Who Pays On The First Date?

By: Elizabeth Marie |

I’m on my way home from holiday in Costa Rica, so while I’m trying to find a place to sleep in an airport, the lovely Sweet Home Amy is holding it down over here and talking about one of my favorite (and most controversial!) subjects-WHO PAYS ON A FIRST DATE?! Amy not only answers that question, but gives great tips on handling the situation with class, and options to prevent an awkward encounter. 

Let’s face it.  Dating is expensive.  It costs money.  When you’re dating someone, grabbing sushi on Tuesday night doubles in cost.  Going to the bar on Saturday means drinks for two. Whether it’s the woman or the man paying, that bank account just suddenly started cringing.

On any date, when the bill comes to the table, many of us find that we’re playing this game of who-pays-for-what-and-when. In today’s society women are independent, making their own money and standing on their ground. Men are more open and inviting towards this new female strength both at home and at the workplace. Which begs the question, what exactly are the rules for dating & ‘the check’? And at what point is it appropriate for a woman to pay for dinner?

Being an experienced dater and a financially stable businesswoman, the following are a few rules that I live by, in order to keep the dating scene fair and expectation-free.

  • First rule I have for myself is to never agree to dinner (or any date) if I cannot pay for it myself.  Avoid the embarrassing situation in which his card gets declined (I mean, let’s face it, sometimes those machines suck and these things happen to the best of us) and you are sitting there with no way to pay.
  • Second rule, always offer to pay. I will pull out my wallet, have my card in my hand, whatever I can do that’s subtle and unassuming. The worst thing in my opinion is for a guy to leave a date thinking I assumed outright he was supposed to pay.
  • Third, never argue over the check. It is unattractive to start an argument over paying for dinner. Even if we weren’t discussing dating, and we were talking about going to dinner with your friend’s parents or a business partner – anyone you eat dinner with. Never, ever fight about paying the check at dinner.
  • Last, graciously thank him when/if he does pay. And leave it at that. A simple “thank you” goes a long way.

After about 3 or 4 dates, my female independence kicks in and I try my hand at paying. Over the years I’ve come up with a few ways to sneak in there and pay, without being forceful or especially insulting about the gesture. Try these out the next time you find yourself at that point in the dating scene where it’s your turn to step in:

  1. At dinner, go to the bathroom, but on the way there or back stop your server and tell him or her to bring the check directly to you. And when she does, make sure you have your credit card in your hand already so you can throw it on the ticket and hand it right back in one swift motion.
  2. Purchase movie tickets online from Fandango or Movies.com ahead of time, so that when you arrive at the theater, all you have to do is pick them up.  Even better, purchase through a site that allows you to print them ahead of time, like Fandango.
  3. If your theater doesn’t support online ticket purchasing, go to the theater at least an hour early and purchase the tickets in person. When you arrive later that night, he or she will be pleasantly surprised when you pull the tickets out and say, “Here you go!”
  4. Girls: ask him to dinner, and when the bill comes, tell him that whoever did the asking does the paying. He’ll appreciate the gesture, and you’ll know whether he’s worth dating if he keeps asking you out or if he suddenly stops and waits for you to ask again.
  5. If you’re at the movies, a concert, or any event, tell him that since he paid for the tickets, you’ll get the food (popcorn, drinks, etc.).  One way to ensure you get to pay for, say, the hot dogs at the baseball game, is by being the one who gets up and goes to the concession stand, before he even thinks about it. A hot dog and a beer is pretty standard, something you can get for him without asking. He’ll be pleasantly surprised when you come back to the seat with those in your hands.
  6. Make dinner instead of going out to eat.
  7. Coordinate a group outing with other couples. I’ve actually found in my experience that group settings present less pressure and intimidation if I want to pay. In other words, my attempts to pay in those situations have been better-received.

There really is no set rules for who pays and when. But with the traditional values that our society sets forth and women’s independence, the situation can be rather sticky. Just remember that going on a date is a way to show someone that you enjoy his or her company and want to spend quality time together. Therefore, your actions (especially as it relates to the cost) should always show appreciation for the one who initiated the date, and kindness towards the one you have asked out.

At least, that’s what my grandmother would say.