Dating Primer: Who Takes Care of the Check?

You’re on a first date at a restaurant. The bill comes. Pause it right there.

This is a defining moment of a first date.

Please don't pay with coins.

Both people have decisions to make, behaviors to pick, things to say. So much can go wrong (although probably not wrong enough to ruin the date). Here’s what I think is the best possible scenario when the check comes (this is the heterosexual scenario…I’m actually not quite sure how the homosexual equivalent would play out):

Woman: Do nothing, but without an air of expectation. Thank him when he takes the bill.

This is tough to pull off. The key is that the woman lets the guy be a modern chivalrous male for the first date and lets him pay the bill. If you make a motion for your wallet or the bill, you’re denying the man the pleasure of treating you, which he feels good about. Grant him this pleasure. Does this mean you should never take the check? Not at all–more on that in a second.

Man: Put your hand on the bill, say, “I’d love to take care of this, if it’s okay with you,” and when you receive approval, pay it without mentioning the amount on the bill.

Saying the above phrase shows that you’re getting something out of paying the bill–that it’s not a burden. But knowing that some women feel strongly about splitting the bill on the first date (as well as others who don’t want to feel indebted to you), you give her an out, a chance to step in. I’ve found that after saying that phrase, most women will let you take the bill without argument, and some will say, “You sure it’s okay?” This is when it’s easy to make the mistake of mentioning money. I’ve done this. You look at the bill and say, “Oh, it’s only $20–it’s really not a problem.” Don’t bring money into this. This isn’t about money–it’s a simple gesture, that’s all.

Now, the first date is different than all other dates. I would propose the following algorithm:

Pre-Dates: Split the bill. This is for those instances where you’re getting to know someone but haven’t decided to pursue each other in a romantic sense yet.

Date 1: Man pays

Dates 2-10: The proposer of the date pays. I LOVE this rule and would highly suggest you give it a try. The point is that you shouldn’t steal the thunder from the person who thought of the date. If I come up with a brilliant idea for a date (or even a rather standard idea), give me the pleasure of taking care of the bill. There’s some built-in reciprocation here. If you’ve gotten to date 4 or 5 and you haven’t proposed a single date, do it! (Tip: When proposing a date, give two options along a similar theme and let the other person choose. Don’t say, “Let’s go to dinner next week.” Say, “Let’s go to dinner next week at either Barcelona or Wasabi–let me know which one you’re in the mood for.)

Dates 11-on: Take turns. By this point, you’re dating. You’re probably (hopefully) exclusive. At this point, there should be reciprocation, approximately a 50-50 split. The exception to this is if one person makes significantly more money than the other person (say if one person is a student, losing money every day, and the other one is working). In that situation, the split should be closer to 70-30, with the 30 coming from dates the other person proposes and the occasional random date thrown in there.

I’m open to revising this primer if you have a solid argument for a change. I should note that I’ve thought about this for quite a long time, and I’ve gone on a lot of first dates lately, so I consider this pretty solid advice. But I’m curious what you think.

24 thoughts on “Dating Primer: Who Takes Care of the Check?”

  1. Perfect timing! I just had two first dates myself this past weekend.

    Date #1, my initiation of the day, guy picked the place. I went in expecting to split since I suggested the day and he picked the place. Also, it was only a first date. The bill came and I never saw it! He totally swiped it and paid and I didn’t even notice! I thought this was charming and absolutely hilarious. I asked, “Where’s the bill?” He said, “I don’t know.” I thought that was cute. When the waitress came back with the receipt, I said, “Oh wow, I was expecting to split since I asked you out.” He basically said, “Asked me out, PSHAW.” LOL, either way, I did help him figure out the tip.

    In other situations, if I feel I definitely need to contribute, I say I get to leave the tip.

    Date #2, his initiation of the day, I picked the place. It was just coffee versus a meal, so he let me order first, and I had my card out ready to pay, and he said, “I’d like to treat you.” I asked, “Are you sure?” Then I thanked him wholeheartedly. This guy was a perfect gentlemen later too as we walked around, letting me pick the things to see and letting me go first into places.

    Did I do well? 🙂 I am a firm believer of the alternating paying responsibility too. Great post.

    • You did well. Although I would suggest not saying, “Are you sure?” Instead, just say, “That’s very sweet of you. Thank you.”

  2. Oooh, good post.

    I like to think of myself and feminist and forward-thinking, but a part of me still appreciates and kind of expects for the man to at least offer to pay on the first date. I think my best story regarding this came a few months ago. I was out with this guy on what I think was classified as a first date. We were at a casual restaurant, but the time of day was a little strange, as we’d made some last minute changes to accommodate his schedule. It was about 3 in the afternoon, and I wasn’t particularly hungry. I ordered an appetizer and a drink, while he got a full meal. The total of my bill was less than $7, but he wanted to pay separately when the checks came. No big deal, except the waitress ran my card for both tickets, and I didn’t want to make a fuss over it. Now, if I were a man, I would take this as a great opportunity to laugh and offer a second date where I promised to pay. But he was kind of strange about the whole thing and a little rude. There was not a second date with that guy!

    But he was still better than the guy that brought his mom on our first date. 🙂

    • You poor thing! Someone brought his mom?! Wow. That’s just… creepy. I mean, even if you haevn’t seen her in AGES, you just cancel the date, not bring her on it. Call, explain the situation, reschedule. Weird.

      And I def. appreciate the man paying on the first date. In fact my fiance and I debate to this day what our real first date was. We had met at a fiction reading and then exchanged some texts and chatted on the phone some. Set up an outing to grab drinks at a bar we both loved and would just meet there. I got there later ‘cuz I had an engagement with my parents beforehand and had to grab food on my way, but it was like 10 min late, not a huge deal. He grabbed a beer during his wait time. Then when I got there he was still on that beer, so I ordered and he didn’t offer to pay. So, I paid. Which was fine, but not a date. Now he claims it is because we ended up staying there in the parking lot for an hour after the bar closed talking. But… I call it a non-date and he claims it as a date. Anyway, it serves as a fun joke now and a fond memory because that bar moved locations and so there’s a nostalgia for a date/non-date we could never go on again.

      • It was creepy, awful and awkward. He gets to see his mom all of the time…she was not just in town for a visit! In fact, I think they only live a few miles away from each other. The date was us going to see a show rather than dinner or drinks, and he said his mom really wanted to see it as well. He assured me that she woldn’t sit anywhere near us and I didn’t even have to meet her.

        Cut to my arrival and she is within spitting distance…

        The entire date was pretty much terrible, but having his mom there really put it over the top. Plus, he kept asking her to get up and get us drinks and food the whole time. And he kept burping REALLY loudly over and over. I was honestly looking around for a hidden camera, thinking I was being pranked by my friends or something! Worst. Date. Ever.

        I like your date/non-date debate with your fiance. That sounds hilarious!

  3. I must be doing something wrong, because this “getting to pick where we go” as a stauts/bargining chip is foreign to me. I went on a first date this past Friday. And because she was literally just getting back into town, the responsibility of choosing the locations/activities for the date were decisively placed with me (all very last minute). So I was trying to throw together a nice date last minute. To emphasize the point even more, later on we made a bet on something trivial (where the bathrooms were) and the looser had to plan the next date. I don’t date a lot, but I figured the idea of having the other plan the date, or “Take Care” of the details was always pretty flattering?

    As for paying, I chose, and wanted to impress, so we went to Eleven-Eleven Mississippi. I would have paid either way, but especially with her nor knowing beforehand that it would be a nice place, I expected to pay. I appreciated that she made the gesture towards her purse, but I did insist. The compensenting agreement was that she would pay for drinks at the next location (which she didn’t realize I was going to get comped anyway [does that steal her thunder?]).

    I very much like Jamey’s approach though. It shows intention and chivaley, even if (by virtue of being a question) it looses a little a little conviction (which can be interpreted as either “Take Charge” or “bull headed” depending on how the rest of the date went).

    Along that vein, what if the date went terribly? Would you still “Love to take care of this”?

    • Smooth move going to 1111. Well done, sir. I’m not a big fan of the “compromise” method (you pay this one, I’ll get the next one), because it’s really not about the money. This isn’t some rigid financial transaction that has to balance out, especially not at that stage of the relationship. My response to that–if I’m comfortable saying it–is, “Why don’t you just ask me out sometime?” I mean, it really isn’t that bad if she pays for the next date regardless of who asks who out…I just think the point is that someone takes ownership over a date. You’re stealing the person’s thunder if they spend all this time planning for a date and then you pay for it. And in the same regards, both people should be planning dates–that responsibility doesn’t fall solely on the guy’s shoulders.

      Also, I know it’s just a typo, but “looser” (instead of “loser”) actually works in an interesting way in the first paragraph of your comment. That would mean that whichever of you is more loose has to plan the next date. Who would have won that one?

    • Oh, and if the date doesn’t go well (or if you know you’re not interested in the person after the first date), I’ll still take care of it. I may not “love” it, but it’s a first date–that’s what I do.

  4. I love this post, if it were possible to earmark favorite posts this would be one of them. Happy sigh as I re-read it. It’s hard to remember that some guys actually pay on a date in general instead of giving an answer like “well since you obviously ate more than me I guess we know who is taking care of the check.” My dates aren’t very expensive anyway (gotta love IHOP), but the thought of a man in existence who at least offers to pay for a date, no matter the amount, is definitely a wonderful find.

    • I think it is possible for you to earmark favorite posts–just “favorite” them in your web browser of choice. 🙂

      Yikes, someone pulled the “you ate more” card? That’s terrible. Please refer all guys you date in the future to my blog.

      • Actually I made my own little spreadsheet of sorts regarding blogs of people I respect and my favorite posts of theirs. This one did go on there.

        Lol actually it’s happened on more than one occasion. If I ever decide to date again, I’ll make reading your blog mandatory and even give them a quiz at the end 😉

    • Retort: I ate more because I didn’t want to talk to you.

      I find IHOP expensive! It’s over $10 for a lot of the items–how is that possible?! Have they seen how gross their kitchen and booths are? The bare thread carpet?! No one ever believes me when I say this, until we actually get to IHOP and they look at the prices. And then I say, “See! $8.95 for 2 pancakes.” “Oh.” Yeah, oh. I’d rather do olive garden–included salad and breadsticks! 🙂

      • I love that retort! I try to talk to them though, I want to be intellectually stimulated but once the food comes it’s like I don’t even exist. I get those random nods and grunts and feel like I’m watching him give oral to his food. Maybe talking is a bad thing on a date, shame on me for expecting it.
        Actually now that you have me thinking about it, the food can get expensive. I’m kinda bad and just shrug it off as the cost of a date. Olive Garden, I haven’t been there in forever, looks like I have somewhere to re-visit this weekend. Thanks for the retort, Lorena.

  5. Sometimes I worry that something awful has happened to you when I come in to work in the morning and there isn’t a new update to the JSB (that’s what I call your blog in my head). I don’t want to call you to check before 7 AM, so eventually I convince myself that you probably just had a long talk with Biddy the night before and went to bed promptly thereafter, and that a new post will in fact be up shortly. I check back around 9. Most of the time there’s a new post, so I’ve only called the police once. I hope all is well this morning…

    • Trev–Thanks for the concern. Last night I just couldn’t keep my eyes open, so I laid down for a few minutes at 10:00. Next thing I knew, it was 12:00, time to get ready for bed. I slept another 8 hours without a problem, which is very odd for me, because I usually need exactly 8 hours. I figure it’s either an anomaly, sleep apnea, or mono.

  6. I LOVE this topic, and I actually agree with most of your primer. In particular, I like the idea that the guy wants the pleasure of treating me rather than the ‘buying my time’ mentality which has historically stopped me from allowing a guy to get the check. In fact, I like this post so much I plan to change my wallet reaching behavior because of it. Any future misers I go out with can take it up with you.

    On a side note, I really love the idea of alternating and specifically NOT splitting checks between friends for two reasons. One, it brings a sense of trust and future commitment to the friendship – I don’t mind getting this because I know it will all work out in the end because we will continue to spend a lot of time together. Two, it feels great to be treated – and I think everyone deserves that sometimes.

    • I’m so glad I helped shed light upon the idea of it being a guy’s pleasure to pay. And I’m sure you understand this–you’ve probably gone on dates that are your idea and have taken your time to plan, and you want to foot the bill because you’re proud of what you’ve put together. So I’m glad you’ll let the next gentleman who asks you out treat you to a nice meal.

      Your points in the second paragraph are spot-on. Perfect. That’s exactly why you do that. I honestly never split the bill with a date or significant other.


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