Who Pays When You Go Out to Dinner with Your Parents?

March 23, 2010 at 3:05 AM 13 comments

Every few weeks or so my husband and I meet my parents for dinner at a restaurant half-way between their house and ours. We typically eat at low-to-mid range restaurants, like Red Robin or Macaroni Grill and the typical meal ranges in the $10 – $15 range. Most of the time we split the bill in half. While my parents don’t always allow us to pay, we do offer money every time we go out.

While we pay our fair share when my husband and I are out together, it’s a totally different story when I go out with my parents alone. If my parents take me out to lunch or dinner without my husband I almost never pay. This is in part because I don’t always offer and also because when I do offer I’m usually refused.

My dad is retired and my mom works a part-time, relatively low paying job, so I’d definitely like to contribute more when we go out together. After all my husband and I are actively employed and combined we make more than a decent living.

So every time I go out with my parents I’m torn. On one hand I know that they love to take care of me and provide for me. On the other hand I know that I can afford the meal much better than they can.

So what do you think? Do you think I should take control of the bill and pay more often or continue to allow my parents to pay for me? It’s not a lot of money and we don’t go out together often, but I don’t want to impose on my parents and at the same time I don’t want to pay if that makes them feel uncomfortable.

Every time I offer they say, “we’re so happy to be with you. we love you. we want to pay for you.” I guess the question is whether or not I should let them.

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13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Anonymous  |  March 23, 2010 at 5:56 AM

    My mother raised 3 children by herself. She gave us love and laughter but money was really tight. One of my greatest joys is being able to take my adult daughter to lunch and treat her – even though she can pay herself. It's something my mother would have loved to be able to do. Accept the gift graciously; that will be your gift to your mother.

  • 2. Sense  |  March 23, 2010 at 8:14 AM

    Agree with anonymous. I'm sure they appreciate that you are on your own now, taking care of yourself. Maybe paying for a meal is one way that they get to feel like they are still taking care of you a little bit, esp. since they don't make a lot of money and can't do grand gestures. 🙂

    As long as your parents aren't the sort to throw the meal back in your face, I would accept what they are telling you at face value, and let them pay!

  • 3. me in millions  |  March 23, 2010 at 2:02 PM

    My parents always pay, but they are in a better financial situation than I am. And I'm not married. If they are happy to pay and you know they're being honest, let them. Just reciprocate nice gestures somehow else.

  • 4. Pam  |  March 23, 2010 at 7:43 PM

    You should let them pay, because it appears to genuinely make them happy. If you are worried about what it means to their finances, keep track of the cost and either start a "Mom and Dad Rainy Day" savings account, or find some way to give it back for birthdays or Christmas. My husband is an only child and his parents give us money every time we visit. There is polite way to refuse, so we take the money and set it aside in case they need it back one day.

  • 5. Pam  |  March 23, 2010 at 7:43 PM

    NO polite way, I meant!

  • 6. Nicole  |  March 24, 2010 at 1:25 AM

    We play the game of who can grab the check first! My parents don't ever want us to pay, but we want to treat them. When my mom and I go out, we just take turns paying.

  • 7. Abigail  |  March 24, 2010 at 3:10 AM

    I like Nicole's idea! But if that's not an option, I'd still at least offer most of the time. Your parents do seem to genuinely enjoy taking you out, but I have an overactive guilt complex.

    I believe they genuinely mean it, but you could also just grab the bill and if they protest say, I know you're really happy being with me. And I'm really happy to get to treat you guys sometimes!

    I'm sure your parents like to pay and wouldn't do it if it were a hardship. So don't worry too much. Still, I'm sure they love that you do offer to pay sometimes.

  • 8. Jonesie  |  March 24, 2010 at 10:39 PM

    When we go out with MIL and step-FIL, they always pay. It offends my MIL if we try to pay, but we still always offer. Her belief is that parents take care of kids no matter what. Our FIL is another story. He'll invite us to dinner, never pays and never offers to pay.

  • 9. Alison@This Wasn't In The Plan  |  March 25, 2010 at 2:51 AM

    When we go out with my parents, they always pay. I don't even think we offer anymore, but we usually do offer to leave a tip. Sometimes they take us up on it, sometimes not.

    When we go out with my in-laws, it's hit or miss. Unless one of them says "hey, let's go out to eat, my treat", it's usually understood that we'll split it.

    I agree with the consensus that it's best to just let them, because it seems as if it's something they genuinely want to do. That's the realization I've come to as well, I used to have a really hard time letting my parents pay for the things they do and now I just have a sort of hard time.

  • 10. One Frugal Girl  |  March 25, 2010 at 3:21 AM

    Thanks for all of your thoughts on this topic. I'll continue to offer payment, but I'll definitely succumb more quickly and ultimately let them cover the cost whenever we go out to eat. They really do seem to enjoy paying for their little girl.

  • 11. Anonymous  |  March 25, 2010 at 5:38 AM

    Try paying during the meal. I or my husband usually get up during a family meal (since we make a lot more than anyone else) "to go to the washroom" and give the server a credit card or cash and ask that no bill be brought to the table. This always ends in pleasant surprise when someone asks for the bill and the server says its been taken care of. It may not work for you all the time but it is a nice gesture. THis also works for business meetings and birthday parties – the server will just discreetly hand you your receipt on the way out – they do this for a living!

  • 12. Mary Weiland  |  March 26, 2010 at 6:26 PM

    My parents and I fight over the bill, too. I feel like I should pay b/c they have paid for things my entire life and I want to give back. But, parents will always be parents. As some of the other folks have commented, by them paying the bill, they have a sense that they are still taking care of me. I always offer and show appreciation. I think if there is no offer, then they may feel taken for granted or even taken advantage of. When I drag them out to help me with something, I always insist on paying. I think it makes them feel bad, but they appreciate it, too. …it just means they are quicker to the bill next time we go out 🙂

  • 13. Sofia  |  December 16, 2010 at 9:33 AM

    Parents do love their kids so much that's why even though they are grown-ups now, they will always be their babies. And for me, if the parents were the first one to ask you to eat outside, let them just treat you because it's one of their ways on showing their love for you.

    Like you, my parents would ask us out once a month and eat together outside. Even though my dad has no money, he will just call his company's payday loan (Utah) just to treat us and have a quality time with us.


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