Food Freeloaders: How to order when someone else is paying

by epi on May 28, 2013

Q: Last night, my department was taken out to dinner by a professional contact. I am new to the company, and have the role as Senior Manager of the department. One of my employees ordered many drinks, an appetizer, an expensive meal (which was only half eaten) and then was the only person at the table to order a dessert.

I feel that it was inappropriate to ‘take advantage’ of a person’s kindness when being treated to dinner. I would like to set some guidelines for future business events as this will be something that occurs on a regular basis.

Can you please give me some guidelines for when someone else is picking up the tab for a business lunch/dinner?

A: We agree that employee acted inappropriately. He should have taken his cue from his hosts. It’s always best to err on the conservative side. If the hosts only had one drink, he shouldn’t have ordered several. The same holds true. The same holds true for ordering the meal. He shouldn’t be the only one ordering an appetizer and/or dessert. As to what to order, there are three guidelines:

  1. Order medium-priced dishes, not the most expensive on the menu.
  2. Know the food you’re ordering. This isn’t the time to be adventuresome and order something you’ve never had before. Not only might you not like it, but also it might be difficult to eat. You want your focus to be on the people at the table not on your food.
  3. Order food that is relatively easy to eat. Linguine with clam sauce is very tasty, but eating linguine is a challenge that’s nearly to leave your tie or blouse spattered with sauce.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Joanna May 29, 2013 at 10:17 am

Whether it’s another person treating me, or a company expense account, I’ve always tried to adhere to economy. IMO it doesn’t matter who’s paying for it, simply that it’s not me, and thus I owe it to them not to be greedy.


Brockwest June 2, 2013 at 11:32 am

This person has committed professional Darwinism. Their actions were certainly noted by everyone and their chance to continue succeeding in their business has diminished.
One should certainly follow the example of the host. If the host orders a basic salad, then you order a basic salad. If the host orders a fancy meal, then you order a fancy meal, but always something less than the host, unless the host urges you to try a certain dish, or states that they are on a diet, but please enjoy.
Drinking more than your companions is a huge red flag to company seniors. It is not unusual in companies to purposefully take note of what one orders and drinks at dinner, as a manner of judging the worthiness of that individual to advance.
In a work setting dinner, even the actions of one’s own guest is judged.
In the old time military world as well as business world, one’s entire family’s actions were part of the assessment.
One of the problems with being the only one to order dessert, it prevents the rest of the table from finishing and leaving if that is the desired plan.
Social graces are one of the subtle ways of finding if a prospect to climb the social ladder is ready.


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