By: Revanche

Business, Friendship, and Money Etiquette

October 30, 2009

I have no problems with making sure that my purely personal friendships jive well when money’s involved; I pay my way and assist friends in need within reason, we’re honest with each other about our limits, and it generally works out pretty well.  I have no problem with keeping my business money separate from personal money in a corporate environment, and generally dining out with the office has always been fairly straightforward: the office paid.  But what of the gray area in between?  Specifically, when you’re networking and not interviewing with or working for the person you’re dining with?  

From a purely business perspective, my friend/mentor advised me not to quibble over who paid the bill when I dined out with an older, successful, networking acquaintance.  “He can most certainly afford it, he invited you, and he can always write it off,” she asserts.  These points were all true, at the time.  The person in question is both gracious and helpful whenever possible leads come up, and has since taken the initiative to point me and my resume at highly placed persons who were interviewing for desirable positions.  [At which point it’s up to me so that there isn’t impropriety or influence on my behalf which I would never ask for or expect.]

But what happens when the acquaintance morphs into a semi-friendship?  When you’re meeting to catch up and tell stories, it’s no longer 100% business.  I feel like that development then brings with it the obligation to offer to, and even insist on, paying sometimes.  It’s only fair.  I don’t want my acquaintance/now friend to think that I simply expect a great meal at his expense; that’s certainly not the case. 

I’m aware that insisting on footing the bill when he has selected the restaurant, when he is more than financially comfortable [yes, finances have come up in the conversation in a career-related turn], and/or when I am unemployed seems to smack more of irrational pride than sense.  But I’m unemployed, not destitute, and it hardly seems right to assume that I shouldn’t pay simply because I don’t have access to a corporate account.  That seems like a recipe for brewing resentment; the line of reasoning that “you have more money than I, so let’s use your resources, thanks!” doesn’t sit well with me.  Neither party’s resources should determine who pays. It can certainly influence the selection of the experience, but I think fair means that both parties take it in turn to pay. 

How does the financial relationship change when your business relationship acquires shades of the personal?  How should it?

[Disclosure: This post is also published at the Carnival of Personal Finance.]

3 Responses to “Business, Friendship, and Money Etiquette”

  1. Matt says:

    In the past I’ve simply left it as if I’ve got the money and the other person doesn’t then I’ll dish out more coin. If I know the person is likely to insist on paying their portion and doesn’t want me to pay for all of it I’ll suggest a place that isn’t overly expensive. Just little things to keep the other person’s financial state in mind but not being dictated by it.

    Now when it comes to your mentor/firend have you considered the fact that their suggesting expensive places to eat could be a way of them treating themselves. It could something completely unrelated to finances.

    Either way its good to find a balance between the friendship and business when it comes to money etiquette.

  2. Anonymous says:

    If he’s inviting you out and uses his corporate card, then let him pay. When my friend-coworker comes to visit he will pay for our meal (of course, I chose the restaurant and pick something reasonable. Our meal rate is really low!) but I always offer to pay my half.
    The next time you make plans to meet up, you can suggest something and/or mention that you’d like to treat him…because you’re friends, to thank him, etc.

  3. Revanche says:

    Matt: The thought that he was choosing these restaurants based on his own wishes did occur to me, I’m not sure there’s a polite way to find out. 🙂

    Karen: I let him pay this last time, but he used cash! So now I’m thinking it’s not goin to be corp card anymore.

    I did tell him he has to come out and try a burger joint I love so I’m definitely paying for that one.

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