When you go out for coffee or dinner with a pal or girlfriend, you can pretty much figure out who pays. You know each other; you've got a system down. Maybe she paid for the last dinner, so now it's your turn? Or perhaps your pal is down-and-out, and it's understood that you'll be paying until he gets on his feet again.
But when you go out on a first date, there is no history between the two of you--thus, no way to easily determine who will pay for the date.
And then it gets even more complex. In our article, "Dating Advice for Middle-Aged and Older Adults," we say that the whole thing gets a "little more complicated, considering that both parties may have very different expectations about role expectations, chivalry, or independence."
So what's a person to do? None of these are rules set in stone--just suggestions and rough guidelines for paying on a first date:
The expectation is that you will buy your own coffee and they will buy theirs. Most people are completely accustomed to standing in line at a Starbucks with coworkers or friends, taking turns ordering and paying for their own drinks. So, transferring this to a first date is appropriate.
Yet buying the other person's drink probably won't empty out your bank account. If you're feeling even a little bit generous--and happen to like the person--it's a good idea to do this. Goodwill always goes a long ways.
Casual Dinner Date
The Dating Gurus don't recommend elaborate dinner dates for precisely this reason (and many others): who the heck will pay for this?
If it's a cheap, casual dinner or lunch (as we suggested), then that helps to defuse the question. It might be the kind of place where you order at the counter. So, just like at a coffee place, you take turns ordering separately, which means that you pay separately.
Dinner Date at a Sit-Down Restaurant
If it's a sit-down restaurant, where a server waits on you, you can still pay separately--at the end. Most restaurants will split the tab in half for you. Of course, one person will have ordered more than the other one. You'll just have to accept that kind of minor imbalance in the interests of simplicity.
If minor imbalances of that sort bother you, you can ask the server (at the time you are ordering) to write it up as two separate tickets.
At a Bar
It's a nice gesture for a man to pay for a woman's first drink. If you men care not to do this, then treat it just like a coffee date and pay separately. But be fully prepared for her snubbing you if you call to go out a second time.
Remember, we said first drink, not an entire night's tab. Even if it's one of those pricey girly drinks, you can afford it, guys.
When One Person Pays For Everything
When one person proposes something exotic or unusual (skydiving, indoor cart racing, etc.) or insists on an unusually expensive bar or restaurant, that person should pay for the date.