Be a Leader – Always Pick Up the Tab

I love meeting with friends and colleagues over lunch. There’s something about an informal atmosphere that inspires me way more than an office or conference room. Even if the topic starts out or turns serious, I find it’s easier for conversation to flow and connection to happen at a café or restaurant. Going out for a meal to meet is great, at least until the check arrives.

Why does the atmosphere shift between people when it’s time to settle up the bill? It’s no surprise that the moment of truth is coming. Going out is simple—eat, drink, be merry, and then close out the check. Everyone knows that someone has to pick up the tab. So why bother bantering back and forth?

“I’ve got it.”

“No, I’ve got it.”

“Seriously, it’s on me.”

“C’mon, you paid last time.”

“Oh, look at that. I forgot my wallet.”

“Don’t mention it. I’m expensing it.”

“Thanks. I owe you one.”

Fighting over who pays for lunch may seem like a silly scenario, but it’s full of truth for leaders. Here are a few principles that you can apply in your personal and professional life as early as lunchtime today.

Who joins you matters.

Instead of scarfing down another lukewarm meal at your desk, take a risk and take someone to lunch. Sure you could go with the team member you know best, but what if today you invite a new employee or a person from a different department? Consider the purpose of the lunch—brainstorming, feedback, strategizing, friendship, or whatever. Then, pick a person who will be a great companion for the dining adventure and discussion. There’s no right answer to who you meet with, but it’s your job as a leader to match up why you’re getting together and the person you bring along.

There’s no free lunch.

Just because you don’t incur an out-of-pocket expense doesn’t mean your meal was free. There are lots of options for who covers the bill—you, your companion, your company’s budget, or even the owner of the restaurant. Regardless of how the meal gets paid, someone is responsible for the cost of goods and service. As a leader, it’s important for you to be mindful of money so you can responsibly steward resources. Meeting over a meal can be a simple reminder of this on a regular basis.

Always pick up the tab.

The principle here is simple: spare people the struggle at the end of the meal and just grab the check! Unless you discuss in advance that the other person is buying, decide to take care of the tab. Long ago I learned an invaluable lesson: “If I lead, I’ll pay a price. If I don’t, others will.” The fact is, being a leader is costly—to you the individual, and to those you influence. Results are always on the line whenever you’re uncertain about your role and responsibilities. When the opportunity to step up and into leadership is before you, “if you lead” is up to you and it determines who bears the burden of this choice. By committing to be an “always pick up the tab” kind of leader, your clarity and confidence will have a life-giving effect on those you serve.

This week, decide to be a bit more intentional as a leader. Don’t make it complicated. Start by purposefully inviting someone to lunch, be mindful of the costs involved, and choose to pick up the tab long before the check comes.