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The Moneyist: ‘This guy grifted me hard’: My date chose an exclusive L.A. restaurant. After dinner, he accepted my credit card — and we split a $600 bill. Shouldn’t he have paid?

Long story short: I met a man for dinner last week. I usually try FaceTime or even a daytime coffee at Starbucks SBUX, -1.43% or Verve Coffee Roasters in West Hollywood — for safety reasons — when there are a lot of people around, but this time I took one look at his joyful pictures and his jet-set lifestyle (if I’m being honest) and I thought, ‘What the hell? What could go wrong?’ Famous last words. This guy grifted me hard. 

He chose the restaurant. It’s a fancy place on Melrose, which is great for people watching. It’s one of those places that attracts movie industry types and celebrities. The online menu does not list prices. If you have to ask, you can’t afford it. Well, I could not afford it. The bill came to $600. I fully expected him to pay. He drives a Tesla TSLA, -6.37% Model S Plaid Tri Motor ($127,590 a pop) and wore what appeared to be a custom suit. He probably eats at these places five times a week. 

He was, is, a successful, smartly dressed guy with bundles of confidence and smiles, but oh boy, could he eat and drink. He ordered two glasses of champagne to start, and then we each had a cocktail, followed by the chef’s tasting menu, and we shared a bottle of wine. He’s a TV producer, and probably earns more money in a month than I earn in a year. The bill came to over $600. I put down my credit card fully expecting him to throw it back at me, but he didn’t.

We had a pretty good time, especially given the food (which was excellent) and the copious amounts of alcohol we drank. I am just out of a long-term engagement, which lasted three years, and he seemed both interested and, frankly, taken aback by that. My ex was a narcissist, and I’m better off without him. We ended up splitting the bill. I could not believe my eyes. I work in PR, I’m 26, and I don’t even earn six figures. I’m still reeling from this.

As he chose such an expensive restaurant, shouldn’t he have paid? He texted to make sure I got home OK. What should I do if he wants to meet again? 

Sticker Shock

Dear Sticker Shock,

Well, we now know at least one reason why he can afford his jet-set lifestyle.

I redacted the name of the restaurant, but I looked it up, and it sure does look like a nice place. You’re right: The restaurant does not list prices alongside its menu online. In fact, I had to go to Yelp to get an idea of the prices. If they don’t have prices online, and you have to ask how much they are, as you say, you probably can’t afford to eat there. Never assume that someone else is paying, even if you (or even I) believe he should have paid. So you proffered your card, and he accepted it. He’s either a schmuck or someone who believes in culinary equality.

You must have known this would cost a pretty penny. The chef’s tasting menu will also be far more expensive than any other item. It’s nine courses. This is where ordinary mortals — people who do actually have to be at work at 9 a.m. in the morning, and stick to a monthly budget — go for a big celebration like an “0” birthday. You drank cocktails, and champagne, and you ate like this was your last meal before a meteor hit planet Earth. You can’t say “yes” to every expensive item on the menu just because you assume someone else will pay. 

Should he have paid? I’m torn. One part of me says, “If he chooses a very expensive restaurant, and there is clearly an economic gap, then — yes — he should pay.” But another part of me says, “If it were a gay couple, should the person who chose the place split the bill?” Not necessarily. Here’s what people don’t admit: “I’ll pay for it because we had a good time, and if you accept my gesture it’s your way of saying we are going to meet again.” It would be churlish to watch someone fork out $600 knowing you will never see them again.

‘You can’t say “yes” to every expensive item on the menu just because you assume someone else will pay.’

Here are a few takes from some female members of the Moneyist Facebook Group. Angela wrote: “Listen, if you’re going to pay, then by all means pull out your card. But don’t play a game to seem agreeable. It always backfires.” Gail added: “Lesson to be learned: First date is always, always, always coffee.” And Jeanie added: “He let you pay half because that’s most likely what he does with all the women he goes out with. You can’t afford to pamper him.” Suzy was a bit harsher: “Call the $300 an education, and block his number.”

A grifter is a swindler. That is, he goes to the restroom to powder his nose, and he never comes back. The bitter truth: You walked into the restaurant with your eyes wide open. You could have said, “I prefer to go Dutch. Let’s go somewhere a little cheaper.” He might have said, “It’s on me.” Then you could decide whether or not to go. But that too comes with complications. What if you hated each other? What if he was pro-abortion and you were anti-abortion? Or vice-versa? What if he was a Republican and you were a Democrat? Or vice-versa?

There are so many reasons why it’s safer and healthier to go Dutch. Some men (and women) see how the evening progresses before deciding whether to stump up for the entire bill. What if you did not want to see him again? Would you still allow him to pay? Would he pay under those circumstances? It’s safer to stick to a place within your budget. You called his bluff, and he saw the bill too, and may have thought, Oh, ****!’ And in the moment decided to take you up on your generous offer to split it, given that you both lived high on the hog all evening. 

It’s not a dealbreaker. Personally, I like that you paid half. It’s 2022. Good for you!

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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