Let’s (Please Never Ever) Do Lunch!

The Coworker Lunch Tale

“Hey, want to go to lunch?”

Innocent enough question. Better yet, a friendly invitation to a fellow coworker. And while harmless to many, few questions strike more anxiety into my soul than this one. (“Will you please disrobe for the next part of the physical?” and “How do you feel about being trapped in a room with a bunch of clowns?” probably round out my top three.) But the lunch question is the ultimate stress-inducer for those who find comfort by being in control. I’m not worried about the type of food — I like everything. I’m not worried about its sanitation grade — in fact, lower grades usually makes for more delicious food. No, I’m worried about only one thing: the price.

Case in point. A few months ago, I was invited to lunch with a few coworkers. We’d recently been teamed up for a project so I figured it’d be weird to be the odd man out as we discussed said project offsite. That and I’d declined so many times in the last month that I didn’t want them to think I had some weird skin condition that’d warrant a verse about me in “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” by Crash Test Dummies. So I reluctantly accepted.

This is probably a good time to say that I’m not anti-social. I promise. I just really like having control of my money. Believe me? Cool.

Back to my tale. As we were walking to the unknown-to-me destination, one of my coworkers mentioned how awesome the sausage pizza was at this place. A PIZZERIA! Perfect. My budget can handle a few slices of pizza! With a newfound skip in my step, I dispatched all of my money concerns from my anxious brain. Maybe this tagging along for lunch thing ain’t that bad after all. Or not.

The first sign of trouble was visible before I even stepped through the doors. A well-designed logo. “Wood-fired” prominently displayed on the window. Oh well, I can always just spring for a single slice. We walked in and were seated by a hipster hostess. Indie music playing. A cardstock menu with the sparcity of items and excessive white space that screams “$$$$” on Yelp. The kind of place that doesn’t know the word “slice.” What have I done?!

I played it cool on the outside. But deep down inside, the I-told-you-so’s were screaming at me. Resigned to the fact that I was actually really hungry and this was an unfortunate and rare ocassion, I settled for one of the cheaper personal pie options, water, and no freaking way on the appetizers. While my coworkers ordered drinks and appetizers, I started plotting out how I’d justify this to Joanna. Later… I can deal with that later.

I joined in the conversation as we waited 30 or so minutes for our food. And then it came. It was good. I’m not sure if it was the taste or the guilt, but I didn’t leave a trace. That pie was gone. And then I started realizing I had overhyped all of this. Sure, it was more than I’d normally spend, but it’s just a few bucks. Whatever.

“So are you guys cool with just splitting the check four ways?”

“Oh HEEEECCCCKKKK no!” I screamed… inside my head. Because I would never say that out loud.

Everyone nodded. And just like that, I saw my cheapest-meal-but-still-not-cheap meal become far less cheap. But what was I going to do? Object? Make a scene? Not worth the coworker fallout. So I handed over my plastic and subsidized my peers’ expensive tastes. Even worse, it’s not like they were taking advantage of me. This is just the way they ALWAYS did lunch. Almost.every.day. How?! Well, I mean I understand the mechanics of going to lunch every day, but how did they justify the costs? And not worry about splitting the totals? Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to cover a meal or tab of a friend/family member. And I love a good meal as much as anyone. But that’s once a month AT MOST. Every work day?!

So the next time you unassumingly ask, “Hey, want to go to lunch?”, you’ll understand why I get all awkward and search for an excuse like “Oh no, I’m cool. I’m just going to eat the rest of this apple core from this morning.”

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  • Reply Halsy June 13, 2013 at 7:53 am

    I just don’t understand how people go to lunch Every Single Day-especially at sit down restaurants. Before I was a SAHM I had a government job that paid decent but not great- definentely not enough for me to justify lunch out at even once a week though. However many of my coworkers went out every day. It was mostly places likely chipotle etc but still that’s $35-$50 a week just on lunches. My hubby is an engineer downtown and his coworkers got out every single day and mainly to sit down restaurants where they do the whole split the bill routine. We decided we could each get lunch out once per month with coworkers and he always trys to suggest the few places where you pay then sit down when he decides to go instead of all the pricy downtown restaurants.

    • Reply Johnny June 18, 2013 at 12:39 pm

      I think setting a quota for the # of times each month you’ll go out would definitely help me to be proactive about arranging the lunch and choosing where to eat. Good tip.

  • Reply Lisa D June 13, 2013 at 8:00 am

    Oh my gosh! The old split the check…it’s so awkward. I have found the best thing to do is to try and grab the check first and put down how much I owe. Or offer up, “hey, can I put in a few less bucks since I didn’t get apps or drinks?” Way easier said than done, especially when there is already a mealtime payment norm. Bringing lunch= way better than buying in many ways ($, health, time, $) however, you really need to amp up the nutrition of your midday meal. Apple cores just don’t cut it. 🙂

    • Reply Johnny June 18, 2013 at 12:41 pm

      Aren’t seeds like the healthiest part? Or are there trees growing in my digestive tract? Either way, I’ll probably start looking into other lunch options.

  • Reply Susan June 13, 2013 at 8:06 am

    Funny thing is that my husband got into the habit years before I met him of packing his lunch in a little playmate cooler because he worked in a plant far from anything other than gas station food or bad cafeteria food. When he started work (pre-recession) in a swanky uptown building for a hip company, he kept that habit and was the only one who ever ate in the break room…. They razzed him for it until a few years ago when suddenly, it became cool to bring lunch and eat with your coworkers then go for a walk for coffee.

    • Reply Johnny June 18, 2013 at 12:42 pm

      Trendsetting husband you got there. Awesome.

  • Reply Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies June 13, 2013 at 8:15 am

    Mr. PoP’s company is big on these kinds of lunches, so we compromise. Mr PoP doesn’t do it every day like a lot of people, but we make sure there’s money in the restaurant budget for him to go out with colleagues at least once or twice per month. That lets him be there for all the necessary “birthday” and “promotion” lunches and not look like an ass by backing out.

    • Reply Johnny June 18, 2013 at 12:44 pm

      It’s wide advice to start budgeting a lunch out or two a month. I definitely see the risk/reward of opting out all the time. I’m just tired of feeling the pit in my stomach when the check comes. Budgeting it should help soften the blow.

  • Reply Jordann @ My Alternate Life June 13, 2013 at 8:16 am

    Wow that sucks! This used to happen to me at some of my old jobs, but my current work place is very very small and everyone in it knows that I’m on a very strict budget. I can’t understand how people spend so much damn money on stuff like that, it just seems like such a waste.

  • Reply Kasey June 13, 2013 at 8:17 am

    I stopped going out to lunch for that very reason. When they would ask me to go to lunch I would ask first where they were going and only say yes if it was a place where you pay for the food before you get it so I knew I would only be paying for mine. There were certain people (friends/acquaintances) that I wouldnt go out to dinner with because they would always want to split the check (after ordering many alcoholic drinks while I got a soda).

    • Reply Tabitha June 14, 2013 at 8:03 pm

      I’ve never heard of a restaurant where you pay before ordering (unless you’re talking about a buffet? Where it’s a set amount?) Where are these? How do they work? I mean how do you know how much you’re going to eat?

      I’m just being curious, another commenter mentioned it and then you did too, and I had to ask. 🙂

      • Reply Kasey June 14, 2013 at 10:32 pm

        They are the type that kind of fast food but not. One that comes to mind is panera bread. They have soup and salad and you pay up front. When your order is ready you go pick it up (they give you a beeper. Another place was a local rib place, where you ordered and paid and someone brought the food out.

      • Reply Johnny June 18, 2013 at 12:53 pm

        Another that comes to mind is Jason Deli’s. In fact, a lot of deli’s are like this. But they are hard to come by.

  • Reply Brian June 13, 2013 at 8:27 am

    I understand where you are coming from, but sometimes you have to suck it up and go to lunch. The “networking” from these types of meals can pay huge dividends later. The same is true if you don’t go. The trick is to just balance it out and go occasionally. I would probably go any time my boss asked a group to go, you don’t want to be the ONE person who misses that and then your boss thinks you are a jerk.

    • Reply Johnny June 18, 2013 at 1:09 pm

      Agreed. It’s hard to put a price tag or budget amount on networking, but it’s worth at least a meal or two each month. That doesn’t mean it hurts any less when the bill comes out though.

  • Reply Heather June 13, 2013 at 8:31 am

    Thankfully I work in a very small office in the non-profit sector, so this kind of lunch time networking doesn’t happen. We all generally bring our lunch, or do our own thing. I never, ever go out for lunch; it’s so freakin’ expensive!!! And splitting the bill…that’s just crazy talk. I don’t know how people can justify it; the only time my friends and I ever do it is when all our meals are roughly the same price and we shared wine or a pitcher of beer or something.

  • Reply sarah @makingitmyhome.blogspot.com June 13, 2013 at 8:42 am

    AAAAAHHHHH I have been in the “lets-just-split-the-check” boat way too many times. If its reasonable, I’ll just keep my mouth shut but I really get (internally) frustrated and pissed if I order a water and small dish and everyone else orders the apps, multiple drinks, entrees, and desserts. I’ll never forget that one time I ended up paying close to $50.00 when my soup and water, plus tax and tip, barely cost $10.00.
    How does one possible bring up the awkward conversation when you are with new co-workers??? I usually pay for everything on a credit card (to earn miles-don’t worry, I pay off my credit card daily-one of my “stay-on-budget” tricks), but I started keep a little bit of cash for situations like this so I can say, “well, I only brought $10.00 but that is more than enough to cover what I ordered plus the tax and tip”. It works, I don’t feel like such a shmuck and don’t have to explain my tight budget.

    • Reply Becky @ RunFunDone June 13, 2013 at 9:18 am

      This is a really good technique!

    • Reply Johnny June 18, 2013 at 1:46 pm

      An Emergency “don’t look like a schmuck” Fund seems like a pretty good place to put a few bucks. Good tip.

  • Reply Carla June 13, 2013 at 8:52 am

    I work at a bar, and I never understand split the check people. It’s always one person with a $12 glass and one person with a $6 glass… Someone always loses. I’d suggest telling your server before you order that you’ll be on a separate check, solving the problem up front. It’s less stressful for your server if they know what kind of check you want, and it’s easier for you to skip the split routine.

    • Reply Johnny June 18, 2013 at 1:47 pm

      I remember it was slightly annoying splitting checks as a server. I’ve had a few places recently that refused to split the check up. Isn’t that weird? And lame?

  • Reply Emily @ evolvingPF June 13, 2013 at 9:04 am

    Why couldn’t you say that you wanted to split the check according to the individual meals? I had that come up a few weeks ago and I just pointed out that some in our party had drinks while I did not. It worked out. Your lunchmates couldn’t have failed to noticed that you ordered less.

    • Reply Johnny June 18, 2013 at 1:49 pm

      I could, but I feel like at least within my line of work/group of peers, it would do more damage than the few extra bucks are worth. One option would have been being the first one to speak up about how to split the checks, but I missed that boat.

  • Reply Becky @ RunFunDone June 13, 2013 at 9:17 am

    I hear ya! As part of my education, I had a year of internship where I was making less than minimum wage! My co-workers went out to eat all the time, and I think kind of resented that I didn’t join them very often…but we made less than minimum wage! I’m pretty sure their parents subsidized their incomes, but mine didn’t. When I feel that I must go out with people despite my desires, I often try to order the cheapest thing. It’s the WORST when they then decide to split the check!

  • Reply Ash K June 13, 2013 at 9:21 am

    I am an unpaid intern this summer and have run into this problem. Of four interns, I am the only one that works Fridays, so I get invited to eat out on Fridays so I don’t have to eat alone. If the other interns were around I could skip and eat with them. So far I have gone twice (thankfully they don’t split the check) as an attempt to network. I graduate in a year and this is a place I want to apply to after school so I feel like I need to try to get to know everyone. But it is tough on a college budget when you’re spending your summer working for free. At least one lunch I got to sit with the hiring manager and he told me what he looks for on a resume for the job I want.

    • Reply Johnny June 18, 2013 at 1:52 pm

      Ahh, the unpaid intern lunch proposition is the worst. Because you SHOULD network and mix and mingle, but your budget says no way. During my intern days, I’d pack a lunch and should a networking lunch opportunity arise, I’d tag along, order a drink, maybe an appetizer and call it good. Then I’d go back to the office and eat the rest of my lunch. My coworkers probably thought I was a glutton, but it allowed me to kill two birds with one stone. Unfortunately, the tactic would have failed with my “split check” scenario.

  • Reply Laurie @thefrugalfarmer June 13, 2013 at 9:26 am

    OUCH! I would’ve likely done exactly what you did, but I love Sarah’s idea. Who can complain if you don’t have any plastic with you and are still paying more than your fair share?

  • Reply K.Nicole June 13, 2013 at 9:29 am

    I was once a eating out lunch everyday, sometimes a sit down place sometimes like Chipotle. But yeah, everyday. And getting breakfast in the morning too from a place like Panera, which runs about $8. So, all in all I think I’d spend about $100 a week on eating out. I’ve since cut down, but I still do it more than I should.
    I do not like the split the bill thing equally unless we all ordered approx. equal things and I would never dream of saying lets split the bill if I got apps, drinks, and a huge main course.

    • Reply Johnny June 18, 2013 at 1:53 pm

      It’s an easy habit to get into. I’ve definitely had rough stretches of way too much eating out. Taking a once over on Mint.com and my budget usually whip me back into sanity.

  • Reply Alysia @ Slim Sanity June 13, 2013 at 9:32 am

    I so 100% relate to this. I don’t even get asked to go out to lunch anymore. I can never justify spending money on an overpriced meal when I can so easily bring food from home! Special occasions are okay, but those are a rarity. I know people who do this every day too, I just don’t get it. It always gives me a bit of anxiety too about splitting the check, this often happens when I go out with the girls for dinner. They order bottles of wine, I order a single drink. And it’s assumed I will help pay for it. Ah!

    • Reply Johnny June 18, 2013 at 1:54 pm

      Glad to know we’ve got a support group at least to commiserate with.

  • Reply Michelle June 13, 2013 at 10:13 am

    We hardly ever go out for lunch together at my work. Only for birthdays (there’s only 4 of us) and Christmas. Luckily I live in a state where splitting checks is completely unheard of too haha!

  • Reply Renee S June 13, 2013 at 11:03 am

    I think it is good you went out with them…but when it comes to splitting the check..I would just look the waiter in the eye and say, “You can just separate my check.” I wouldn’t imagine that anyone would think less of you or that they would even notice. I think us financey people forget that other people don’t worry or think about bills as much as we do. So while you are worried that they would think less of you, they are all just wanting to move on to the next topic of conversation. They are sorta like robots 🙂 Just make sure you have the waiters attention and I think you’d be good to go 🙂

    • Reply Johnny June 18, 2013 at 1:57 pm

      Haha. I’d like to think you’re right, but I don’t know if I could muster up the courage. It would definitely be an awkward moment, but maybe you’re right that the conversation would just move along.

  • Reply Tina June 13, 2013 at 11:12 am

    This is the top reason why I avoid lunching with coworkers. They usually want to split the check, and I feel like I’m subsidizing other people’s meals. I’ve been pretty good about bringing food from home, so I don’t get asked out to lunch anymore. I’ll make the rounds and chat a bit during breaks though, so I’m not too much of a loner, ha.

  • Reply Chris June 13, 2013 at 11:13 am

    I often just explain to everybody that I’m a cheap sonofgun. I even have gone as far as to tell them the percentage of my paycheck that I’m saving. They usually roll their eyes and consent to my idiosyncracies. Maybe one day I can influence them enough to pay attention to their finances like they should be already!

    All that being said, I usually always say no to these types of lunches since I live less than 5 minutes away from my office. I go home every day for lunch and cook up something relatively healthy to consume for the day. Helps with my diet AND my wallet.

    • Reply Johnny June 18, 2013 at 2:00 pm

      I think I’ve got this reputation actually, whether I’ve told people or not. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, but whatever.

      When we lived in Boston, I was also 5 minutes away from home and would eat at home every day with Joanna. We had a little routine of making some sandwiches, watching an episode of Arrested Development, and then heading back in. It was the best.

  • Reply E.M. June 13, 2013 at 11:19 am

    I’m thankful that we don’t go out to eat at work, everyone just orders in. We only get a half hour break so sitting down somewhere isn’t really possible. Everyone orders lunch everyday though, and it adds up quickly! I always bring lunch, I can’t justify the costs. That sucks that you found yourself in that situation (and if it were me I wouldn’t have said anything either; I am pretty shy) but I think a few comments had good suggestions. Hopefully it doesn’t happen again!

  • Reply Stephen at SE June 13, 2013 at 11:45 am

    This is a great conversion. I actually really enjoy going out to lunch with others. I try to do it on a fairly regular basis. We do live in a college town with tons of local restaurants that are relatively in expensive. I often suggest several restaurants to choose from that are all in my price range so others can pick but I can still be comfortable. It a good point you brought up because I didn’t realize how stress inducing ‘lunches’ were to so many other people.

    • Reply Johnny June 18, 2013 at 2:01 pm

      What’s sad is that I also really enjoy going out with coworkers. But I probably should be more proactive about choosing a place and inviting instead of waiting for others to come around with an expensive decision already made.

  • Reply debtperception June 13, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    I seriously screamed out loud when you said you handed over your credit card. NO!!! I definitely would have spoken up. On top of being stingy about my money, I also have TMJ and eat like a bird so what I get is usually small in comparison to most people. If I go out to eat with friends (never been out to eat with co-workers) and we share a pizza, I’ll have one slice, no way in hell I’m splitting it 3, 4 or even 5 ways! I’m paying for my one damn piece! But you ordered your own separate plate and didn’t share appetizers, that’s completely different and I would have been hellbent on paying for what I bought, ONLY!

  • Reply Jake @ Common Cents Wealth June 13, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    I completely understand where you’re coming from. I normally go out every 2 weeks with my coworkers, but we never split the bill. It just doesn’t seem fair to split the bill when everyone orders different things. I feel bad saying no to them, but I have to or else our food budget would be blow out of the water.

  • Reply jrm June 13, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    I hate when that happens. Happened a few times with me. Worst was when four of us went for happy hour drinks to a swanky local steak place. My single, happy hour priced glass of (a delicious and well worth it) wine was about $7. One of my coworkers didn’t bring cash (she never does — which is a whole never level of drive-me-crazy when trying to split bills) and for whatever reason I wound up putting in about $10 (something like that…it was wayyy too much) extra to cover her part since she didn’t have cash.

  • Reply EcoCatLady June 13, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    And people wonder why they can never seem to make ends meet… I seriously can’t believe that people go out for lunch EVERY DAY!

    I guess this is one area where having multiple severe food allergies comes in handy. Back when I was still working I got really good at dealing with this situation. Fortunately everyone I worked with was totally broke, so everybody always paid for their own food, but it still struck me as a ridiculous amount of money to blow on food, even without the ambulance ride to the ER! I generally just ate my own lunch at my desk and then sometimes I’d tag along with my friends and just have water.

    • Reply Johnny June 20, 2013 at 1:58 pm

      Maybe now would be a good time to “discover” some of my own food allergies. 🙂 Seriously though, I just need to be more upfront and tell people my budget is pretty tight and I’ll pass. At the very least, maybe it will help my coworkers think twice about the amount of money they’re blowing every month on their own food budget.

  • Reply JMK June 13, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    Generally, nobody in our office goes out for lunch, unless there’s a special work anniversary or a retirement to celebrate. Then depending on the occasion the manager pays, or we just ask in advance for separate bills. Theoretically we all have 30 mintues for lunch and most of us just eat at our desks and keep on working. Yes we need to get lives. At best a few will take their lunch (brown bag or cafeteria) into an empty meeting room and have a little break and a chat. Those are the lunches I like best. Everyone ate what they wanted and we all took a break from looking at our spreadsheets. There’s a fridge in the office kitchen and everyday it’s packed with lunch bags. There are many people in the office who could afford to go out everyday, but nobody really has the time. The rest of the people are either very frugal, or very health conscious and use their lunch to go to the onsite gym or go for a walk.

    The only time I can recal going out with coworkers where we split the bill equally was a farewell lunch at a chinese restaurant where we ordered several dishes which we all split. I never carry cash (love the rewards on my card too much, and pay it off weekly) so every one contributed the identical amount of cash which I scooped up and put the entire amount on my card (and got the points). On the drive back to the office I deposited the cash into my bankaccount and a couple of days later paid off the CC. I love those free flights and it’s even better when I can earn them with other people’s money!

    • Reply Johnny June 20, 2013 at 1:59 pm

      I really like the idea of coordinating with coworkers who also bring lunches from home. I usually just eat by myself at my desk… sounds sorta miserable, but I promise it’s not that depressing. But it would be more enjoyable to walk around and eat outside with some peers without the hurt on the wallet.

  • Reply Newlyweds ona Budget June 13, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    I hear you on going out to lunch. I rarely do it, like maybe once a month if that and my coworkers know this. Not only is it a money thing, but it’s a health thing too. I eat way better food if I bring it from home.
    But that being said–if I’m planning on going out to lunch with co-workers, I need to realize to just let go a little and budget a little bit more. You said it yourself that it’s a once in a blue moon kinda thing, it wouldn’t kill you to split the check and maybe it’s in the area I live, but I would rather pay $5 more than my share and not being considered the cheapskate of the group.
    I mean I’m kind of shaking my head at some of these comments. People complaining about overpaying $3? Then just don’t go out ever with other people, if you can’t even enjoy yourself because you’ve overpaid $3. I’m not saying you can’t be in control of your money, but to realize that going out to eat, should count as part entertainment in addition to dining out.

    • Reply Johnny June 20, 2013 at 2:01 pm

      Good point on the health thing. And if my coworkers do choose a healthy place, count on that meal being extra pricey.

      I’m with you. I’m much more concerned about giving off a bad impression than saving a couple bucks each month. It doesn’t make the situation less uncomfortable, but it’s worth biting my tongue to maintain good, normal working relationships.

  • Reply Heidi June 13, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    I totally second the food allergies thing!! It’s SUCH a pain to have to go to extremes and kinda embarrassing sometimes when I have to be *that* person who is super-particular with their order. However, it does save me money with groups since lots of people like to go to Chipotle and I am allergic to just about everything short of plain chips on their menu. So if I tag along to be social, I just get a soda while I’m there and eat the lunch I brought back at the office. Even if we do eat out as a group, my food tends to stand out since there is usually some form of notation that my dishes are to be allergy free.
    To avoid doing the “we’ll split the check evenly” situation, I usually try to take charge when the waiter puts down the check. If it was not already split by person, I offer a pen and write the last 4 digits of the credit card number by each person’s order, to make it easier for the server to correctly split the order. It still bothers me when people don’t tend to tip properly in a group though, so I usually end up spending a bit more on the tip than I usually would.

    • Reply EcoCatLady June 14, 2013 at 2:58 am

      Ahhh… Chipotle – I know it well. Actually, the music school where I used to work was less than a mile from the original Chipotle restaurant before it became a chain. Why oh why do they have to put cilantro in EVERYTHING?

    • Reply Johnny June 20, 2013 at 2:04 pm

      I’m sorry you can’t enjoy the beauty that is a Chipotle burrito. Hopefully they’ve got some sort of burrito option that keeps you away from your allergies.

      I like the CC# by the meal idea. Smart thinking.

  • Reply Erin June 13, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    My office is VERY social and people go out to lunch downtown every dang day. I go once a week to not feel like an outcast and because I enjoy it as a treat, but when I order (almost always the cheapest thing with a water) I ask the waiter to go ahead and split my check. “I’ll have the 1/2 club sandwich with a side salad and a water. Do you mind just going ahead and putting mine on a separate check?” That way there is no awkward discussion at the end of the meal, “Let’s just split this.” doesn’t mess up my budget, and I don’t feel like a Scrooge by pointing out I didn’t get appetizers and seafood pasta. I find that being proactive is the key… if I forget to mention the separate check at the beginning then I often feel bad asking for it at the end and always regret it.

    • Reply Johnny June 20, 2013 at 2:06 pm

      Asking beforehand to split it is another smart strategy. I’ve got all sorts of new tactics to try out next time. And like you said, proactivity/assertiveness is the key.

  • Reply Byron June 13, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    This post was both spot on and hilarious in how accurate it is. I know EXACTLY what this feels like and it isn’t cool..especially the “you guys down to split the check” part. That is actually a big pet peeve of mine, now that I think of it. And it’s not that I am cheap, it’s just people who do this habitually just don’t understand that you could possibly object to such an innocent proposition even though ate your $8 hamburger and must now subsidize your friend’s $40 ribeye steak. I guess saying “no, it’s cool” is the safer option a lot of times, but how about when you’re out with friends for a birthday dinner and this happens?? So frustrating..

    • Reply Johnny June 20, 2013 at 2:08 pm

      Yeah, I haven’t had to deal with this with people I’m close to like friends/family, but I’m pretty sure I’d pipe up in that situation. But I’m sure it’d be wayy more frustrating. What makes it hard is that I don’t think that the “check splitters” are even looking to rip anyone off. I’d almost prefer it that way. Instead, they’re just so oblivious to what things cost and budgeting that they just assume everyone spends like they do.

  • Reply Prudence Debtfree June 13, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    If I can give some unsolicited advice, it’s this: The next time someone asks you if you want to go to lunch, say, “Thanks, but I’m going to have pass on that. We’re trying to get out of debt.” I say this myself, and I’ve found that the only response I get is a respectful acceptance. There’s a chance that some people might feel a bit sorry for you, or that others might judge you as uptight, but the more you say it, the more confident you’ll be in your stand, and the less you’ll care what they think.

    • Reply Johnny June 20, 2013 at 2:11 pm

      Actually, that’s exactly what I used to say when we were getting out of debt. And for whatever reason, I stopped using that line. Well, to be fair, we’re not in debt anymore, but the reason remains the same with a twist: we don’t want to get BACK into debt. In the past, I also found that it brought up some really good conversations with coworkers about budgeting and debt, so maybe it’s time to pipe up more about my real reasoning for avoiding lunch.

  • Reply Britt June 14, 2013 at 12:41 am

    Same situation for me, except that it was a friend-of-a-friend’s birthday. When I heard it was a pizza place, I figured we’d be fine. The first bad sign was that it ended up being in Scottsdale, AZ, which pretty much guarantees small, tasteless dishes with at least one extra digit to the left of the decimal point. The rest of the table ordered drinks and appetizers, dinner and dessert, while my boyfriend and I split a $20 Caesar salad and drank water. They pulled the ol’ let’s split the check 4 ways thing as well. Our final individual bill????? $85….plus tip. I raised a huge fuss with my friend privately, and told her there was no way we could afford to do something like that again. Everyone ended up offended enough to not invite us out again, but oh well. We’ll stick to our hole-in-the-walls or host dinner at home from here on out.

    • Reply Johnny June 20, 2013 at 2:13 pm

      UGHHHH!!!! That made my blood boil just reading it! So so frustrating. I’d definitely rather not get invited again if it meant having to shell out $85 +tip on a caesar salad. No thanks.

  • Reply Amanda June 14, 2013 at 7:55 am

    I usually decline lunch invites for this very reason. Throwing out a reason seems to help – “Sorry, I’m cutting back on going out because I’m ________” (saving for my wedding/paying for grad school with cash/getting my transmission replaced). Those times when I do go, as some others have suggested, I ask the server to split my check immediately to make things less awkward when it comes time to pay the check. But I’m usually happier when I don’t go – I hate it when co-workers complain that they live paycheck to paycheck or have a second job but I see them going out to lunch every dang day.

    • Reply Johnny June 20, 2013 at 2:19 pm

      “Sorry, I’m cutting back on going out because I’m ________.” I need to reintroduce this line into my arsenal of excuses. Because it’s true and there’s always something we’re saving toward, even if it’s retirement.

  • Reply Kathy June 14, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    great post. Brings back not-so-fond memories of this happening when I was working. Some great suggestions in the comments section, too. Wish I heard them years ago. Just found your blog and am enjoying it. thanks for blogging!

    • Reply Johnny June 20, 2013 at 2:19 pm

      There have been some AWESOME suggestions. It’s why we love blogging. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  • Reply Leslie Beslie June 17, 2013 at 10:30 am

    Before I read pf blogs, I would always pay for my own meal even if someone suggested splitting the check. I didn’t know this was rude or a point of contention with people. Then I started reading these blogs and realized that not everyone does that. Is it a matter of manners? I just don’t understand why I should pay for other people’s drinks & appetizers?

    • Reply Newlyweds on a Budget June 17, 2013 at 2:09 pm

      I honestly think it depends on where you live. I live in southern california where splitting the checks equally is usually the preferred method, especially if you’re going out with friends. But some people are ardently against it, and I have come to realize that they live in different parts of the country. Might make for a good post? Perhaps it depends on where you live whether you’re a check splitter or a pay your own way kinda person.

      • Reply Johnny June 20, 2013 at 2:22 pm

        That’s a good point. We’ve lived in cities where most restaurants wouldn’t split checks. Period. So in those cities, we learned to carry cash and pay for our own meals. I do think there’s probably something to the region. And I think it would make for a really interesting post.

  • Reply Carolyn June 18, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    The people I work with go out to lunch every day. I go out to lunch once every couple of weeks with a friend outside of work and usually don’t spend more than $10. I’m considered the non-social person on my row, but that’s okay. I can’t afford the cost or the calories and it works for me. As for splitting the check evenly, I never do that. When I go out with a group, we split the check based on what each person had. I’m not willing to finance somebody’s awesome lunch while I have the budget lunch.

    • Reply Johnny June 20, 2013 at 2:28 pm

      That’s probably another good point: find the right people to go out with. I have a lot of friends and a few coworkers who know my obsession with budgeting, so they would never consider inviting me out to an expensive place.

  • Reply Melanie June 18, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    Haha this happens with me at my work. My coworkers have just come to know now “Obviously Melanie brought her lunch” and I smile and nod. Occasionally, once or twice a month, I will join in lunch and I really enjoy it when I do. 🙂 But I certainly think it’s very tempting everyday to think of all the more “delicious” lunches they will be having, compared to my lunch, haha. I guess I just have to remind myself how wonderful it feels to be meeting my financial goals. 🙂

    • Reply Johnny June 20, 2013 at 2:29 pm

      Amen. PB+J’s taste a lot better when you know you’re staying on budget. 🙂

  • Reply W June 22, 2013 at 6:50 am

    Great post and very relatable!

    Check-splitting aside, there are absolutely different work lunch norms depending on your field and where you live. We work in Manhattan where going out to lunch is definitely a thing. My husband works in insurance, where a lot of deals get done over lunch — while he is often treated to lunch by the company he’s meeting with, going out to lunch with coworkers or other situations where you buy your own is also the norm, and it’s somewhat expected and part of the nature of his job. In my field (design and construction) we usually hunker down at our desks and eat – I almost always bring my lunch.

    We’ve found a solution that works for us — we challenge each other to only buy one lunch and breakfast out a week — the rest of the time, it’s provided or we bring our own. I have a “work week food” tag in Mint that is enlightening for seeing how much you really spend! In practice, my husband often goes over his quota and I’m usually under but again, that’s the nature of our fields.

    Having a budget leaves room for flexibility and pleasure – sometimes it’s nice to treat myself to lunch out instead of eating last night’s healthy leftovers!

    • Reply Johnny June 22, 2013 at 12:44 pm

      Great comment and insights. You bring up a great point that for many, business happens around lunches and eating. And as such should be treated as a needed budgeted expense.

      My wife and I did a similar challenge when we lived in the city. I’d usually limit lunches out to once or twice a week and since she worked from home, she’d come down to Midtown and meet me for one of those occasions. This is where our “Eating out” budget stemmed from so that we could enjoy a few meals out, but be accountable for it.

  • Reply RMcGr September 27, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    I’m having this problem now. I got laid off from November 2011-July 2012. During that time my finances snowballed out of control. I’m working now, but I’m trying to clean up the financial mess I made during my lay off. Plus, the job I have now pays less than the one before. Two of my co-workers go out for lunch each week. They also live with their parents and only pay their personal needs and wants,like, cellphones, etc. I live on my own. I pay rent, a car loan, utilities, groceries, car insurance, student loans, credit cards, everything. I cannot afford to go out to eat every week. It’s too much. I’ve tried to explain that I’m on a budget and can’t do it. They don’t seem to understand. They say things like, “well we’re just going to *insert budget friendly restaurant*.” How do I tell them and make them understand I just cannot go out every week for lunch? Maybe I can fit once a month, but that’s absolutely it.

    • Reply Johnny September 30, 2013 at 2:47 am

      Frustrating, right?! Especially when you’ve tried to explain the fact that you have a budget. Maybe it’ll take you adding up the cost of their weekly meals for them to realize that that extra $30-$60/month could go toward your cell phone bill or utilities or groceries. And four meals isn’t worth sacrificing one of those things.

      Try to scale it back to once and a month and stick by your guns. You can still be a good coworker and friend without joining them for every meal.

  • Reply SR July 24, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    I’ve been going through this at work for quite a while but since getting transferred to a different area, my new coworkers take it further than just going out. Even if I say I brought my lunch, they assume we’re all eating together in a small meeting room or the breakroom. I’ve dodged them multiple times and eaten somewhere else– but if it’s not that then they’re inviting me out to a restaurant. I have limited funds and also REALLY enjoy my hour alone. This has happened at both work sections I’ve been in at my company. When I brought up finances, my old coworker would tell me she would pay for me. Causing more awkwardness and guilt on my part. If I brought up health, they’d said “we can go somewhere healthy” (even more expensive). And most recently since changing work locations, my new coworkers assume we’re all eating lunch in the tiny meeting room together. Every single day. They will actually seek me out to say it’s lunch time “We’ll all be in the meeting room when you’re ready!” There is no tv, only the sound of eating and talking. I can’t do it. Typically I deflect with “Oh, you’re going to lunch? Enjoy” and sneak off by myself somewhere. I like my coworkers a lot, but I don’t understand why we all can’t just go our separate ways for the hour. I agreed to go out with them today because it was payday Friday, and my coworker is already planning another outing for next week. I like being part of the group but am I the only one who can’t afford this?

    People say to just let them know I want to be alone- it bothers me that I should have to. Why would I want people in my face when I’m trying to eat, why would anyone? Besides a special occasion out at a restaurant every once in a while. I am totally fine with that.

  • Reply Rits September 6, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    I’ve been through this too many times to be polite anymore. I won’t miss critical networking and schmoozing time and I also won’t subsidize big lunch spenders. To the question “can we split this?” I answer, “I’ll just pay for my own, okay?”

  • Reply pigbitinmad May 19, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    I was watching a re-run of Mary Tyler Moore and in one episode, Ted Baxter invites Murray out to lunch. He pulls a brown bag out of his desk drawer and says “Sorry, Ted I brought my lunch.”

    Turns out the bag was empty and he kept it there just so he would have an excuse never to go out to lunch. I am actually going to use that if I am ever in that situation again.

    I used to work at a school and some of the staff used to really get excited about going to the Cafeteria (“It’s all you can eat man!!”). Thing is, I did not care and I did not want to spend the money….not even $10. Not to mention the fact that I did not want all the calories at lunch because then I feel like I have to skip dinner.

    And no, not only do they not comprehend why you don’t want to go, it actually makes people feel angry at you.

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