone, which I explicitly forbade. She ignored me and bought the drinks anyway. “You just done messed up real good. I hereby ban you from using the office microwave for one week. Effective immediately!” Then I fake enjoyed a bottle of Bud Light. Ok fine, it was delicious.

Frankly, I am sick and tired of people paying out of turn. There are social etiquettes that govern the rules of behavior, particularly when it comes to who pays the bill. Ignoring these rules has consequences. It may attract a swarm of unemployed hipsters to your community, like locusts who feed upon counterculture and irony. We can’t let that happen. Here are 11 rules for who pays when two or more people are out for food and drink.

Work and Business

The Rule of Rank: The individual with the highest rank shall pay. If said person is only carrying an American Express card and therefore cannot pay, then the group may invoke the “Line of Succession Clause,” whereby the next highest ranking person may pay, and so on and so forth, until the bill is resolved. If rank cannot be determined, move on to the Rule of Age.

The Rule of Age: If the age difference between the oldest and the next oldest person is three years or greater, than the oldest person must pay. If the difference is less than three years, then perform a Salary Test.

The Salary Test: The person with the higher salary shall pay.

Casual Lunches

The Rule of Invitation: If you inviteth, you shall payeth. If you cannot payeth, do not inviteth.


The Rule of Symmetry: Everyone is entitled to one entrée and one drink. The bill, including tax and tip, are split evenly. If anyone wants additional drinks, they must purchase it at the bar.

The Hero Clause: At any point throughout the dinner, an individual may enact the Hero Clause. This person shall pay for the full cost of dinner, but is exempt from leaving a tip. All other guests must leave a cash tip. The Hero is then rewarded with free drinks for the rest of the evening. The Hero Clause may only be invoked once per night, and only by one person. We can’t all be heroes after all.

The Rule of Celebration: The person who is to be celebrated shall never pay, but instead shall rely on the charity of their friends to honor them and make sure they get home safely—and possibly hold up their hair, if needed. Celebrations include, but are not limited to, graduations, birthdays, weddings, breakups, babies and homeownership.


The Gentlemen’s Rule: The gentlemen shall always offer to pay for everything. If the maiden liketh the gentlemen, she shall accept his offer and reciprocate with a second date. Else, if she doth find him awkward or smelly, then the two shall go Dutch. The bill is split and the date ends. The gentlemen must always honor an offer to go Dutch.


The Equal Opportunity Rule: Every individual in the group must take turns buying a round of drinks. Under no circumstance is anyone allowed to buy a second round until everyone in the group has had an opportunity to pay. Anyone who fails to honor this rule must bear the mark of shame for the rest of the night: Designated Driver.


The Rule of Parenthood: Parents must always pay for their children. In exchange, the child must fulfill one of the following commitments: 1) become a pharmacist; 2) get straight As for life; 3) have children by the age of 30 so that said parents can turn into grandparents. This rule may be suspended in observance of Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, the Superbowl, and Christmas.

The Rule of Firsts: The first person to stealthily excuse themselves from the table under the pretense of going to the bathroom, but in actuality they are going to the cashier, gets dibs on paying. All other family members must feign abhorrence at this generous act, condemn the sneak for being so selfish, and offer cash as repayment. The Rule of Parenthood must still be honored.


So there you have it! I strongly encourage everyone to keep a copy of these rules with them at all times. These rules are beautiful in their simplicity. They also explain why my boss has never invited me to lunch.


4 thoughts on “11 Rules to Determine Who Pays on Dates, Lunches, Dinner and more”

  1. I agree with most of your rules, but the Gentlemen’s Rule is archaic and sexist. Considering that women do a lot of the asking these days, and there are LGBTQ couples going on dates as well, whoever initiated the date should offer to pay, and it is only polite for the invited party to offer to help with the bill.


    1. Thanks for your comment Vu. I still think there’s still something chivalrous about paying for a woman on a first date, but I don’t push the issue which is why “Going Dutch” is still in play. Regarding LGBTQ communities, you’re right, the Gentlemen’s Rule wouldn’t directly apply (by how it’s been named). But to qualify my rules, they are based on my perspectives and experiences as an Asian-American man. Though I support the LGBTQ community, I can’t speak on behalf of that community and any rules I may have come up with wouldn’t make sense. I think your suggestion that whoever initiated the date pays is perfectly reasonable, and is covered in the “Rule of Invitation.” Maybe that’s the catch all rule?


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