Why it pays to pick up the bill on the first date

Avoid bill bust-ups and awkward encounters with this handy how-to guide

And so we come to the thorny issue of the bill. There it is, sitting on that small silver tray, unassuming yet obtrusive, and here to wreak havoc in the wake of a lovely date. A token mint or two sit on top – futile attempts to literally sugar the pill of the looming discussion. Who pays on the first date?

It’s a tricky one, but important nonetheless. So let’s have a much needed etiquette tête-à-tête, and settle the matter of settling up once and for all with our first date tips below.

Pay on the first date — no matter what

The gentleman should always pay on the first date. Regardless of whether you asked her out, or she asked you out, it is your duty as a gent to reach into your pocket, pull out your wallet and say those three golden words: “I’ve got this”.

In theory, she will smile, thank you and allow you to pay for the meal without either hesitation or protestation. Obviously, this rarely happens. Instead, after you lay claim to the bill, the evening could shoot off down one of several paths. So let’s explore just some of the scenarios that may play out when the chips – and credit cards – are down.

Keep your cool — even if she wants to pay

It’s engrained in all of us to be polite, and offer to pay our share. That means the likelihood is that she’ll either insist on splitting the bill, or offer to pay in full — but this is a path fraught with peril on the first date.

If you do take her up on her offer to split the bill — especially at her first request — she will either think you’re unchivalrous or uninterested. Typically, bills are only split between friends, or established couples — not new loves.

Don't read into anything too deeply

On the flip side, if she quickly concedes and virtually grabs your credit card herself, don’t imagine that she just wants to be friends. Etiquette dictates that the man should pay, so don’t go running to the bathroom for a conciliatory sob if she doesn’t reach for her purse.

So far, so simple. You offer to pay, she might let you immediately, she might take some gentle convincing. Both of those outcomes are to be expected. The worst bill-related bust up comes when you’re faced with a persistent partner.

Know when to quit

Certain dinner dates simply won’t take no for an answer. Be it for reasons of equality, expensiveness or simple pride, these purse-thrusters will make it harder to split the bill than it was for Rutherford to split the atom – and with equally explosive results.

A gentleman knows when to concede. There’s nothing gentlemanly about point-blank insisting out of sheer stubbornness; especially if your date is becoming more irritated by the second (or, worse, starting to feel uncomfortable by your persistence). Put up a good fight, but there’s a fine line between chivalrous and controlling. Make sure you stay on the right side, gents.

Know your exceptions

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. Casual drinks should be bought in rounds — as long as you buy the first. But, when it’s a meal, the man must pay on the first date. If you choose the restaurant, you’ll ensure that you’re not left destitute by the time the starter arrives, and you can also impress her with your gastronomic know-how.

As the dates roll on, the rules admittedly change. Second date, it’s still the man’s turn. Third, your date can pitch in for drinks, but you should still pay for the lion’s share of the meal and fourth, is when you finally reach the point where splitting is acceptable. She may even insist on paying for the whole meal, and if you’ve stuck it this long without a fight, it seems silly to argue with her now.

Looking for more advice on your date etiquette? These are the top 10 first date ideas

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