Guess Who’s Paying For Dinner?

Sopranos dinnerThere’s a great episode of “the Sopranos” where Meadow brings her boyfriend Finn to dinner with her dad in a restaurant and Finn grabs the check. Tony’s response is light on the gratitude:

You’re lucky you don’t get your head handed to you. Let’s get something straight: you eat, I pay. When we’re family, you pay.

He throws some bills down on the table. Finn looks to Meadow for guidance and, bless her venal soul, she sighs, “Just take the money.”

Finn is dippier than a country road. In trying to do a Good Thing, he forgot that, just as you don’t get involved in land wars in Asia, you don’t get into a dick-swinging contest with your GF’s dad and/or the biggest mob boss in the NY metro area, especially not in public and when said GF, his daughter, is watching. What if we’re talking regular dads, not Godfathers, though? What if you go out to dinner with your parents, or your partners’ parents? How do you decide whether to pick up the tab? Etiquette dictates that if you invite, you pay, and vice versa, but what did etiquette ever have to do with the fraught-but-loving relationships between parents and children?

Maybe you feel that you should pay, since they raised you and you are now (mostly, hopefully) a self-sustaining adult who wants to demonstrate your gratitude for their putting up with your awkward adolescent phase, which incidentally lasted until you were 25. Maybe you secretly want them to pay because you adore these rare moments when, though you pay your own taxes and vote even at primaries, you get to feel like a kid again. Maybe they secretly want you to pay because they’re exhausted, anxious about retirement, or they used all their money on fake prescriptions for pain pills.

Maybe nobody admits what they want and everyone fights over the check because everyone thinks they should.

Where there’s money, there’s ego. Since we tend to be quivering bundles of nervous energy when it comes to money and not good at communicating our needs under the best of circumstances, that means there are a dozen opportunities to get this interaction wrong. There’s only one perfect answer: Never eat in restaurants. You’re welcome.


17 Comments / Post A Comment

SnarlFurillo (#2,538)

This came up on AskMetafilter a few days, with a child and spouse who thought they were being kind and parents who thought the children were asserting their independence in a mean-spirited way:

It was a pretty interesting discussion of family microculture.

Nice, thanks!

@SnarlFurillo That’s kinda weird to be honest. I’ve happily split the bill with my siblings when we treat our parents and guests and the bill approached four figures but I’ve never in my life thought of splitting the check with my parents. I can totally see some people seeing that as an affront, like, “What, we can’t afford it?”

The only potential issue of contention I think is tipping like in Friends with the lobster. I totally let my dad take the bill but insist on at least covering the tip since he’s more conservative in tipping and I’d rather tip in cash.

Allison (#4,509)

I practically cackled in delight at the grocery store when I paid instead of my mom – even though I literally did it because I forgot to bring a check with me to pay for the phone bill. Her “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” was great. I get SO pampered when I’m home (I love it, no lies) and it’s nice to give some of that back.

charmcity (#1,091)

My boyfriend’s parents are payers, and he and his siblings take for granted that if they purchase anything (a meal, groceries, CLOTHING) with their parents nearby, the parents will pay – it’s an unspoken agreement that if they accompany any of them into a retail establishment, the kids get treated. This is SO not how I roll. The first time I met my boyfriend’s mom, we all went out for breakfast and I grabbed the check as a thank-you for them hosting us the previous night, and I think it was a HUGE faux pas. But paying for my parents (who very rarely go out to eat or do anything that could be considered a treat unless one of their kids goads them into it) is a real pleasure for me. Fighting over the check is just part of my DNA.

shannowhamo (#845)

@charmcity My parents are payers to a point, I’m in my 30’s so I no longer expect my mom to buy my things in stores (although it does still happen) but at a meal, the only way my husband could pay is to sneak around and pay the waitress before we get the bill. He does appreciate it and doesn’t take it as a Tony Soprano slight or anything (but sometimes we are grateful for him paying!) I don’t think I’ve ever heard of splitting with parents though, for some reason it’s always all or nothing!

@shannowhamo Yes, all or nothing is how it is with us too! I would never say to them “hey let’s split this.” I guess it would kind of seem too unfamiliar? Like when they pay for something, there’s no expectation that we owe them or anything, but just that sometime down the line I’ll get the check here or there and take care of them when they’re old. But @charmcity my parent’s are payers too. We don’t expect it, but a lot of times if we go into a retail establishment, grocery store, or restaurant they will just give us money/take over at the register to treat us. But I get the feeling that they do it because we don’t expect it. If we just took them shopping to get while the getting was good, I think they would be less inclined, maybe.

Worgchef (#6,838)

My Dad always wants to pay. I also always want to pay. But for me it’s a show of generosity and thanks, and that feeling gets pretty much eliminated if you end up getting in a stupid squabble over who picks up the check. So Dad usually gets it unless Mom can convince him otherwise.

I’m a little surprised that “who picks up the check” is such a recurrent question on the Billfold.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@Worgchef I’m still broke enough that this is not an issue, but I have two now-estranged siblings who always made a big deal about trying to take the check. It made me uncomfortable, like it was weaponized. Nobody has to prove anything here. Adult friends who bicker together over the check make me feel this way too. Try for one second and then just let it go, guys.

jennonthego (#5,366)

My dad also always wants to pay. And I let him unless it’s a special occasion where I am treating him/them for something and I make it clear before the meal starts that I’m paying. Most people may think that I’m a spoiled princess because my dad wants to pay for a lot of things (like my parking at the airport last weekend when I came to visit) and I let him. But it’s part of his culture and if he had his way, I’d still be living at home (since I’m not married) even though I’m in my 30s.

However, whenever I go out with other people (and especially other people’s parents), I ALWAYS order only what I can afford and I make sure to do the “get my wallet out” dance when the check comes. Nine times out of ten, they tell me it’s their treat, but I know they appreciate the effort.

I remember this being a fraught issue with my ex-bf when his dad would come to town. When my parents came, it was always assumed that my parents were treating KB and I to dinner (see above) because KB was assumed to be family until . But I didn’t know how his dad would be and KB was no help. In the past, I’d get a vibe from the friend’s parents that they were an “always treat” or “always split” the bill kind of folks, but not with KB’s dad. I think he usually treated, but it was never assumed. I felt a little silly doing the wallet dance with him after two years of visits, but it was just never clear. (We had a similar issue with goodbye hugs.) It’s no wonder that KB and I didn’t work out.

j a y (#3,935)

My parents kind of expect me to pay, I think they get some pleasure out of it. (We can both afford it…) If we’re at the grocery together and the cart is mainly theirs, they’ll get out their wallet but they’re really expecting me to pay.

spottedwren (#4,437)

My dad will battle people for the check, he is always willing to go the extra mile (i.e. lunging across the table and snatching it from your hand with a “haHA!”) so he always wins.
My parents paid for a significant amount of our wedding. Two days after the wedding, we went to dinner with them and tried to pick up the check as a thank you for what was literally some burgers and beers. No dice.

gyip (#4,192)

Nope, for my parents, it’s a parent thing … if I pay, it’s like I’m denying I’m their child or something. I just want to show that they raised me well and I got lucky and got a job so I want to show them their brand of love back! Alas.

Marille (#5,933)

My parents pay. All the time. I’ve tried to treat them for stuff, but they always say that spending time with me is the treat, and it feels churlish to press the question.

boringbunny (#3,260)

Generally, we only go out for someone’s birthday so if it’s one of my parent’s birthdays, one of the kids pays, because my parents have a joint account. Or if it’s one of our birthdays, well we figure it out. I make the most money so I often pay. My family is frugal so whenever I say, I get 5% cashback at restaurants – everyone just backs away.

ceereelyo (#3,552)

My inlaws are payers, though on occasions when we’ve gone out with the entire family, we split up the bill by couples/family and somehow it’s done pretty easily without any fuss or muss, but this might be a more recent development, since my husband and I got married since we’re now considered our own separate family ‘unit’ aside from my parents-in-law. My parents usually pay but I also like taking them out to eat once in a while, but it’s usually just me and one of my parents, esp when me and my mom have a mother-daughter date.

We’ve recently gone on trips with both parents – my inlaws we went away to Gettysburg for the weekend with my sister in law and fiance, and before the latter two arrived, we paid for one meal for the four of us, and they paid for dinner, and when we were all there, his parents paid for everyone. With my parents, they met us in Paris and for their first meal, we paid. When we travel, my parents are payers – if they see me buying something in a store, and they happen to be buying stuff, they will include my cheap purchases with theirs. For the rest of the trip they picked up the tab on most of our meals out, because they were a little pricier, but one included a birthday dinner for my husband and also part of our first anniversary celebration. We paid for another dinner, and also bought a lot of train tickets, passes for a boat ride we all took, and odds and ends here – groceries and donations, etc.It all worked out in the end, for the most part.

Heather F G (#6,074)

I have to admit that, except on birthdays, my parents and in-laws are the payers. I know on my parents’ part this is partially out of guilt because a.) they couldn’t contribute to the wedding fund as much as they wanted to (though no one went in expecting ANYONE’S parents to pay for the wedding, so that’s unmerited); and b. My little brother was born when I was in high school, which was a strain on the family finances, though a very welcome and loved one, so I took on a part-time job to pay my own way for a lot of the things teenagers usually hit up their parents for, like lunch money, debate camp tuition, prom tickets and hair for me and my twin sister, and vaccinations for college. So now they’re happy to do what they consider a pretty minor thing, and I definitely appreciate it.

But the real reason I came by this thread was to ask if you forgot all about Johnny Sack! Tony Soprano is *ARGUABLY* the biggest mob boss in the NY metro area, thank you.

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