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Acing the Business Lunch: Paying the Check

The power lunch is alive and well on Capitol Hill. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The best part about having the skills to ace a power lunch? Getting the chance to practice. Hill Navigator appreciates the reader response to "How to Ace the Power Lunch ," and hopes each of you have the opportunity to put those gracious and formidable skills to good use. Whether it's at Fiola or Good Stuff Eatery, knowing how to order, pay and show requisite graciousness is crucial to having a good time and great meal.  

But that pesky payment can be tricky, even for the most experienced of us who are used to plunking down an AmEx and insisting the meal is on us. Worse, it can be uncomfortable to go through such a charade when you are quite certain the fat cat you’re dining with will be the one to pick up the tab. Hill Navigator discusses below.

As a follow-up to the power lunch post, is it polite to offer to pay, reach for your wallet, etc., even when you know the other person will ultimately be paying?
As civilized as it might be to assume we sit back when the check comes and allow the person who is treating us to do so, the “Let me pay” charade is still recommended. That doesn’t mean you must be the over-aggressive, "No, I insist," type. Still, you can show a mock surprise when your host wordlessly slips his credit card into the bill holder, or fumble through your purse when the check arrives, only to have the host insist, “Let me get this one.”  

Rebecca Czarniecki, the etiquette expert also known as Mrs. B. who spent time lunching with CQ Roll Call , agrees it is polite to offer to pay, even if you are not the one who "should" be paying. "If the person who invited you to lunch offers, you should let him/her pay and graciously thank them without insisting otherwise," she says.  

Here’s why: Being treated to lunch is a pleasure, and part of that is the requisite acknowledgement that the lunch treat is 1) not necessary and 2) unexpected. So while you can be quick to give up your wallet search once the host has insisted he or she will pick up the tab, it does mean you must go along with the charade as a show of humility, and then follow up with the required graciousness. Such acts should take only a few moments and quickly become second nature for an expert luncher.  

The catch? If you’re going through the motions to offer to pay, you should also be willing to do so.  

So a word to the wise: Keep such things in mind when picking the venue and deciding what to order.  

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