The Moneyist: ‘I lost my appetite’: My vegetarian salad cost $19 and my friend’s lasagna was $37. She was happy to lick her lips — and split the bill 50/50. Is that fair?

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Dear Quentin,

I recently had dinner with an old college friend at a well-known Italian restaurant with multiple locations in New York. (No, it wasn’t Olive Garden.) It’s a pricey place and the portions could feed a family of four. I ordered the signature Caesar salad ($19), as I am watching my weight since the pandemic, and I am a vegetarian. My friend, let’s call her Rachel (because that’s her name) ordered the beef lasagna ($37). 

When I saw her order something so expensive, I felt like ordering a soup or dessert to even the score, but I stayed with my salad. But if I’m being honest, I lost my appetite. My friend has put on weight over the last two decades and, while I have struggled with mine, I have managed to stay within 15 to 20 pounds of my college weight, except during the early days of COVID-19. If she wants to indulge, that’s fine by me. It’s her life. But is it fair for her to split the bill 50/50?

‘Inflation is even more oppressive when we veggies have to pay for everyone else’s food as well.’

I was taken aback. I thought, “Do the decent thing and leave a tip.” It’s outrageous that she would order something so expensive and expect me to pay for part of it. We only see each other every few years, so I didn’t want to make a fuss. I took a deep breath and nodded when the waitress asked to split the bill down the middle. I couldn’t believe my friend would just sit there and say nothing. We both had wine, and it was not a cheap evening.

It cast a pall over the night, and I left with a bad taste in my mouth. I’m sick of vegetarians paying for our own food and our companion’s main course too. Meat is always more expensive. I don’t eat out as much as I used to, given the way prices have gone, but when I do I expect to pay for my own meal. Inflation is even more oppressive when we veggies have to pay for everyone else’s food as well.

What’s your take? Am I overreacting?

Proud Vegetarian

Dear Proud,

Before I answer your question, I would gently like to caution you against equating your friend’s penchant for beef lasagna with her weight gain — or, worse, with a sense of gluttony. You’re better off sticking to the facts, and not allowing yourself to slide down a slippery slope by crucifying her with the croutons from your Caesar salad. Don’t let a beef lasagna change who you are.

We all have things we like to indulge in: It could be wine and Netflix for one person, and the gym and protein shakes for someone else. Accept people for who they are. It prevents you from standing in judgment. You may have stayed within 10 to 15 pounds of your college weight, but everybody’s lifestyle, emotional and mental health and metabolism is different. 

As for your meal: If the difference was a few dollars here or there, I would expect the carnivore (in this case) to say, “Mine was expensive. I’ll pay a little more.” You, the vegetarian, could take the opportunity to say, “That’s very nice of you, OK.” Or, “Don’t worry about it! I had more wine.” Of course, it’s always nice when someone offers, and sometimes that’s enough.

The lasagna cost nearly $20 more, almost twice what your salad cost. If your bill came to close to $100 including wine and sales tax, it’s absolutely fine to say, “Would you mind leaving the tip since I only had the salad?” She could say, “Yes, of course,” and nurse a resentment or not. Or she could raise an eyebrow and — unfairly, in my opinion — call you a tightwad.

You are annoyed with Rachel for not offering, and probably annoyed that you allowed yourself to pay $20 more. It’s your responsibility to speak up if she does not: Your money, your food, your prerogative. Carnivores should eat meat, not take a bite out of their companion’s budget. But Rachel is entitled to her humanity too. Friends should not make snarky comments about each other’s weight.

But if we always waited for other people to take the initiative, we would be sitting in a restaurant waiting for that bill for eternity.

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Learn how to shake up your financial routine at the Best New Ideas in Money Festival on Sept. 21 and Sept. 22 in New York. Join Carrie Schwab, president of the Charles Schwab Foundation.

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