Dating Etiquette: Who Should Pay Dinner On the First Date?

So you went out on a first dinner date with a potential partner. The two of you immediately get along well. You had great conversation and chemistry and seemed to have clicked. Then the waiter brings the bill on the table. What do you do?

In the past, that waiter would have given the check directly to the man who was traditionally expected to pay. After all, we lived in a highly patriarchal society then, during which men hold chief power and prevailing roles in moral authority and social privilege and are thus expected to handle the payment of bills to reflect power and control. Today, however, society has become more egalitarian characterized by evolving gender roles. Who takes care of the bill in a date becomes obscured, thus creating an awkward standoff during the date.

There are no rules!

There are no set of rules that would directly and decisively tell who should pay for dinner on the first date so that things won’t get clumsy when the check comes in.

It depends on a lot of things such as financial capacity, social beliefs, previous relationships, gender preference, and other factors. For instance, a rich woman would be willing to pay for her date with a penniless stud in the same way that a rich old man will pay for his date with poor hot arm candy.

A woman who is a staunch feminist advocate may insist on splitting the bill as she may find a man paying for her own to be offensive. Meanwhile, in homosexual relationships where the dating couple is either both male or both female, the traditional gender roles of men and women become non-existent. 

Heed the Expectations!

While there are no rules to follow, there are expectations that are in order when you set out on a date. Men are expected to pay for the whole date. Women are expected to pay some of the bills. That being the case, both sexes should be ready.

The man should especially be ready to defray for the whole expense while the woman should also be ready to at least pay for what she ate. While most men are willing to pay for all costs which have long been considered as a sign of gentry, still others may not be that generous. In which case, a woman should be prepared to pay for her dinner.

On the other hand, while a man may be willing to pay for the date, the woman should still consider offering to chip in out of courtesy or if she notices that the guy needs some help.

Meanwhile, some women refuse that a man pays for her, to show her independence, that she can take care of herself, or to feel she doesn’t owe anyone anything. Whatever her reason is, the man should let the woman chip in or pay for her bill if she insists on splitting the bill because there is no point in arguing.

Why who pays matters?

Exactly why does it matter if you pay the whole check or split the bill on the first date? It’s because the party who pays for the first date influences the prospects of what will happen after the date.

While expectations are indeed molded by factors such as the extravagance or luxury of the date, the quality of their tête-à-tête or even the motivational objectives of the dating individuals, the party paying for the date tends to gain control of how things will go afterward.

Most women suppose that if a man pays for their date, he is most likely attracted to her because it is part of creating a good first impression. If a man splits the bill with a woman, he runs the risk of turning off his date, which is a risk he does not want to take especially on their first meeting.

Meanwhile, some women would insist on paying half of the bill especially if she is not interested in the guy or she finds no connection with her date. Paying for the bill would relieve her from any expectation from her male counterpart by maintaining her sense of independence. Splitting the bill is, in fact, one way for a woman to show her disinterest. 

Why do men pay for the date?

In a 2017 survey on love and finances by Money and SurveyMonkey, 78% of 4,447 respondents still believed that man should pay on the first date. The same survey also showed that more men accepted their fate of paying for the date than women.

A man should normally pay on the first date as part of his expression of interest in a woman. This is especially true when the man asks the woman out. Many women believe that if a guy is truly interested in her, then he will be willing to pay on the first date. One way for a man to show interest to a woman is by taking care of the bill.

Paying the bill for the date is a simple gesture to show one’s ability to handle things or get things covered.

To protect those he loves regardless if they need it or not is a natural function of the male species. This means protecting his loved one from anything including damages from the pocket. A man who truly cares for a woman will make her feel safe including from simple financial burdens stemming from their date.

He will take the initiative to pay to save a woman from the awkward moment of who should pay. Covering for the bill is one way for a man to show a woman that he cares for her. It sends a clear message of one’s interest and desire to be more than mere friends.

Also, if a guy is truly interested in a woman, he will be willing to invest some money on her such as paying for the first date including other succeeding dates, to pursue her. Man will spend time and money on a woman to show much she means to him. How much he spends on a woman would show much he values a woman.

Who initiated the date?

One practical unwritten rule to determine who pays for the dinner date is by determining the party who initiated the date. The one who asks out should be the one who pays for the bill. The person who asks someone out should sensibly be also responsible for picking the tab. After all, the other party who got invited may not even know that they are on a date. This is especially true if a woman asks a man out for a date.

It goes without saying that if you are the one making the plans and paying the bill, then you should select a dating place or restaurant that is within your budget. You should pick a place where you would be able to pay the full cost of the bill.

You don’t take your date in a fancy expensive restaurant that is beyond your means only to ask your date to help pay the bill at the end of the day. If your date decides to pick the place that is too expensive, you should instead avoid the date in the first place because you might be dealing with a gold digger, which is just going to be a waste of time and money on your part.

The trend of who initiated the date is the one who pays, is especially popular among same-sex couples or homosexual relationships where the traditional roles of men and women have been blurred or do not exist. The burden to show one’s interest or to impress someone also rests on the person who made the first move to set a date, which is why he or she is also required to pay for the date.

Even in case of platonic dates where neither party aims of engaging on any sexual relationship, the one who asks out should still ideally pay the bill because by initiating it, it presupposes that it is your plan, it is your event, and it is something that you will pay for, unless of course you explicitly mentioned that you are going the split the bill.

Going Dutch!

When your first date involves a big mixed group of friends out for dinner, going Dutch or paying individually for expenses becomes ideal. This means that each person attending or participating in the date should individually contribute their fair share in the expense.

Regardless of who initiated the date, etiquette dictates that every person should defray for their own expense or the bill should be equally split among all those who attended the party date. Everybody enjoyed and should, therefore, be liable to pay the bill to his fair shake.

Otherwise, covering the expense for the whole group is not a raw deal for anyone even how rich that person could be.

What happens after the first date?

If the first date results to a second date, then the other party who did not pay for the first date should strive to pay on the next date. This follows the reciprocity principle in relationships, which essentially means that you pay back what you have received.

In which case, if your date does you a favor of paying the bill on your first date, you should return the favor by paying for the next. This give-and-take principle is a basic requirement in any relationship.

If you plan to be a couple in the future, then you should start considering maintaining a balance of reciprocity in the most basic things such as paying for dates.

For succeeding dates, you can also opt to adopt alternate paying or start sharing the bill. The decision would ultimately hinge on mutually-agreed upon inclinations by the couple or on their finances. Hence, parties need to be honest about their finances with their partners.

The first date is where the first impressions are built. Hence, it is important for whoever initiated the date especially men, to pay the bill to make the right impression, unless your date insists on splitting the bill that could otherwise cause an unnecessary argument.

At this level of a relationship, couples essentially remain as strangers and should move gradually by focusing on positive communication to get to know each other better.

Matthew Ryan

I'm Matthew Ryan, one of the guys behind MannersAdvisor.com I am passionate about the world of good manners, etiquette and proper behavior to have on any special occasion. Here I decided to share my passion with you!

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