Brunch with Visiting Family: Who Pays?

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of catching up with my cousin, his wife, and their kids. They live across the country, and were in the area to visit her family. We got to meet up with them for brunch, and have a short visit and reconnect.

We agreed to meet a place I had suggested, in the same town where they were staying, but about 40 minutes from my home. My thought was that I wanted to limit their driving, and plus I knew a good place for brunch for us to meet.   As it turns out, the place at which we met – the one I suggested – had a 1 hour wait. Not ideal for a group full of young children! So, we got in our cars and headed over to another local place where the wait was maybe 15 minutes.

As we were getting seated, the waitress asked in passing if we wanted one check or separate checks. My cousin quickly replied that we wanted one check. At first I paused and thought “wait a minute, I hope he doesn’t think he’s picking up the tab!”, but then I quickly forgot.  Figuring out where the adults will sit and where the kids will sit ended up distracting me a bit. Such is the life of  parents of youngsters:)

Anyway, we had an extended brunch, talked about a few family-related tings, and then the check came.  At that point, I assumed that I would be picking it up.

Why, you ask?

Well, you see, I think that if people are from out of town and are taking time to meet you,  it’s being kind to try to pay for the meal. I realize not everyone would see it that way, but I do. Now, they didn’t travel to the area specifically to see my family, as we were a side visit for them. That said, they are my relatives, and they don’t live around here.  So, I wanted to buy them brunch when I met them.

So with that in mind, let’s review the options to be considered in this situation.

  1. I pay, since I live locally and they’re from out of town (my preference)
  2. He pays, since they’re from out of town paying us a visit
  3. We split the bill
  4. We pay for what we ordered (they had 5 in the party, my party had 3)

The most equitable and fair approach for any meal regardless of circumstances would be #4 – we pay for what we buy. However, I just didn’t want to do that with family from out of town, even if it’s the most fair approach.

Thus, I just felt like the best approach was to treat them.

Well, it didn’t go down that way!

When the waitress brought the check, my cousin pounced on it like a tiger going after raw meat. He insisted that they buy, and his wife chimed in a bit as well. Despite my protestations, they bought the whole meal.

Those of you who read Squirrelers regularly might remember my article on The Extractor, where a couple I know regularly skipped out of paying for meals. I hated that. So, the idea that I let my cousin and his wife pay for the whole meal clearly isn’t something I would have chosen!

Anyway, they were well-intentioned and gracious and I hope I accepted the meal graciously, and that’s that. Of course, I have a long memory, so he won’t be able to pull something so easily in the future:)

My Question For You

How would you have handled this situation?

Would you have been like me, feeling an automatic need to buy them brunch – and a bit guilty afterwards when they bought?

Keep in mind that he may be reading this:)


  1. says

    Your cousin paying was a very nice gesture on his part. You genuinely tried to pay for at least your own share so I think after protesting a few times you’re off the hook and should just say thank you. You don’t want to have a wrestling match over it since it would just ruin brunch for everyone.

    Another option might be to pay the tip? It’s not nearly as much as the whole bill but is at least something.

  2. says

    Traditionally, the “host” would have more expectation to pay. However, your guest wanted to pay, and insisted on it – then so be it. At the next meal you ask for one bill and remind him, prior to the bill arriving, that it is your families turn to grab the tab.

    • Squirrelers says

      Sustainable PF – I agree with your assessment of the situation. Pay attention, Cuz, if you’re reading this! :)

  3. says

    Your cousin obviously had intended to pay, and it didn’t seem like there was any waiting around to see who would blink. I would just indicate that, even though you don’t see each other all that often, you’ll get the next bill when your families get together.

    Good that you got to catch up!

  4. says

    I would’ve done exactly what you did Squirrelers! If they insist, I’ll let them pay, but I’ll make sure they don’t take the tab the next time.

  5. says

    I have always been taught by my parents that the individual who invites is the one who pays. In order to assure that it goes down that way, I will usually qualify at the invitation that it is my treat. However, I was also taught not to argue with someone wishing to be generous. Protest once or twice, but if they are insistent, then allow them to pick up the tab. It seems like you behaved reasonably.

    • Squirrelers says

      cashflowmantra – thanks, it happened so fast…as these types of things usually do. I didn’t want to argue, the offer from him was genuine.

  6. says

    I don’t think you should feel bad. He obviously wanted to treat, & you don’t argue with a tiger! Next time you get together you can tell the waiter as you are ordering to be sure to give the bill to you. You won’t have to try to pounce before he does that way. I’ve seen pouncers & they can be extremely skilled! lol

  7. says

    It’s a difficult situation. In general, even though I’m in my late twenties, when I go home, my family tends to (apparently) want to pay, even though I have a good (read: much-higher-paying) job. It’s gotten to the point where we generally split the bill, which I think I prefer from a “being a reasonable adult” standpoint, but it sure was a sweet gig when they paid!

    • Squirrelers says

      Bryan – it is what it is sometimes, right. I know what you mean about the reasonable adult standpoint, I’ve experienced that type of thing too in different situations with other people

    • Squirrelers says

      iamtheworkingpoor – I do feel bad as the host that I didn’t pay. That said, he did jump at the check with generosity, which was nice of him!

  8. says

    As soon as the other party says one check, I assume they are paying for it. That would have been a good time to protest and suggest an alternative.

    • Squirrelers says

      krantcents – that’s clearly what he was thinking ahead of time. I got wrapped up in kids seating arrangement and got distracted.

    • Squirrelers says

      Melissa – yes, that’s what’s going to happen. Again, Cuz, if you’re reading, I’ve got next! :)

  9. says

    Those situations are so tough. I hate when the server asks that question because if I don’t say “1”, I always feel cheap.

    Anyway, I am a little crazy and have a hard time with people paying for me. However, I have learned to be gracious as I have gotten older is that people do enjoy treating others. I have learned to accept it and say “well next time is on me”.

    In the future when arranging plans, you could say “I would like to treat your family to brunch at X restaurant”. Then it is clear up front and nobody can argue!

    • Squirrelers says

      Everyday Tips – I’m like you, I feel bad about others paying for me. I’d rather treat others. But, we do have to be gracious, you’re right. I’ll get the next meal, one way or another:)

  10. says

    Your cousin sounds like a worthy opponent, skilled in the ways of check-fu.
    I have similar issues with my brother-in-law. It’s a constant game of move and counter-move to determine who gets to pick up the check.
    Next time, get up from the table on a pretext, find the server, and tip them an advance 5 or 10 bucks to make sure you get the bill delivered to you.

    • Squirrelers says

      101C – Check-fu? Ha! He was a karate master as a kid, ironically enough. Had like 50 trophies. When someone like him, expects to pay, I’m not pushing it…:)

  11. says

    My husband has a friend who does this; he likes to be the one to pay for everyone. We try to even it out by paying for meals the next time we see him. All in all it probably works out to be pretty even. I think you handled it well. Oh, there is one way to make sure you pay for the check, during the meal take a “restroom break.” Give your card to the server and when they return with the check, it’s already paid for. My husband has been known to do this when he knows people will “fight” over the check.

    • Squirrelers says

      Little House – you’re right about that trick. Actually, I’ve had the walk to the restroom trick pulled on me before, but by an extractor who left the table right as the bill was coming:)

  12. says

    Hi Squirrelers,

    For me, given that situation, yes I would have been like you wanting to pay for the check because I think that it’s a natural reaction that we would like for our visitors to have as pleasant an experience of their visit as possible and giving them a treat is one way of doing that. I think I would also feel guilty and somehow a little cheated if I’m not able to do that that’s why I also agree with the suggestion of returning the favor next time.

  13. says

    In reading the post, when I got to the point where you cousin called for one check, I assumed he would pay. It would have been a bit awkward for him to ask for one check and then allow you to pay it. You did fine…next time (because you have a long memory), it can be your treat.

    • Squirrelers says

      Joe – I was preoccupied up front when he asked for one check, though it did cross mind mind for a moment that this is what might happen. Oh well, next time!

  14. says

    I always pay for the visitors, but you did fine. They insisted and it is only polite to accept it and not make a scene. You are returning the favor next time, so it is all good.

    With that said, I would have guessed his intention to pay when he asked for a single check.

    • Squirrelers says

      Suba – Thanks, it’s good to avoid making a scene, though sometimes that can be entertaining to watch people fight over the check. That’s how I was raised, to step up and pick up the tab for visitors. Which is why I felt bad that they bought me the brunch.

  15. says

    I would have offered to pay automatically since I too like to treat my out-of-town family and friends, but I also would have graciously accepted it if they wanted to pay. I offer twice – one real offer and one real “but really”. After that, I’m happy to have enjoyed a free meal. :-)

  16. says

    I had a recent situation where houseguests suggested dinner out with other relatives in the area. I thought that they were hosting since the ideas was theirs. When the check came, they didn’t attempt to pick it up so I ended up paying.

    • Squirrelers says

      Kay Lynn – so your guests wanted to have dinner with other people? Then you paid the tab? Well, I guess as the ultimate host in that case, you stepped up well and handled it. Sometimes things happen, I suppose.

  17. J says

    What do you do when you go visit your grandma where she stays at a nursing home, your cousin and his son lives nearby and always make time to see us when we are in town and every time, when it’s about to go out to eat, our cousin and/or his son always without a fail, would suggest places THEY want to go, implying they are a good place to go? Now, we are a family of 5 and my sister-in-law rides with us. We always stay at a hotel. So, when it come to dining out, their cousin expects us to pay although he would try to get his wallet and one paid for all our meal, a couple of times maybe when it was my husband visiting but for every year (once, 2x or 3x, depending) we have been going to visit our grandma (about over 10 years), we always pay…when I say we, it’s either my husband or his sister. I’m okay paying for these meals, sometimes I get mad and felt taken advantage when his cousin should know, we are a one income family, traveling 5 hours one way and paying hotel and gas and expects us to pay every time. My husband is too nice to say anything or don’t want to offend anyone’s feelings. He felt he is had to do it coz he feels bad. The last time it happened, his cousin and his gf told my husband they are going to stop by the hotel to get breakfast together. Apparently the hotel restaurant and breakfast they served where my husband and my sister in law were staying was too small that his cousin suggested this high end hotel that serves brunch. And oh,they have been mentioning this brunch for the last few visits, how they heard rave reviews about it and that we should give a try. As you know where this was headed, my husband ended up paying for all 3. I don’t know if his cousin tried to act like he was going to pay and my husband picked up the tab, I don’t know. As far as I know, few weeks before this, my sister in law (the same one who rode with my husband on the last trip) visited their grandma along with her husband. And same strategy, they suggested a place where to eat and it turns out it was a very expensive restaurant. When the bill came, my sister in laws husband paid and he was shocked to see the bill…must have been $600 or so. Now, who won’t you be upset??? What would you do? We are probably going back there soon and what then?

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