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The Moneyist: ‘It’s outrageous that she would order something so expensive’: Should a vegetarian pay for a friend’s steak by splitting the bill 50/50? What’s fair?

Dear Quentin,

I recently had dinner with an old college friend at a well-known Italian restaurant with multiple locations in New York. (No, it wasn’t Olive Garden.) It’s a pricey place and the portions could feed a family of four. I ordered the signature Caesar salad ($19), as I am watching my weight since the pandemic, and I am a vegetarian. My friend, let’s call her Rachel (because that’s her name) ordered the beef lasagna ($37). 

When I saw her order something so expensive, I felt like ordering a soup or dessert to even the score, but I stayed with my salad. But if I’m being honest, I lost my appetite. My friend has put on weight over the last two decades and, while I have struggled with mine, I have managed to stay within 15 to 20 pounds of my college weight, except during the early days of COVID-19. If she wants to indulge, that’s fine by me. It’s her life. But is it fair for her to split the bill 50/50?

“It’s absolutely fine to say, ‘Would you mind leaving the tip since I only had the salad?’”

As for your meal: If the difference was a few dollars here or there, I would expect the carnivore (in this case) to say, “Mine was expensive. I’ll pay a little more.” You, the vegetarian, could take the opportunity to say, “That’s very nice of you, OK.” Or, “Don’t worry about it! I had more wine.” Of course, it’s always nice when someone offers, and sometimes that’s enough.

The lasagna cost nearly $20 more, almost twice what your salad cost. If your bill came to close to $100 including wine and sales tax, it’s absolutely fine to say, “Would you mind leaving the tip since I only had the salad?” She could say, “Yes, of course,” and nurse a resentment or not. Or she could raise an eyebrow and — unfairly, in my opinion — call you a tightwad.

Rachel is entitled to her humanity too. A friend should not make snarky comments about the other’s weight. You are annoyed with Rachel for not offering, and probably annoyed that you allowed yourself to pay $20 more. It’s your responsibility to speak up if she does not: Your money, your food, your prerogative. Carnivores should eat meat, not take a bite out of their companion’s budget.

But if we always waited for other people to take the initiative, we would be sitting in a restaurant waiting for that bill for an eternity.

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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Learn how to shake up your financial routine at the Best New Ideas in Money Festival on Sept. 21 and Sept. 22 in New York. Join Carrie Schwab, president of the Charles Schwab Foundation.

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