Dining With Friends Who Can’t Afford It

When friends have a big difference in their financial situation, going out to meals can be problematic. Modern Manners Guy has 3 tips on how to treat your friends to dinner without making it feel like charity.

Richie Frieman,
December 23, 2013
Episode #276

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Tip #2: Offer to Treat

Here’s a fact: You don’t get credit in life for trying to keep up with friends who easily drop $100 on lunch, while you normally opt for a $5 Footlong.  As well, you are not being a good friend by acting like your financially strapped friend has all of sudden come into money and can handle an expensive meal.

You know they can’t, and you know they are only trying to keep up with you to save face. It’s like being an enabler to an addict – you can’t put on a show pretending there isn’t a giant elephant in the room. And in this case, the elephant is the awkward moment when your friend is sweating bullets wondering if their credit card will clear on their share of the massive bill. This is when you have to step in and offer some help.

Let me be frank: I’m by no means saying you should be an ATM for your friends.

In fact, if this is ever the case, you need new friends because real friends don’t take advantage of others. When it comes to dining with people who can’t afford your lifestyle, you have to take Tip #1 into consideration. And if you tell yourself, “I’m tired of always going to TGIFridays, I want to go somewhere nicer,” then be prepared for them to decline. However, if you know they will never join you because of money, also be prepared to pick up the check, if you really want their company.

There is nothing wrong with treating a friend to a fancy dinner, expensive concert, or even a sporting event. But you have to be very careful to not make the treat feel like charity. Simple say, “We enjoy hanging out and I want to treat you XYZ today.” You should by no means expect them to reciprocate, since you are doing this out of the kindness of your heart.

If they push back, offer a way for them to pitch in: “I told you this was my treat, but hey, pay for parking and buy me a beer, and we’ll call it even.”  Granted it’s not financially even but the effort is made, and you get a great time with a friend who should be incredibly grateful for your kindness.  Again, the goal here is letting a friend know that you just want to be around them, period. Make it clear that the destination is secondary to the company.

Tip #3: Surprise Them By Paying

One thing I love to do for good friends is to surprise treat them to meal or even just a drink. Let me make this absolutely clear: I am by no means a rich person, but I am only too happy to spot a friend a burger and a drink. However, many times when you take someone out as a treat, they often get offended and say, “No, no, no! I’m paying my part.” Sometimes people even fight over the check.

To avoid all this back and forth, simply surprise them by paying for the bill in advance.

Now, I can’t promise how your particular friends will react to this gesture. I’ve had situations where I took care of the bill ahead of time, and then my friend actually got mad and insulted. Most of the time though, they thought it was charming. I like to think “charming” is how your friends will view it too.

To do this, excuse yourself to use the restroom during in the meal and on your way there, pull the waiter/waitress/host aside and hand them your credit card. Tell them to charge the bill automatically to it without even bringing the check to the table.  This way the bill is already taken care of and your friend can’t do anything about it. As I said, you’re going for charm here, not charity.

This technique eliminates the back and forth of, “No, I can’t have you pay,” and “Please, I want to treat.” However, you will have to deal with the aftermath. If your friend gets upset, be honest and say, “I wouldn’t have done it unless I really wanted to. I enjoy being able to treat from time to time.” You want to keep it casual and then quickly change the subject.

In the end, your generosity may still appear as charity, no matter what you do. You can only do so much to convince them otherwise. But in reality, deep down you both know that being able to treat someone to a meal from time to time is not showing pity, it’s showing what a real friend does.

Do you have a story about treating a friend gone wrong?  Post all the details in the comment section below.

As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at manners@quickanddirtytips.com. Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips for a more polite life.

And if your holiday list has any recent graduates or someone who is looking to start a new career, check out my new book, Reply All…And Other Ways to Tank Your Career. It's available as a paperback, digital download, and even an audiobook read by me!

Friends at lunch, couple dining, and paying bill images courtesy of Shutterstock.


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