Dating: Who Pays?

Dating: Who Pays?

Image credit:

To go Dutch or not to go Dutch—that is the question

It’s the first date. You are just finishing up that last sip of coffee and nipping that final, solitary nibble of tiramisu. It’s a nice restaurant, and you’ve had a fine time—though you’ve yet to make up your mind about him.

That’s OK. Good decisions take time.

Then the dreaded moment arrives: the bill. And your idiot server puts it exactly in the middle of the table.


You continue your conversation as if the glowing leather folder were invisible. Except you are no longer listening to what your date is saying. Instead, you think, If I don’t reach for my purse, he’ll think I’m here for the free food. But if I do reach for my purse, and he doesn’t stop me . . . yuck. Still, he’s not making a move—hopefully because he’s too enraptured by your wit and beauty.

Unfortunately, this stalemate can continue all night given the current conventions of modern-day, unconventional dating.

What do you do? Are you dating, ditching, or going Dutch?

“Go Dutch” | ˈgō ˈdəch


A saying indicating each person participating in a group activity pays for himself or herself; most likely originating from the Dutch door, once used on farmhouses and made up of two equal parts.

It’s a controversial conundrum with three primary schools of thought. The key is finding the school that works for you, your value system, and your concept of manners. Let’s examine the options.

1. He pays.

In the old days (as in, before I was born), it was presumed the man would pay for the dates. As a whole, women worked lower-level, lower-paying jobs. Plus, they had to buy pantyhose and pay a hairdresser to tease and spray their hair into the perfect bouffant. In short, men had more money, and society viewed them as the stronger sex. They hunted, killed the food, and dragged it back to the cave where we ladies would dip it in flour, fry it up, and serve it with a side of scalloped potatoes, canned string beans, and a wedge salad.

Today, even though we women often earn as much as men and wield our own professional power, most people still believe the man should pay—at least for the first date. Though considered by some to be “outdated,” that thinking is viewed by many to be gentlemanly, generous, and an indication of good manners. In short, he’s the kind of guy you could bring home to Mama—and your kids—one day.

2. Whoever asks pays.

With online dating, where it is not uncommon for women to make the first move, the lines are blurred.

According to Emily Post’s Etiquette Daily, the rule of thumb, for a first date at least, is unless it’s decided in advance that the date will be Dutch, the person who asks pays. (This practice is especially suitable in gay and lesbian dating, where gender does not automatically imply roles.)

Some awesome men like to be extremely clear, and we adore them for this: “I’d love to take you out to dinner Saturday night.” When the bill comes on Saturday night, do not reach for your purse.

Q: But what if he asked me out and I make more money?

A: Then he should be creative and plan something that won’t cost a lot: a hike, picnic, or trip to the farmers’ market followed by a cappuccino at a sweet little café where he knows all the servers and they love him. (Sounds like a great guy to me.)

Q: What if he makes more money but I set up the date?

A: Same: If you ask, you pay. But if he suggests something expensive or makes a reservation at a place clearly beyond your means and doesn’t make a move to share or pick up the bill—pay your half and say “Buh-bye.” He’s either a cheapo or a gigolo.

3. Going Dutch.

Going Dutch is acceptable in the Internet dating world, where every first date is a blind date and carries zero assurance of a connection. Communication is key and will make for a more relaxed meeting. Be casual. Be up front. Be nice.

Him: “It’s been fun texting with you. We should get together for a glass of wine.”

You: “That would be great! Dutch treat!” [Insert smiley-face emoticon.]

But, if Dutch treat has But, if Dutch treat has not been made 100% clear in advance, or at least implied with the weight of a hammer (You: “I never let online dates pay for me on the first date” [insert another smiley-face emoticon]), and you have been talking and texting for two weeks; and he’s told you about his great job, boat, and fabulous life, yet he knows you are a Solo Mom and need to hire a sitter; and he suggests a pricey wine bar; and you follow his lead and order two glasses of the fabulous-yet-pricey red he recommends; and the bill comes, and he scrutinizes the bill and then tells you “what you owe” . . . for the love of chocolate, throw down your share and call it a loss! Because trust me—the relationship is doomed.

On the other hand, if a mutual friend sets you up on a blind date, defer to said friend about how to handle the bill.

But no matter what the scenario, there are some hard-and-fast bill-paying rules to follow in any situation.

Top 10 “no matter what” list:

10. Do not date men just for the free meals.

9. Do not expect a free meal.

8. Do not run up the bill if you know he’s paying.

7. If you suggest something beyond and more expensive than what he’s planned (You: “Goody! Now let’s go dancing at that new, expensive club!), then you pay for it!

6. If you absolutely know you will never see him again, and he’s a decent guy, insist on paying your portion of the bill. It will send a polite message yet show respect.

5. Do not go to the restroom when the bill comes.

4. Do not take a phone call and say you “need to step outside.”

3. If you offer to split the check and he tells you, “No, I’ve got it,” graciously say thank you. Don’t argue!

2. If he pays the bill, offer to buy him a drink or dessert, or tell him you’d like to take him out in the future. He will appreciate your consideration, even if he is a billionaire. (A girl can dream.)

And drumroll . . .

The number-one rule for bill-paying etiquette is:

1. If he is sly and manages to get his credit card to the server without you even knowing, leaving you with zero awkwardness—grab hold and hang on tight.

He’s a keeper!

Kathleen Laccinole, ESME’s Dating Resource Guide, has penned numerous films and parenting books but is best known for producing the highly lauded Greta, age 20, and William, age 16.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

Send to friend

Download our ESME app for a smoother experience.

Get the app Get the app