There is one abiding rule – the person who requests the pleasure, pays for the pleasure. So, as a simple point of etiquette, you should pick up the tab for a lunch, dinner or a raft of cocktails – whether dating or business-lunching– if you have invited the other person. But business lunches aside, life isn’t simple, and dating even less so; all too often, the awkwardness that arrives at the table at the same time as the bill is less to do with etiquette than gender. It is more likely than not that the man has been the one to invite his date out to dinner, so he should be the one to pay.
But it’s unfair if he has to pay every time – and some women are actively insulted if men always insist on paying. On the other hand, if he cocks his eyebrow towards his date in the international gesture for “Perhaps it’s your turn this time?” he could all too easily be judged cheap and ungentlemanly.
Men should be prepared to pay every time, but equally ready to concede under the following conditions: if she is adamant she must pay her way; if it is his birthday or a special occasion on which she wants to make the gesture of paying for him; or, in the case of steady couples, if she is quietly
seeking to break the trend of the man paying every time. Do not be tempted by the compromise solution: splitting the bill. That is fine for bigger restaurant gatherings (though never, ever niggle – the momentary victory of only paying for your soup is spoiled by the longer lasting defeat of your social credibility), but the greatest spoiler to romance is going Dutch. Going Chinese, however, is a different ballgame: as in many Asian countries, there is a strong etiquette at play. It is culturally unacceptable to pay the bill if your host is Asian but you should be seen to offer with a vague and speedy wave of your wallet, after which everyone’s face is saved.