Recession Era Etiquette


Let me set the scene for you.  You’re at an achingly happenin’ restaurant, one you’d never go to without a really loaded Evite: “Come celebrate Christine’s 29th Birthday before she runs off to be a war correspondent in Africa” or some such imperative.  Basically, you have to go. 


Being cheap in this life, can lead to abject poverty in the next. Or so I'm told.

Being cheap in this life, can lead to abject poverty in the next. Or so I'm told.

The fabulous maitre de hands you a menu and an even more fabulous drink list. You are mentally tabulating cab faire, the $12 cocktails, and the appetizer salad which will have to be your dinner since you’re broke. Not broke enough to keep you at home on your friend’s birthday, but broke enough to feel guilty that you just paid $12 for 2.5 oz. of liquid and an olive. Broke enough that any more of these birthday parties may force you to cannibalize your closet for subway money.

The flower alone costs $8

The flower alone costs $8

But you’re a good friend. You made the effort, but your empty stomach will have to pay the price.

Gazing up at the giant Buddha, you think to yourself: this is one swanky establishment. I could grow to like this.  And for less than $50, you can be part of the fun. That is, until the check comes. 

restaurant-check“So it looks like about $140 each, plus tip” says some girl holding the table’s check, at the other end of the table – a friend of a friend.  You can’t quite remember her name, but you did notice her fancy for mussels, steak, chocolate ganache and multiple $12 cocktails. You had time to notice because there was nothing left on your plate to distract you. 

What do you do??  Do you put up a protest?  

I tried this once – at a cross-country NYC bachelorette party (at that very buddhalicious restaurant pictured above). The trip cost me in total over $1500. I got the big slam down for being cheap by chocolate ganache girl at the other end of the table, and am pissed off to this day that I had to pay (clearly).  But what were my options?

Do you refuse to pay?  That could end really awkwardly, and get the birthday girl/blushing bride involved, which is the last thing you want to do.  Or do you just zip your lips and fork over $90 more than you had planned (and budgeted)?

This has happened to me more than once over the years.  At the bachelorette party years ago, I was working as a receptionist, making less than $30K. $90 was huge.  More recently when this has happened to me, I’ve been less chaffed, as my budget is less tight. Yet I don’t particularly want to pay for Miss Greedy-Bones’ 7-course feast when I’m only having a salad or paying for everyone else’s rounds of champagne when I’m choosing not to drink. I think it’s presumptuous that someone just assumes we all split our tabs! And I’m not talking about nickeling and diming here.  I’m talking about being unemployed or barely making ends meet, and purposefully forgoing the MEAL part of the meal, just so you can celebrate with your girlfriend on her birthday.

What about you – has this ever happened to you?  Do you feel my pain, or am I the only cheapskate out there? Is there a classy way of handling this?  Any Ms. Manners out there have any suggestions??

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5 Responses to Recession Era Etiquette

  1. Karen says:

    SERIOUSLY. This is so true. This exact thing happened — I planned the party at the hip new restaurant b/c it’s what my BFF wanted. Then ordered water with lemon and a $12 salad. While the other well-off friends ordered carafes of wine and steak and apps and dessert. And then wanted to split the bill. I literally was in tears.

    Luckily another friend of mine stuck up for me — discreetly enough so the birthday girl didn’t notice — and got me out of it. I mean, I still paid double what I should have but less than the original plan!

  2. Karen says:

    Ok, PS: I’ve noticed that since the recession hit, this isn’t a problem as much. I guess EVERYONE is on a budget these days, not just me!

  3. Judi says:

    As my recent circumstances have me rationing out dog food, I can attest that there is nothing worse than that feeling- both feeling put out for shelling out cash for other people and/or having to admit you just don’t have the money.

    You ALWAYS have to assume in a big group that the bill will be split equally. It’s easier to handle a bill that way, it just is. The ordering small for yourself just doesn’t work.

    So I see you’ve got two choices- either accept the fact that the bill will be hefty and order what you want. Or don’t go. (Lord, especially if you know these bitches like to drink.)

    OR- you can leave before the bill comes. Tell your friend what you ordered (small), fork over the planned cash and say your good-byes before the broo-ha-ha starts.

  4. thecreme says:

    Judi: love that – I am now going to leave before the bill comes. Brilliant.

    Karen: you know, I have friends who are on unemployment right now, and they still get the “what’s wrong with you that you cannot manage your budget enough to afford THIS $100 MEAL” look. Sigh. Guess the only other option is to stay home.

  5. aviva says:

    Two articles I just read on this – but not sure I agree.
    (agree with it for the most part)

    and to support the fact that the recession IS changing things, one on power lunches:

    Once in Del Mar I went out with a large group for a birthday. Swanky spendy restaurant – Craig & I were never big earners, particularly for a Del Mar place; but still, we splurged. 3 of the 10 or 12 couples went home before the final bill, and ponied up their share. They did NOT factor in the $250 worth of BOTTLED WATER on the tab! WTF? We were not pleased. I would have drank tap. (We were all pretty appalled.)

    When I was pregnant I had to make a huge case of a separate booze bill – as if I should even have to mention it!? REALLY??

    Yes – duck out before it’s over, dumping your share to a friend before you go, or if you know you’re going to be at a place like that without enough money to dine – eat before you go out, get your drink at the bar and settle up, and don’t even drink a water at the table; it might be bottled and cost you $20. Especially in NYC.

    This is one of my BIGGEST pet peeves, by the way. I’m all for splitting if it’s fair – but otherwise, people – understand that it isn’t!

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