Perhaps the Most Important Question of Our Lifetime: Who Pays for Lunch?
How and when to make someone else come up with the Benjamins
By Ed Goldman
This question was raised not long ago by my friend Elaine Corn, the award-winning food writer, teacher and author (for which she’s won both James Beard and Julia Child cookbook awards, I’ll have you know). She was asking me to lunch and raised the treating question herself within the same email—going on to suggest this could be worthy column fodder. (I actually tend to call ideas like this “column fodder” and “column mutter” since both, along with necessity, can be the parents of invention.)
So, if you’re in the habit of lunching out for business or pleasure, what are the rules when the check comes? Here’s a simple but, one hopes, comprehensive guide:
2.CHOICE OF VENUE. If your lunchmate has suggested a restaurant that specializes in ethnic foods you’re not sure you’ll be able to either eat or pronounce the names of, keep your wallet in your pocket or purse when the bill arrives. Why should you have to fork over money when you have no idea what your fork just delivered to your maw? (For younger readers: “maw” is an old word for mouth, lest you thought I was suggesting you take your mother with you to a business lunch.) Besides, your lunchmate will doubtless derive entertainment value from your being an unworldly boob, so let him or her pay for the privilege of having to explain why you’re eating Ethiopian cuisine, on a floor, with your hands, in a shopping mall food court.
For example, if you’re asked to lunch during the winter holidays—which now run from the day after Labor Day until the final recap of the Super Bowl—it seems only fair that in a festive seasonal spirit, the inviter should cough up the do-re-mi.
Same thing if you’re invited to lunch on a Wednesday (“hump day”), Thursday (“post-hump day”) or Friday (“Friday”), all of which foreshadow the conclusion of a difficult work week, even if it wasn’t especially difficult.
The appointed time for the lunch also has ramifications vis a vis who antes up when it’s time to settle the damages. It should be the other person’s responsibility if you were:
a. Forced to attend an 11:30 lunch, which may as well be called breakfast, you’ve been inconvenienced by having your productive morning cut short, even if it wasn’t especially productive (see “difficult work week” above);
c. Invited to lunch at high noon, in an attempt to lure you into oppressive conventionality.
Ultimately, Elaine Corn and I decided to have lunch together by going “Dutch.” Well, wooden shoe?
Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).