Q&A: Should I always pay for business lunches with a client?

Whether it’s you or your client, it’s up to the person who calls the meeting to foot the restaurant bill.

Q: One of my clients is keen on business lunches. Do I always have to pay?

A: if you’re inviting the client to eat while talking business, then yes. Etiquette rules are very clear here: you call the meeting, you foot the bill. That said, the same rules apply to the client. If it’s his or her idea to wine and dine while discussing the latest audit you’ve just completed, he or she can pick up the tab.

If you’re on the hook to pay, there are ways to make that bill-dropping-in-the-centre-of-the-table moment less awkward. For starters, says the Emily Post Institute, you can arrange payment with the restaurant when you first arrive by asking the waiter to hand the check directly to you at the end of the meal instead of putting it down, which gives your guest an opportunity to grab it. If you’ll be eating in a restaurant you frequent, you could give your credit card information to the front of the house and ask it to automatically make payment (including the tip percentage of your choice), which means you’re handed a receipt, not the actual bill. If your guest insists on paying, try saying something along the lines of, “Sorry Jim, this one’s on me. Next time, you can treat.”

Be firm but kind, which, by the way, is a good business trait to display anyway, says the institute.