Your first date with a potential new boo is coming to a close. It went well: You two hit it off, the conversation flowed easily and you even shared a few laughs. Then the waiter places the check on the table. What do you do?
It depends on who you ask. For better or worse, there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to who should pay on the first date, so things can get confusing and kind of clumsy when the bill arrives.
In a 2017 survey conducted by Money and SurveyMonkey, 78 percent of respondents said they believe the man should pay on a first date ― but that only applies to heterosexual pairs. A 2016 Match.com survey found that 62 percent of LGBTQ singles believe the person who initiated the date should pay.
Those percentages aside, there’s still a lot of gray area when it comes to paying the bill. So we called on a handful of relationship experts and HuffPost readers to gauge their feelings on this subject.
Who should pick up the check on a first date?
According to Alex Williamson, head of brand at the dating app Bumble, a good guiding principle is that whoever does the asking out should be the one picking up the tab.
“In my opinion, if one person asked the other out, that person should take responsibility for the check,” she told HuffPost. “But in any case, I always think it’s reasonable for both people to offer to cover all or part of the check and have a conversation about it.”
And remember: If you’re the one making plans, don’t choose a restaurant or bar that’s out of your budget.
“I always tell people, if you aren’t comfortable paying for a restaurant, don’t recommend it as the location of the date,” Williamson said. “If you initiate a date, pick a place where you would be happy to cover the full cost of the bill.”
“We encourage the guy to pick up the bill,” she told HuffPost. “It might feel silly, antiquated and outdated in a world filled with strong, independent women, but there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of tradition. Understandably, this can feel one-sided, daunting, maybe even unfair.”
Goldstein continued: “No matter how independent you are, it’s nice to feel a little bit taken care of — even if it’s only picking up a drink at the bar. As long as the woman is grateful and not presumptuous, the guy will likely leave feeling good about this.”
“If you initiate a date, pick a place where you would be happy to cover the full cost of the bill.”
The singles we spoke to had their own sets of rules.
Justin ― a 30-year-old living and dating in New York City ― told HuffPost that although he always picks up the tab on a first date, he does appreciate when the woman offers to split it.
“The gesture from a woman to offer to split, or even just saying, ‘Thank you for dinner,’ are always great signs to me,” he said. “It shows that she’s someone who was raised right, is grateful and is not just a taker.”
That said, Justin won’t actually take a woman up on her offer to pay ― at least not on the first date.
“I’ll usually say something along the lines of, ‘You can get it next time’ if I think the date went well. Not that I’d necessarily make her pay for the next date, but just to let her know that I’m interested in her and am planning on seeing her again,” he said.
Goldstein noted that people should not make hollow offers to split the bill if they’re not actually comfortable doing so.
“They should only offer to pay when they are happy and willing to,” she told HuffPost. “Guys can be literal, and in today’s environment, confused on the rules. So they may take you up on paying because they think you truly want to.”
And if your date does end up covering the bill, “make sure you say thank you in a genuine way,” Goldstein added.
Craig, a 27-year-old dating in Los Angeles, told HuffPost that though he generally foots the bill on the first date, he considers it “a big positive” when the woman offers to pay.
“If the [woman] offered to pay the whole bill, I wouldn’t let her,” he said. “But if she was insistent on splitting it, I’d let her after some resistance. I think it would be rude if she didn’t even make the gesture of helping to pay.”
Kristen, a 21-year-old from Orem, Utah, subscribes to the idea that whoever does the asking should do the paying ― regardless of gender. She is married now but says that when she dated, she would ask guys out and then pay for those dates.
“Sometimes they’d get a bit weird about it and say that they ought to pay, but honestly, it was my idea. I’ll pay. It’s good manners,” she told HuffPost. “And in this day and age, the responsibility to initiate dates has no owner; rather, anyone can and should ask another on a date.”
“If [the man] isn’t fine with it, I probably don’t want to date him anyway,” she added.
What about LGBTQ couples?
The rules for same-sex couples are a bit more flexible, according to Goldstein, who has a LGBTQ-focused matchmaking division at Three Day Rule.
“The trend is for the one who initiated the date to pay, but splitting is also a viable option,” she said. “It’s not seen as platonic as it is in the straight community and can even help prevent first date awkwardness.”
“However, if one person pays for the first date, the other person should aim to be the one who pays on the next date,” Goldstein added.
Bumble’s Williamson also said that splitting the bill works just fine.
“Most same-sex couples I’ve spoken to celebrate the fact that there are no rules, and most of the time, they choose to split the bill,” she told HuffPost. “But it is always fun to be treated to a nice meal, regardless of your gender or sexual orientation.”
What happens after the first date?
If the first date leads to a second date, a third date and beyond, both parties can start chipping in or alternate paying, depending on their personal finances and mutually agreed-upon preferences.
“If your new male love interest insists on paying for dinner, pick up the cab fare on the way there or the drink at the bar,” Goldstein told HuffPost.
“It’s less about the actual cost ― nobody likes to keep score ― and more about the gesture of doing something thoughtful for your date,” she continued, “and proving that you are willing to show up, shell out and invest a little bit in getting to know him just as he has in you.”
For Williamson, it all comes down to being able to have a candid conversation with a potential partner.
“It’s important to be open and honest,” she said. “And if you plan another date, you can clearly communicate about who will be paying for the next date.”