Lunch with Partners: Who Picks up the Tab?

picking up the tab at lunchIf you’re out to lunch with partners, should you EVER pick up the tab? Oh, and also: you’re the youngest person present and the only woman. We’ve talked about summer associates paying for lunch, but Reader B has a slightly different situation.  Here’s her question:

I work in a small firm (12 attorneys) with a pretty casual atmosphere. There are 5 or so partners (“the guys”) and I am asked off and on to go to lunch with them; I am usually the only associate/only female asked to go. The guys are all about my dad’s age and can be somewhat old fashioned about manners with women. Most often we all just split the check, but from time to time one of the guys picks it up for the group. The lunches are casual and inexpensive. I am capable and fine with picking up the check for the group once in a while, but I’m not sure if that would come across awkwardly. What would you/the Corporette readers do? I think these lunches are good face time with the partners and are generally fun, I don’t want to be perceived as dead weight because I never reciprocate picking up the group check, but I also don’t want to create an awkward situation.

Here’s my $.02: there is no way these guys are going to let her pick up the tab because she’s the “kid” of the group — I don’t think it has anything to do with her being female. That isn’t to say Reader B shouldn’t try it, once — if she suggested the restaurant, or if she’s just had a nice bonus check, or if she’s celebrating something big (her first hearing or something) — go ahead, offer to pay in that magnaminous-I’m having such a great time and I want to treat you guys!-way — not an it’s-my-turn-dear-god-someone-help-me-figure-out-tip-math serious way.

Look at it this way, Reader B: whoever picks up the bill is probably expensing the lunch anyway (or he’s billing it to a client if you guys talked about the case at lunch) — unless you feel comfortable doing that, I’d skip it.

Psst: check out our previous posts on what not to eat at a business lunch, and business lunch etiquette

Readers, what are your thoughts — would you ever pay for lunch with a group of partners or bosses?

(Pictured: The Receipt, originally uploaded to Flickr by vxla.)


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Should You Ever Pay For Lunch with a Partner or Boss? | Corporette

Lunch with Partners: Who Picks up the Tab?



  1. oil in houston :

    this might be a know-your-company situation, but in my company (major industry), it is against our internal rules to pay for anything for someone more senior, as it could be seen as corruption/asking for favors / etc …. so this is a situation when I would either pay my share, or let pay …

  2. Not a lawyer, but firmly believe Most Senior Person always pays. You can, however, reciprocate in smaller ways (i.e. asking if anyone wants anything when you pop out for a coffee run — although, know your office, you don’t want this to come off as too Girl Friday).

  3. TO Lawyer :

    If I ever offered to pick up the tab with partners, it would be so immensely awkward and considered inappropriate. I agree the most senior person pays. Although I agree with ANP – you can reciprocate in smaller ways and I buy the partners I work most closely with small gifts at Christmas (wine or chocolate usually) – I know there are differing opinions on that but its considered appropriate in my office.

  4. workingmomz :

    No need to pay or offer ot pay. They keep asking you and it’s fine.

  5. I’m a partner, and I always pick up the check when I’m out with an associate or a younger relative. But this seems like a different situation, where they usually split the check but from time to time one of the guys picks it up for everyone. I suggest that she pick it up once in a great while, like now, near the holidays. She can do it cheerfully (e.g., “my treat for the holidays – you all are a terrific group to work and eat lunch with”). They will probably protest, and she’ll have to judge whether they’re protesting for form’s sake or if they really mean it. If they really mean it, she should give way. But I do think it’s nice to offer. (And FWIW I doubt they’re expensing it or billing it to a client.)

    • “(And FWIW I doubt they’re expensing it or billing it to a client.)”

      Assuming the LW is not ELLEN, you are probably correct.

      • anon-oh-no :

        totally agree — although this was probably true when Kat was practicing, even in BigLaw, you simply cannot expense random lunches during the work week. Clients don’t pay for that.

    • Senior Attorney :

      I agree with this. I think this is a situation where it’s best to conduct yourself as an equal lunch companion, which in this case means occasionally picking up the check. I like the idea of linking it to the holidays, or maybe to celebrate a big win now and then (bonus points for blowing your own horn, too: “My treat today! I’m celebrating that motion for summary judgment I just got granted!”). Even if they protest and you give way, give it a try every few few months anyway.

    • Yeah, I cannot imagine what a partner in my law firm would use as an excuse to expense a casual lunch with associates. I doubt it’s being expensed.

      • Lorelai Gilmore :

        I work in BigLaw and expensing the client for a lunch like this would never happen.

  6. Amelia Bedelia :

    No. Partner pays.

  7. I am a senior attorney and when I pick up the check as part of a partner/associate meeting (including lunch, drinks, whatever), it is a firm expense. It does not sound as if the Jr. associate knows whether the partner is ultimately footing the bill or turning it in as a firm expense. Firms budget for this. If a partner is expensing a lunch he picks up then there is no reciprocation needed. Whether reciprocation is appropriate in other situations is a case by case basis. If one is feeling awkward in a situation, it is irrelevant whether the partners should be buying or not. Yes, they should be buying, but no one wants to feel awkward.

    • anon-oh-no :

      totally agree that a partner will pick up the bill when its a lunch meeting, formal mentoring program lunch, etc., but it doesn’t sound like the OP is describing this type of lunch. Rather it sounds like you and I grabbing lunch a few times a month and does not sound like something that would be expensed.

    • Anonymous :

      Where the firm has only 5 partners, even “expensing it” hits their pockets pretty quickly.

      Since this seems like a friendly group (and God bless them for socializing with the young female associate so she can develop and not excluding her), I’d say this:

      I really enjoy these lunches. Can I pick up the tab today??

      I’m guessing the answer will be “no,” but at least you’ve asked and they realize you appreciate their efforts.

  8. I’m part of a lunch group that includes partners and associates, and we go out to a casual place a couple times a month. In that context, we typically split the check. If I go to lunch with my formal mentor, he picks it up and expenses it. If the lunch is actually a work lunch, the partner picks it up and expenses it. I’ve never paid for a partner’s lunch, and I don’t think a partner has ever paid for my meal out of his or her pocket.

  9. Anonymous :

    I occasionally have meals with a partner who is an informal mentor to me. He normally picks up the check, and I believe expenses it as mentoring. I recently offered to get the check at dinner and he accepted. I was a little surprised he accepted but I didn’t mind. I now plan to offer more regularly. The OP’s situation is even more informal since they’re normally splitting the bill. She should definitely offer to pick up the tab once in awhile.

  10. We very occasionally get lunch as a group (e.g. to celebrate the holidays or as a goodbye lunch), and the partners pick up the tab and split it. However, the very few times I’ve had lunch with a partner socially, we have split the bill, as we would have if we were both associates.

  11. What corporate world do you work in that partners don’t have corporate cards to pick up the tab for lunch? Also peanut I know you’re super duper proud of being the ‘only woman’ but you’re hardly the first woman to be a partner of anything and if you were really status you’d be owning your own firm. So park that giant ego about it. It’s a great achievement to make partner of anything but in the legal world it it’s more common than anywhere else and you could use a little humility. Give it a try! Or do a post about it.

  12. GoldMedallion :

    Most senior at the table pays… I think it’s a good gesture to show appreciation to offer to pick up a reasonable sized tab, but at my firm, usually it’s an unwritten rule that the the most senior folks will take care of the bill, or a couple will split it and take care of the junior folks.

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