The Sneak Attack Birthday Lunch

by admin on October 21, 2010

When I was in college, one of my friends — “Henry” — had a lot of other friends, and I was casually acquainted with a few of them.  One Saturday night, about 15 of us were hanging out together (a few of my close friends, plus many acquaintances and other random people who knew Henry), and Henry suggested that we all go into town for dinner and drinks at a restaurant.  Everyone thought this was a good idea, so we all drove into town, picked a nice restaurant, and sat all together at one big table.  The place wasn’t exactly cheap, so I only ordered an appetizer and one drink; many of the others did the same, but there were a few who ordered expensive entrees plus appetizers, desserts, and several drinks.

When the bill came, Henry announced to all of us that “Jane,” “Kelly,” and “Bob” were all celebrating birthdays within the next week, and instructed everyone to throw in some extra cash to cover their meals and their shares of the tip.  Neither Jane, Kelly, nor Bob were my friends — I only knew them because I had seen them with Henry, and I certainly had no idea when their birthdays were.  And of course they had all ordered expensive meals.  Not one of them said anything or offered any money as the rest of us passed the bill.  Henry then counted up the cash and announced that we were still short $30, so could everyone please add a few dollars more.  It was awkward and unfair — if I had known that I would be expected to help pay for the expensive dinners of three people I barely knew, I probably wouldn’t have gone.  We were college students — none of us had very much money!  But nobody said anything, the bill got paid, and Jane, Kelly, and Bob got free meals.  I wish I  had known what to do, but we were put on the spot. 1018-10

{ 75 comments… read them below or add one }

Katie October 22, 2010 at 9:33 am

Wow, that is really awkward. I agree that sweetly saying you only have enough cash to cover your own small meal (and I’d add in that that’s why you ordered so little in the first place) was the best way to get out of it. I can totally understand being so stunned and embarrassed that you just paid though. Did you ever discuss Henry’s highly inappropriate behaviour with him?

I have to say I’m surprised none of the birthday people spoke up. We had a banquet meal (which is one of the few times I’m cool with evenly splitting the bill) for my birthday this year with about a dozen people. My two best friends took the bill and announced the amount we were all paying. When I tried to pay they said my meal had been taken care of, so I assumed when they’d put their shares in they’d divided mine between them too. But a few days later when I thanked them, they told me they’d divided up my share between everyone, so the whole table had paid for my meal. It was even worse than Henry as no one realised they were paying for me. My two best friends didn’t even know a couple of my other friends there, and included was one of our mutual friends’ new boyfriend who had only met me that night! I know that one person was a bit squeezed for cash too. I feel so uncomfortable and guilty about the whole thing and if I’d known I would never have let other people pay for me unless they offered, but by the time I found out it was all over. I told them that next year, if they feel so strongly about me not paying for dinner on my birthday, they can pay. Otherwise, I want to pay for myself.

As my fellow Aussies have stated, we don’t often have split bills here. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes not. In that situation it really is easier – as usually the bill is itemised anyway – to just go around the table, pick the things you ate and put the money on the pile. I’m pretty vocal about not splitting things evenly (unless it was a big banquet meal and we all shared, then it’s fine!) as like so many of us, a lot of the time I’m short on money. On the other end of the spectrum sometimes I feel like ordering something expensive, and I’d like to do that without guilt regarding either the fat content or making others pay for it!

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RP October 22, 2010 at 10:18 am

I love Kriss’ response for this situation; it’s perfect.

I once worked at a restaurant where the waiters collected the money, and at the end of the night you settled up with the manager. So, if someone skipped out you were responsible.
@Gena – I don’t know what country you’re from but that violates labor laws in the United States. The employer can’t take things like customer theft out of their employee’s pay.

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Zeppelin October 22, 2010 at 11:59 am

@SHOEGAL Uh, what? I guess I agree with your “be prepared” statement – be prepared to speak up and speak honestly when someone volunteers you (big mistake) to help foot the bill for someone you couldn’t even call an acquaintance. When I go out with friends, it’s assumed that everyone’s going to cover their own checks unless some other plan is agreed upon prior to leaving. It takes a total of 20 seconds and is perfectly reasonable.

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Michelle P October 22, 2010 at 12:13 pm

@Princesssimmi, I know this is easier said than done, but I wouldn’t go out to eat with those people. You are being taken advantage of.

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Xtina October 22, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Sounds to me like it was at least semi-planned to shake down all the friends who accompanied Henry and the birthday folks to the restaurant to pay for the meal. If it was not intentional, then it was quite a big social gaffe–of course the OP should not be expected to pay for these strangers’ birthday meals. I would have said the same thing as some others have suggested–sorry, I only have enough for my own meal, and I would NOT have felt bad about not contributing anything, either. OP, if I were you, I’d start requesting a separate bill at the time that the waiter takes your order.

My friends and I sometimes split a check evenly, but if one of us orders something extra or more costly, that person puts in some extra to cover it, or covers more of the tip.

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Jillybean October 22, 2010 at 2:06 pm

I’m with Shannon – I see no reason why people can’t just put in what they owe. Are people really so bad at math? And while I, likewise would speak up if I only had the cup of soup and the water, I’d also be sure to point out if I spent more than others as well.

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jen October 22, 2010 at 3:41 pm

It’s funny, but in Canada (or at least, the corner I live in) everyone always has separate bills. These issues never seem to come up. I do realize it’s a hassle for the wait staff, but it seems to be an automatic thing. There have been a few times where we only get one bill, but we usually go through it and figure out what everyone had. In our circle of friends we sometimes “surprise” someone and pay for their bill, but it’s never expected. It would be weird to expect other people to pay, especially people we barely knew.

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Sharon October 22, 2010 at 5:29 pm

I love my friends. They are super folks and I feel escpecailly thankful for them after reading some of the posts here.
I would never, I mean NEVER expect one of my friends to pay part of my portion of a dinner bill. Nor would they ever consider having me pay for what they ate. I do not consider myself nor any of my friends as “cheap” nor spoil sports. Believe it or not, we have a nice time when we go out without a problem when the checks come, because everyone knows how to figure their portion of the bill, the tax, and the TIP that would go with that amount.
The times we live in are very hard for some people. Does that mean that they should just cut themselves off from going out with friends because they cannot afford to pay for part of your steak dinner when all they had was a small salad? One of the husbands in our group recently passed away… his widow doesn’t have a lot of money, but she is a great person and I love being with her. I am getting ready to have bariatric surgery so my husband and I often split a plate. One couple has a lot of expenses because they still have two teens at home. Another couple has no money worries whatsoever and could afford to pay for everyone, but that doesn’t mean I expect them to pay any more than what they consumed.
Not everyone advertises the fact that they are cutting back financially. They still want to have a good time, but eat less. To cut off friendship because someone does not want to or cannot afford to divide a check by the number of people around the table is WRONG. But, if you chose to do so, you are doing that person a favor… you are no friend anyway.

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Skoffin October 22, 2010 at 8:47 pm

Another Aussie here. There are a number of restaurants that expressly state that you’re not to split the bill for a table, and I find it rather annoying. :/

I’m not letting someone turn me into a sucker, if they try to scam a meal out of me I’ll state I will not be doing so. If they wish to press the matter then I’ll take it as they are giving me permission to tell them exactly what I think of it. If no one says anything then these people will continue to do it. If that ruins their night they booey for them.

Also, I do get a bit annoyed any time I see the ‘he must have be young’ comments. Sure, he could have been, but that is not relevant to the story. It does not excuse him, it does not make him any less of a jerk and it’s kind of patronising to those of us who are young. I’m 21, I recognise that forcing a bill on unsuspecting people is rude. Most people with common sense would, most people with decent parenting would too.

Reminds me of two stories:
1) My parents were out to dinner with his brother and SIL, and another couple where the husband was the brother’s wife. The four are having cheap food and soft drinks, while the Boss/wife are having expensive wines and food. Needless to say they wanted to split the bill, and everyone was fuming. My father would normally speak his mind, but if the boss would pull this stunt then surely he’d punish the brother somehow.

2) Myself, sister and her two friends were out to lunch. I jokingly said split the bill, female friend said yeah let’s do that. I pointed it out as a joke a number of times and stated it was fairer to pay our own (Myself and the male friend’s food costed more, so I’d be stiffing the other two) I also knew my sister was saving money, so I was feeling bad. I slipped the full amount into the group coffers anyway, but it was slid back to me by female friend. I ended up having to slide the extra over to my sister later. eek.

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gramma dishes October 22, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Miss Raven, bug eyed ~~ Yes, my husband said THAT NIGHT that we had paid what we owed plus a very generous tip and would absolutely not be paying any more to subsidize the meals at the “other table”.

When it was mentioned again (for the first time) a few months later, my husband repeated that we had paid our share of the actual bill and had also left a most generous tip and that was all we would be paying. Period. But that didn’t seem to curtail the other guy’s efforts to “collect”. He kept bringing it up every single time the group was together. Our response was always the same.

As I said, eventually we just cut off ties with this person and his wife entirely (not entirely because of this one thing). However, some of our mutual friends did continue their relationships with them for a while and they told us that he tried that stunt again a couple of times with them, but unsuccessfully because they had taken their cue from us and now everyone responded in exactly the same way we had that first time! “No!”

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Skoffin October 23, 2010 at 6:45 am

Ah Sharon, you said it all perfectly! I couldn’t agree more.

I’m not going to assume my friends are cheapskates on the off chance that one of them will try to swindle me, if we all assumed the worse prior to doing anything than we’d all be stuck indoor doing nothing. It was an outrageous suggestion to make.

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Simone October 23, 2010 at 7:06 am

Shannon had it down. If you don’t want to split, don’t split. But if you’ve all had roughly the same thing why bother haggling?

I’m intrigued by my fellow Australians who find the no split bills annoying. In a time when every mobile phone has a calculator on it is it REALLY that hard to tally up your share of an itemised bill?

One group of friends that I dine with regularly always split the bill. It comes out in the wash. But on one occasion recently when I (due to a large lunch) only had a tiny salad for dinner someone ELSE immediately said “But you only had a salad, that’s not fair”. That kind of thoughtfulness (I only wish I had it) can save a lot of bother.

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Elizabeth Bunting October 23, 2010 at 12:04 pm

It looks like the bold “Henry” planned the whole attack and pretended innocence. No great loss as a friend, I wouldn’t think!

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Princesssimmi October 24, 2010 at 6:00 am

@Michelle P- I know they’re taking advantage of me. However, I try to look on the bright side- if we’re eating out, my mum can’t cook, and if she’s not cooking she can’t give anyone food poisoning. Still, I only see them twice a year if I can manage it.

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Mary October 24, 2010 at 8:39 am

I had the opposite experience once. For my 21st birthday, my friends and I went to a restaurant since I didn’t feel like going to a bar or club. I had a gift certificate to the restaurant that more than covered the cost of my meal and drinks along with a portion of that owed by my “friends.” My friends still had me chip in to help them cover the remaining portion of the bill – essentially having the birthday girl pay for their food and drinks on top of already having paid for part of it. I was so taken aback and confused, but did it. And yeah, for a variety of reasons, we’re no longer friends.

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Skoffin October 24, 2010 at 8:54 am

Simone, not all of us carry mobiles. But it’s less about whether we can calculate it or not, but rather more on whether someone will try to get the group to split the costs. The ‘get separate bills’ suggestion was made to avoid situations where others try to pressure us into paying for their meals, it has nothing to do with whether we can calculate our own costs or not.

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Jillybean October 24, 2010 at 2:52 pm

princesssimmi – thank you so much for that great laugh at your last comment!

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Simone October 24, 2010 at 5:02 pm

@Skoffin “Just say no”. And get better friends ;)

But seriously, I do agree that in that situation it would save awkwardness. I guess I’ve just been lucky enough to usually have dining companions who were either in similar economic circumstances to me or just had good financial manners. No-one should EVER “pressure” you into paying for something you don’t want to and I can see that separate bills would help if you are unfortunate enough to dine with people like that regularly.

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Mor October 24, 2010 at 11:40 pm

I just don’t understand how this kind of thing happens – I’m talking about the whole ‘split the bill evenly’ thing. Even one with a tenuous grasp of basic mathematics realises this is completely unfair. Are people so lazy they can’t even be bothered to keep track of what they eat and drink? Every time I have gone out for dinner (which is A LOT), whether it be with friends or family, we always pay for our own portions only. If it is someone’s birthday AND that is the explicit purpose of the meal, we chip in some extra dollars each to pay for that person too. Some of my friends even dole out the exact change to those who overpaid (no tipping in my part of the world). I seriously did not know that people tried this sort of thing (splitting the bill evenly) until I read it on this website! Frankly I find such lazy and greedy behavior appalling. OP, firstly I’d advise you to find some new friends, with a better sense of fairness. If this happens again, give them an incredulous look and say “that doesn’t even make any sense!” – because it doesn’t.

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--E October 25, 2010 at 10:50 am

I don’t understand how people have such difficulty with this. How do these moochers think they can get away with deciding how other people must spend their money?

When I go out to dinner with friends with whom I frequently dine, and our expenses are roughly even (within $10) and no one is in a current financial quandary (e.g., unemployed, or facing a potential layoff), we split the bill evenly. Please note this is with frequent dining partners, and we’ve all discussed it several times and come to an accord. The folks who have the slightly higher bills generally volunteer to throw in a couple extra bucks anyway. We all also have similar (generous) attitudes towards tipping.

With a bunch of unknowns, I’ll split the bill per item. But this bothers me because there’s usually some cheapskate who thinks that 13% is a reasonable tip, and I end up subsidizing their share (I’m of the 20% camp), or who doesn’t understand they must also include the tax (which in the US varies by state, so visitors may not realize how much it is). This happens often enough that when dining with a bunch of people, I usually just grab the check, whip out my (phone) calculator and start telling people what they owe. I’ll hand round the bill so they can determine their own contribution if they prefer, but most people seem relieved to not have to do the math. Everyone pays a fair share and this habit hasn’t seemed to knock me off invite lists, so I assume they don’t mind.

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Brenda October 26, 2010 at 3:07 pm

I’m older and grumpy, and my first response would have been to rise and say, “Henry, I need to speak with you privately.” Then I would have taken him aside, explained that I had no prior knowledge of the birthday situation, that I didn’t know these people, and that I certainly would not be paying for them. I would hand him the money for my meal, taxes and a tip. Then I would have walked out. I would probably also have given the server a couple of extra dollars, as I have a feeling Henry would short the server to get the money to cover the meals.

And I never would have dealt with them again.

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Robert October 26, 2010 at 4:06 pm

My wife and I invited our new neighbors who we were becoming friends with out for the husband’s birthday. We told them we would be paying. When we met at the restaurant they apologized but explained that the husbands Sister and Mother had wanted to come too.

I was trying to decide if I should pay for everyone or let the two add-ons pay for themselves. When the bill came it turned out Sister, Mother and birthday boy all wanted to pay the entire bill including our portion. After a few minutes of arguing I said we would pay half, Mom and Sis would pay half and if birthday boy insisted on throwing money in it would all be going to the already generous tip.

We became great friends with that couple and their family.

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sassy36 October 27, 2010 at 9:59 pm

The “young” comment irritates me too. At Henry’s age, I NEVER would have expected that for my birthday dinner, never mind two people that didn’t really know everyone at the dinner. My parents, grandparents, older relatives always insist on paying, but even with them I at least try to pay.

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Wen November 3, 2010 at 9:47 pm

Hmm … Sounds to me that the birthday babies are just a *wee bit*, shall we say, ENTITLED?? Also sounds to me like good ol’ Henry is way too PRESUMPTUOUS! It was HIS idea to go eat @ an up-scale restaurant, and it seems that he had premeditated this “responsibility” for others to pay for “his” friends’ meals … So with that said, I think it should’ve TOTALLY been HIS responsibility to cough up every extra penny of the birthday babies’ tab! :O Jeesh!!!

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Enna November 16, 2010 at 12:57 pm

The only time it is acceptable for someone’s meal bill to be paid for is if it is been agreed in advance by everyone who is attending. Also that way if people are geninuely strapped for cash arrangmenets can be made so they can contribute according to their budget or decline to go. That is only manners.

Henry was unfair as he only sprang this on people after the bill arrived. A simple “I wasn’t told I can only afford my bill” or “this is a bit unfair, I wasn’t informed of this before the meal,” would have sufficed. Maybe it is best to avoid outings with Henry in future? If he complaines just be honest and say sprining unexpected expenses is unfair.

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