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It’s a fact of life: Not everyone makes the same amount of money. So, our readers ask, what do you do at a bar with friends who make more money than you? Sure, it’s fun to be out with people who consistently buy expensive rounds of drinks for the table, but how long can you wait before you have to reciprocate? Are you supposed to decline their kindness?
Start by asking yourself these questions:
How Much Do They Care?
When some people treat the table to drinks, they’re happy to do so. But other people do it with the expectation that others will cover the next round. Here are some ways to tell:
Test the Waters
When your friend asks you what you want, try ordering water or a seltzer. Gauge your friend’s reaction. She might insist, “You have to get a drink! Seriously!” Or, she might simply let you go for the water. If she lets you order water multiple times, take a mental note.
If you’re out in a group, does everyone buy rounds equally, or do some people treat more than others? If certain people gladly offer more often than others, it might be a sign that they’re glad to share the wealth (or eager to let everyone know that they have wealth).
Do Your Friends Understand Your Situation?
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
If you consistently order the cheapest drinks on the menu, your friends might start to get the hint. We’re not saying that you should always refuse other people’s generosity—it does make them feel good to give, too!—but it’s tacky to get the most expensive thing on the menu just because someone else is paying.
Words Speak Loudly, Too
Although you might feel awkward, sometimes the best course of action is simply to say something. If you feel like it’s your turn to buy a round but you simply can’t afford to blow $70 on margaritas, try leveling with your friends. Don’t whine, make excuses, or go to the bathroom when the bill arrives. Don’t wait for them to look at you expectantly. Set their expectations at the beginning of the evening by saying simply, “I’m sorry, guys, but things have been tight and I don’t feel like I can treat right now. Would it be okay if I covered the bill next time we go for happy hour, instead?”
Is There Anything Else You Can Do?
While You’re There
If you can’t afford a round of drinks, maybe you can show your appreciation by buying something less expensive, like an appetizer for the table.
On Another Occasion
So, forget about the round at the bar. Could you have people over for cocktails another time, instead? If you treat them from a liquor store instead of a bar, the drinks will be cheaper. Your guests might even bring wine when they come over, but you’re showing goodwill by offering to host.
Don’t Just Buy, Do
Maybe you can’t afford to cover the bill as often as your wealthier friends, but you might be able to show that you’re not taking advantage if you offer services instead. For example, you could volunteer to be the designated driver more often than the others.
A Word Of Warning
We have one friend (we’ll call her Michelle) who consistently asks us out to eat but then mooches off of us instead of ordering her own food. Once we get to the restaurant, Michelle claims not to be hungry and says with a smile, “I’ll just try some of yours.” We know that she doesn’t have a lot of cash to burn, but we wish that she’d level with us. If in doubt, honesty really is the best policy.