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There are some things I love doing with my friends that I know they cannot afford to do on a regular basis. In particular, I love going out for a big sushi dinner every once in a while. This type of meal is often cost prohibitive for my "big eater" friends as a single roll/order of sushi can often be $10 for something that isn't particularly filling.

So, being the friend I am who also loves to spend time and eat with my friends, I often offer to treat my friends to the meal. However, this usually creates a bit of friction between me and a few of my friends who are averse to being treated. Responses are usually things like "Oh you don't have to" followed by them not wanting to go, them begrudgingly agreeing, or thinking they'll "owe me one". From one friend in particular, I feel as if he thinks this is a way of me asserting a form of financial dominance over my friends which is far from the truth.

For reference, during the dinner, there is zero tension from what I can tell and most people feel a lot more free to order what they want and try new things; it seems to be a genuinely fun experience for everyone once the whole cost aspect is gone.

Also, I usually (attempt to) treat my friends to something like this once every two months or so. Between these dinners, we often get together to do inexpensive things that everyone can afford to do frequently, so it's not like this is the only thing we do together.

Sometimes I've phrased this event as a celebration when I can ("Let's go out and celebrate your new job, Chadsworth! Sushi's on me!") and it's worked fine. However, it'd be pretty obvious if I always found an excuse to make it a celebration.

When I offer my friends this, I do this in a rather casual, no pressure way. I simply send them a group message (not as part of an existing group chat, a new one) saying something along the lines of "Hey guys, want to grab sushi on Friday? My treat." I don't pressure them to go or badger them about not wanting to go. Their sometimes negative reactions are either immediately upon receiving the request or based on something else someone said.

Also, for reference, although I'm usually the only one in my friend group who typically offers to treat people to anything, that doesn't mean the dynamic of me within my friend group is that of the giver (me) and the takers (my friends). My friends do their own nice things fairly often that I cannot do such as hosting events at their home (which I cannot do) or offering to give rides to people (such as myself) frequently. This is one way that I do like to give back to my friends and I'd like them to interpret this in the same way that they'd interpret getting a ride or having someone host at their house, because that's exactly how I see it.

How can I treat my friends to this somewhat expensive (~$200-300 among 3-5 people) dinner and avoid/mitigate awkward interactions?

I'm mostly looking for good ways to pose the event to people and ways to mitigate potential misunderstandings/misgivings over the offer.

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    Just to better understand the context, don't you have "all you can eat" kind of restaurants where you live? 10$ for a single roll seems a lot. – Andrea Lazzarotto Mar 3 '18 at 15:35
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    Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes. – user58 Mar 3 '18 at 18:40
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    @AndreaLazzarotto the highest quality authentic Japanese restaurants never do all you can eat or any type of buffet. It should all be made to order. – user1997744 Mar 4 '18 at 12:20
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    You are also asking for their time, which may be a scarce resource for them; and asking them to spend that time in a place which may not be their natural setting and leaving them uncomfortable. – Sam Liddicott Mar 5 '18 at 12:32
  • @user1997744 yeah but 1. you do not need to go to 5 stars Michelin guide level restaurants to eat well and 2. OP might need to adapt a bit if they want to keep bringing friends to eat sushi. Also, all you can eat does not negate made to order. – Andrea Lazzarotto Mar 23 '18 at 0:45

12 Answers 12

74

I've been in your friends' position. The way the benevolent benefactor made me feel comfortable was to set bounds.

Consider it from your friends' point of view. "He's invited me, but I know this stuff is expensive. I don't want to be a burden and then find out he thinks I overshot, me being a 'big eater' and all. Is it safe to get that dragon roll after I've already had three other rolls? The eel looks good but it's pricy; maybe I should get the salmon instead..." Your generosity places an unintended burden on the recipients, which adds stress.

Fortunately, you're going out for sushi. Every sushi place I've ever been to has had the large menu item intended for multiple people. So you can say to your friends: "I want to try out their sushi boat; will you help me eat it?" You've established up front how much you're offering to pay, so they don't have to angst over menu choices, and casting it as a request that they help you.

I haven't been on either side of the boat thing, but one person who treated me to a meal I wouldn't have otherwise paid for used this approach: "I'm planning to order the steak and lobster (which was the most expensive thing on the menu). Please, get whatever you want." This allayed concerns that I might, as the guest, overspend the host, which would have felt funny to me. This was particularly a concern because waiters often start taking orders with a woman, so that would have meant I was going first without knowing what he would order.

You are in a fortunate position in not having to care about the cost. I am now too, but from what I've seen and experienced, people who aren't are trying to avoid "taking too much". You can help with that by establishing a starting position like I've described.

52

I've gone through something very similar, except I was in your friend's shoes.

Whether you like it or not, giving people things builds an expectation that they should offer something in return. Your assurances that they don't owe you anything will probably do little to put their minds at ease, and will in fact only put more stress on your relationship.

You're looking at this situation purely from the position of a benevolent benefactor, as it were, and ignoring the fact that your friends may be feeling forced into accepting your generosity (perhaps by virtue of not wanting to miss out on a group event they could otherwise not afford).

You say that you simply want a night out with your friends, but you may not even realize how you're subconsciously setting yourself up to expect something in return from them. At the risk of sounding dramatic, this is toxic to the relationship.

My advice is to stop pushing people into situations they don't want to be in, because far from being generous, it's selfish (even if it's only subconscious). You want sushi. You want everyone there. You want those who can't afford it to accept your generosity. It's all about you, you, you, even though you're just being friendly, and offering to take people out on the town.

By all means, go out for sushi with those who want to tag along. However, if you know that offering to pay for people makes some of them uncomfortable, don't do so. Engage in an activity that everyone can afford, and wish to participate in willingly.

I actually think it's a very valuable lesson to learn: sometimes generosity goes wrong. People are sensitive about money, and it will ruin friendships.


I've actually also been in your shoes, Steve. I work and live in Canada, and travel back home to Romania quite often to visit friends and family. The currency exchange being what it is, I have a lot more disposable income to burn when I go back home, and often wanted to treat friends and family to fancy meals, and extravagant activities.

What I found was that it made people uncomfortable, and that although it was OK for me to make a nice gesture here and there (ex: this round of drinks is on me), I had to let people pay for their own meals/tickets/etc., or else they ended up avoiding me.

I was lucky in that I have very good friends who bluntly expressed this to me, as well as my previous personal experience to draw from and stop me from going that little bit too far.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Catija Mar 3 '18 at 0:29
  • Doesn't matter. It was flagged, I agreed. If you want to discuss it, go to meta, please. – Catija Mar 3 '18 at 3:47
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    I've been at the opposite end and I wouldn't argue that my friend makes it all about himself. I think he is very selfless. So the "you, you, you" part seems out of place in my experience. I've come to terms that he gladly pays for the meals, I find it far more important that we have a good time rather than bicker over financial stuff. Because I know had I been in his shoes I would have done the same. Different strokes for different folks I guess. – Sidar Mar 3 '18 at 16:21
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    @Sidar While it's not consciously selfish, subconsciously it is. The OP wants to treat people because it will allow him to have a good time. The fact that it's also intended to be a good time for the people being treated is secondary. This doesn't make them a good person or a bad person, it's just how human nature tends to work. – Cronax Mar 5 '18 at 10:29
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    @LordFarquaad I don't much care about definitions in this case, I just think it's important not to overlook the self-serving element of the behavior, which I think is largely this answerer's point. The self-serving element seems a lot stronger in this case than it would be in someone who is mainly motivated by selflessness. The OP after all actually asks the question "how do I keep treating my friends and stop making them feel bad about it"... – Cronax Mar 6 '18 at 8:26
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Here is a thought about how you can treat them without it being awkward. Set yourself up something like a "swear jar" except for good things, like managing to leave work on time, or getting up the first time your alarm clock goes off, or the like. It could be that you put $10 a week in if it was a "good week", or $10 a day for a "good day", or $5 every time good thing X happens, or whatever. Tell your friends that you are doing this, not as a big announcement but just as chit chat. Having a pile of actual cash that grows can remind you of how little happinesses pile up, for example.

When the jar reaches about half the cost of one of these "nights out" tell everyone that your jar has reached $X which should be able to cover about half the cost of a sushi night. Invite them all to "come help me celebrate 25 Xs" or whatever the amount represents.

Why will this make things less awkward for your friends?

  • the jar of money is already there and needs to be spent now. Declining the invitation will not save you money, as it would when you're going to pay out of your pocket. This is the main part. This money is separate from you now, and you're inviting them to help spend it. It will feel different, really it will.
  • the jar is a fun thing and you are setting up a fun celebration of your little successes over the past little while
  • the jar will get empty and have to fill up again, so that will naturally limit the pace at which these invitations will happen
  • because the jar can only pay some fraction of the bill, they will still be paying something - perhaps what they would have paid at a less expensive restaurant. Everyone likes to contribute.

Over time, you can tweak both the rate at which you put money into the jar and the fraction of the night out that the jar covers.

You could also put extra into the jar when someone does you a favour. You don't have to make it transactional, but if someone gives you a ride, you could add another $5 or $10 or whatever you're adding and even tell them that all the friends will soon be celebrating a full jar.

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    I love this idea. A possible tweak is if you can involve the friends in whatever X is - then they can feel a bit of ownership and it probably won't be nearly as awkward for them. If you tie it to your own improvement (even somewhat loosely) it may be even better, "I've read 100 books on self-improvement," or, "I've read 42 books on how to have a better life," or whatever. – Wayne Werner Mar 4 '18 at 12:48
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    Hell, I'm not in the OPs spot, and I think you've still convinced me to set up a "success" jar to save up for a few things! Just shows some of these answers can be perfect for more than the OPs situation. – Kendra Mar 5 '18 at 16:56
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    @Kendra great name! I will call it "success jar" now. – Kate Gregory Mar 5 '18 at 18:05
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Generally speaking, I hate getting things for free from my friends despite the fact that I enjoy giving gifts if I find something I think one of them will like. What I've found that works to help me (and hopefully your friends) more readily accept freebies is to see it as an exchange.

By exchange I don't mean "I'll get this one, you can cover the next one for me." You already have material for your exchange.

This is one way that I do like to give back to my friends and I'd like them to interpret this in the same way that they'd interpret getting a ride or having someone host at their house, because that's exactly how I see it.

Explain this to them with something light-hearted.

You guys spend money hosting and driving me, it's just over time. Let me feel like less of a moocher by treating you to some good food.

If they take more convincing tell them you have something like Kate's answer or a budget specifically for spending on friends/fun (A good thing to have in general).

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    +1 For the light hearted explanation. People in relationships don't always provide the same things. There'll be "the one with the house", "the one with better income", "the one who gives great advice"... I don't know how, but I'd like to find a way to tell that to OP's friends, – TheNCR Mar 2 '18 at 22:08
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    “I hate getting things for free from my friends despite the fact that I enjoy giving gifts” I believe this kind of double-standard is quite widespread and it's the main issue in OP's situation as well. – Andrea Lazzarotto Mar 3 '18 at 15:47
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I think your examples of your friends "giving" are false equivalents, at least as I would see them in my group of friends.

  • Hosting a party at their home: They may supply some food or drink, and clean up, but they aren't spending anywhere near $50 or $70 per person, and everyone that attends brings something that more than matches the cost of their food; in fact my wife and I generally bring something worth about triple what the host spent on our food, and leave it there. That is still a lot of expense for the host, and we are grateful, but we don't feel like they treated us to the whole thing, gratitude is spread amongst others that brought sides and deserts and various forms of alcohol.
    There is no demand to bring anything, but if I ask (and most of us do) the host tells me whatever s/he knows is already in full supply. So the party is a community effort, and does not feel like one person is "treating." And although the host is begging people to take away food at the end lest it go bad, what the guests bring is worth several times what the host provided, which was still not even $15 a person in food cost.
  • A ride: A ride costs an hour or two with a friend, and $5 worth of fuel. It isn't $50 worth of Sushi.

I am sure many people have no problem with being treated extravagantly, but I personally don't like it. I like to think of my friends as peers, and none of my peers can afford to pay for dinner double what I cannot afford, which is what you do when you pay for yourself and me, not to mention ten times what I cannot afford, when you pay for a party of five!

I could excuse that for a life-mark party (marriage, graduation, first book published, first movie appearance; less so for a routine anniversary or birthday). On a whim or thin excuse, I would feel uncomfortable, no matter how many rides I gave you. It doesn't feel "peer-worthy".

If you aren't my financial peer but a financial superior, I feel our interests and concerns are misaligned, even if I don't know how. It creates distance between us, the opposite of friendship.

For the restaurant setting, I just don't see a way, outside of life-mark events, that doesn't cause increasing alienation of your friends.

The only half solution I can think of:

Take advantage of the parties. Ask if you can bring something for everybody, and spend your money on that.

Perhaps even get a friend to do you a favor by hosting a party at their house, in return for you providing the fare including some Sushi as one of the main dishes. Ask everyone to bring a side or something to drink. You appear less like "magnanimous king" and more like a partner in crime, or even anonymous. It is a party at Joe and Karen's house. I'm not sure sushi would keep for that, but it might with a covered tray on ice. If they ask, your excuse is what I use:

It's a purely selfish motive, I bring what I like most to eat (or drink), so I don't starve! But I've had what I want so dig in, it won't keep forever.

I think your friends will mind less, if they feel like you are one of several people that contributed to their meal that night, as opposed to the only one treating.

  • I disagree with the "false equivalents". Every person provides what they can to the relationship (frienship). May it be money, hosting, advice, etc. It's not about keeping tabs and getting even on what each gives, it's about sharing with your friends what you can. – TheNCR Mar 2 '18 at 21:49
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    @TheNCR It would feel far too imbalanced to me. I'm not counting coins, but for me there comes a point when it no longer feels like we are peers, when one person "brings to the relationship" money many times over anything I could afford. That does not make ME feel friendship, but inadequate, or resentful at being made constantly inferior in what I can bring. I like to think of my friends as my equals, sharing similar life experiences. Extreme imbalances would make that more difficult for me. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Mar 3 '18 at 1:38
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What you want to do is make sure your friends do not lose face.

You can always address objections by making it about them allowing you to share your good fortune.

I am grateful to my friends for allowing me to share these good times with you, thank you.

or

Thank you for letting me show my appreciation for you, and all the help you've been over the years.

make it about them doing YOU a favor and you'll have no problems.

7

Here in Las Vegas there are lots of times people offer free meals they usually get as "comps" from the casino. A custom that has developed here is that when you are the recipient of a free meal like this you leave the tip for the food server. I am a little charity averse when it comes to free meals at restaurants and this mitigates that some for me.

When you have a friend that is shy about taking the free meal, suggest they can get the tip if they want. I doubt this will help in all cases but may put some of your friends more at ease.

5

The simple answer is that you will never find a solution that satisfies every friend. Everyone has different ideas about the rules of reciprocity in socializing, and everyone has different feelings and experiences with wealth, power, etc...

The reason that this is not common (at least in Canada, where I'm from) is because there are deep emotional currents attached to wealth, related to status, power, competence, well-being and survival. It is simply impossible to predict and avoid triggering feelings related to these issues in every friend, because you are not a mind reader. Even if you were a mind reader, that would still be insufficient because people often relate to those kinds of issues unconsciously, based on past patterns. Their automatic feelings and responses will often differ from moment to moment based on the state of their own life. Even if people don't have those kinds of issues themselves, they may have experiences in their pasts with people who have 'given freely', and then were forced to participate in power dynamics they didn't enjoy.

These are messy, complex issues and that is why most people stick to simple reciprocity. No matter how hard you try to avoid it, trying to pay for more than your share of social outings might be noticed by your friends. You can't control their pasts and their feelings, and so you are inherently risking disrupting your social group's dynamic and your friendships. Even if you navigate it all correctly once, or twice, or 100 times, if you ever slip up and do something that appears to the wrong people like you're manipulating them with your money, you may lose friends. Some people will remember and constantly wonder what you are expecting from them, so you will need to consider that in every future interaction with them.

Of course, there is no guarantee that this will happen either, but it sounds like it kind of already has...

There are lots of good ideas in this thread, but I thought that it was worth outlining more clearly the risks and uncertainties associated with attempting to go this direction so that you are fully informed.

4

People (all of us) value money differently. E.g. I see $10 for sushi as an OK price, while Person B feels that $10 is far too expensive for a plate of sushi. And also eyeryone has a unique set of values. Sometimes, our value system tells us it's wrong to always take a person for granted just because the person is generous.

Perhaps you could suggest for the eatery and along this lines of "I feel like eating sushi today, would anyone be keen for it? I know one new promotion.." and if people join, then bonus! And if you feel like paying - then pay before anyone elses' does - and if they insisted paying and you feel that it''s ok for you to pay - then just tell them :"let me have the honor to treat you, meal on you the next round"

In a way, you can avoid people don't come for obvious reasons, do it subtlely and give a chance for others to treat you the next time. So in a way, people won't feel awkward about it :) Hope my 2 cents worth is helpful

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    "let me have the honor to treat you, meal on you the next round" - latter part is exactly what OP not wants. People shouldn't feel to "owe OP one", he writes in the question. – Fildor Mar 2 '18 at 16:17
  • @Fildor Very true. Although I could see a good edit to this answer (given some edits I just made to my question) changing it to be more of a thanks for some of the things my friends do for me ("Thanks for giving me a ride to XYZ" or "Thanks for hosting that get together at your home last weekend") – Arthas Mar 2 '18 at 16:25
4

I'm usually with your friend's position. There are several layers of thinking in these situations, some may or may not apply in your case:

  • $10 for a single raw fish is outrageous, I've never eaten one yet but I don't like fish especially for bad experience with fish thorns, so even if you may enjoy I will probably pass up those invitations anyway.

  • $100 lobster is also outrageous, I never ate one either but that looks like a shrimp and I love shrimp. So I could I give it a try if someone invites me, but won't go to a place like that by myself. I will probably feel guilty if someone keeps inviting me to that over and over.

  • $50 steak dinner is still outrageous but I love meat, the ambience, the after coffee. I don't have any problem with multiple invitations for that.

The only thing is even with nice steak in a restaurant, I can't stop thinking that if we bought the steak in the supermarket we can do BBQ in my house every weekend of the month. So from my point of view it is better use that money to gather our group four times in the month instead of only once.

Now my advice:

You obviously enjoy sushi and probably also enjoy the restaurant ambience. So inviting your group from time to time is ok for me. The open invitation in the chat sound great for me because no pressure. But don't expect everyone to accept the invitation; sometimes you really can't make it so don't read too much into it either.

What my group does:

When it's a birthday or we haven't seen each other in a while, someone says in the chat "let's go for a dinner to celebrate John's birthday, my treat". This person chooses the place and makes the arrangements. In this case most people will join because money isn't a factor and we gather to celebrate a friend.

But maybe no one offers to pay and organize the event. Still someone may say "Hey guys we should gather to celebrate John birthday, there is this pizza place with 2x1 promotion", some people will say they are busy, but we won't judge if they really are or if is the food price the problem.

The last option the one I like most and is the one you can apply too. I have a big house (well my parents do) so when we gather in my place and I invite people over I can take care of the food purchase, but then everyone contributes to pay the bill. But sometimes a friend came over from abroad and tell me "Hey let's do a BBQ in your home, I brought the steaks and you take cake of the beverages" and even when everyone knows the food is already paid for people still bring snacks and dessert to share with the rest. So in your case you can bring take out sushi.

  • For information’s sake, sushi is a lot of things; raw fish is only a subset called sashimi. – WGroleau Mar 3 '18 at 8:52
  • @WGroleau yes but even if you talk about nigiri, for instance, the fish component is the one that sets the price. Rice is much cheaper than fish. – Andrea Lazzarotto Mar 3 '18 at 15:50
2

Two strategies I’ve seen work are:

  1. Offer to pay the bill after the meal. Your friends would have been prepared to pay their share, but having you swoop in and offer to treat them feels nice, they won’t feel like they’ve gone to this restaurant only at your invitation, and they can individually turn you down if they really want to. Sometimes people will make a counteroffer instead — “only if you let me pay for dessert!” — which would probably be fine, too.
  2. I’ve known people who organize large group outings to offer to buy a particular course (“first round of drinks is on me!”, or buying pizzas for the table leaving everybody to pay for salads and drinks) or to pay an outsized amount (e.g. when a bill of 200$ for five people comes in, they will cover 100$ and let everybody else split the remainder). I think this shows willingness to be generous while acknowledging that you aren’t rich enough to cover everything, and may feel less like charity than another approach.
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    Point 1 would work if OP's friends could afford sushi, but some of them can't. – Andrea Lazzarotto Mar 3 '18 at 15:52
  • @AndreaLazzarotto Yeah, that's true :-(. – Gaurav Mar 4 '18 at 22:28
0

I can think of quite a few reasons why I would feel uncomfortable to accept such occasions even if I didn't want to.

Here's two approaches to make them feel more comfortable:

  • Keep track of what they do for you. That way you can wonderfully say: It's only fair. You have done this and this and that and it made me very happy.

  • Or find any service they can do for you. Can they teach you something? Can they act as a pacemaker so you keep a new habit you want to train? It is not as common as it should be, but almost everybody has something he can comfortably barter without breaking a sweat. With me, it would be 3D, the german language, lots of stuff. Just keep it lighthearted and appreciative.

It simply feels better to deserve something and their brains make the rules about what is deserved and what isn't.

And in the end, maybe it's not always as negative as you feel it is. Maybe it's just a formal protest so they can say to themselves they have tried to save you and failed valiantly. could be an unconscious test whether you really mean it.

protected by apaul Mar 3 '18 at 21:54

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