It’s an age-old tradition. A man and a woman meet for some form of meal or beverage, they exchange pleasant conversation, and then the guy picks up the check. Sure, plenty of women are standing up for their right to pay for their own date, but there’s still that moment of uncertainty where most of society assumes that the guy will be pulling out his wallet. I’m talking about dating, obviously, and yet these traditions still seem to creep into business lunches with surprising regularity.
I cannot tell you the number of times that I’ve eaten with a male co-worker where they insisted on picking up the check. Some of these lunches were both going to be expensed, and yet they just had to be the traditional man of the meal. I’ve clients pay for drinks when I was the one pitching them. It’s like a battle between business and chivalry, or at least deeply routed gender norms. Men have a physical need to show that they can provide for women, no matter how you know each other.
This is why I absolutely love picking up the check for the men I work with. I enjoy seeing them struggle internally with their urge to pay the tab. I love the simple way that picking up the check, confidently and as if it was the most natural thing in the world, sends a message of power in the business relationship.
One of my former bosses joined her employees when we went out for drinks after work. We went to one of our accounts, a local martini bar, and had a couple drinks a piece. There five men with my boss and me. As the evening got later and we all prepared to head home, she pulled out her wallet and paid everyone’s tab. She did it without making a fuss and insisting to everyone, “This is on me.” She didn’t act like it was a special treat. She just grabbed the check and threw her card inside of it.
That simple act demonstrated a type of control and power that I hadn’t considered possible. It’s quite possible that she went on to expense those drinks and the money didn’t come from her own pocket. It doesn’t matter though. Either way, she positioned herself as the powerful one in that group of people. With men who were twice her age and very often made condescending comments about their female manager, she showed that she was in charge. And I knew that it was a technique I would be borrowing from her.
We all agree that business offices shouldn’t yield to antiquated gender stereotypes. Honestly, it shouldn’t matter who picks up the tab at a business lunch. It shouldn’t be an issue for a woman to buy her male colleague’s drink. And yet, this is one gender bias that I find myself using to my advantage. If a man picks up the check, it’s a little expected. If a woman does it, she’s making a statement.
Of course the majority of your business meals or drinks will end with you each picking up your end, and that’s how it should be. But, every once in a while, a wonderful opportunity will present itself when I get to smile and place my card in the little holder without a word. I get to give a little, “Oh, you’re welcome,” as if I’m surprised that they even thanked me for it. As if my paying was just an expected outcome of the get together. And those moments are absolutely wonderful.