Dinner Dilemmas

By Chandra Orr

March 4, 2011 5 min read

On prom night, you want everything to be perfect -- the dress, the dance and definitely dinner. Whether you have visions of dining with your date by candlelight or a fun, festive affair with friends, it's smart to discuss the details upfront.

"Prom can be a very nerve-racking yet exciting part of a teenager's life," says etiquette expert Richie Frieman, Modern Manners Guy columnist for Quick and Dirty Tips. "However, proper etiquette could be the difference between a night you will always remember and a night you can't wait to forget."

From the budget to the reservations, decide who's responsible for what, and mind your manners to ensure the evening goes as smoothly as possible.

*He paid for the prom tickets. Should I pay for dinner?

Traditional etiquette dictates that the person who does the asking does the paying. With teens on a budget, though, rules are flexible.

"Luckily for the askers, prom etiquette has evolved to be more budget-friendly," says Jodi R.R. Smith, author of "From Clueless to Class Act: Manners for the Modern Woman" and founder of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting.

The emphasis is on playing fair with the finances, so be accommodating. It's not right to saddle one person with the bulk of the expenses. Consider pooling your funds for the evening, and offer to pay for your own ticket.

"The ticket is not a lavish surprise; it's a necessity for the night. Leaving that part solely in the hands of the guy can tie up any other fun plans you may have," Frieman explains. "Regardless of whether you have been together since ninth grade or are just friends, tickets should be Dutch."

Paying for dinner is a different story. "This responsibility does fall on the guy," Frieman says. "Prom is the single most romantic night of a teenager's life, and this is something that, keeping with the tradition of gentlemanly conduct, is an enjoyable task handed down over the years."

*If he's paying for dinner, can I order anything I want?

If he's buying, show restraint and let your date set the tone. The last thing you want on prom night is unwanted friction over finances.

"It is rather uncouth to take advantage of your host's generosity," Smith says. "Unless your host orders the twin lobster dinner and insists you do the same, you should order a midrange meal."

If he's on a budget, be creative so you can have the full dinner experience without breaking the bank. Choose inexpensive entrees, for example, so you can splurge on appetizers, salads, drinks and dessert.

"Find a healthy medium," Frieman says. "Share an appetizer or dessert, and get that great entree. Being able to have an entire meal out is part of the experience, plus it adds an extra piece of romance to the night when you can share something."

*I can't afford the restaurant that my friends chose. Now what?

Discuss your concerns. Be open and upfront about your budget before the reservations are made. Chances are some of your friends are facing the same dilemma.

"No need to go into debt for the prom," Smith says. "If the restaurant your buddies choose is too pricey, suggest an alternative to see whether others in your group also have budgetary constraints."

If you can't reach a compromise, go anyway. Prom is about the overall experience, not the food. Just be frugal in your choices, and focus on having fun with your friends.

"Even if you can't afford the night, you should still attend. You can easily go to a nice restaurant and spend less than $15 on a good meal," Frieman says. "Order a low-priced meal -- for example, soup, salad or even an appetizer -- as your main meal. It may not be the entree of your choice, but you will still have the experience."

*If I'm going with a group of friends, how do we split the bill?

It's all in the planning. Designate a money manager for the evening to coordinate with the waitstaff. Divide the cost of group appetizers, and determine the tip.

"A bit of pre-emptive etiquette is always helpful," Smith says. "Ask the waitstaff to divide the bill by couple when you are ordering. No need to charge per bite; the appetizer is split evenly."

Request separate bills before you order, not when it's time to pay. Most waiters are happy to accommodate; just be sure to tip well. For large parties, 20 percent is customary. Check your bill first, though, as many restaurants automatically add the gratuity to a large group's bill.

"A couple should tip per their meals' amount," Frieman says. "If you order $20 worth of food, you should only tip on that amount. Once that is done, you should have more than the typical 15-20 percent gratuity."

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