Who picks up the bill when I have a meal with a client or a prospect?
There are many factors that add complexity to determining who picks up the tab for a business meal including the number of attendees, the organizational stature of the attendees, host vs. guest, gender and cultural norms, etc. Be cognizant and sensitive to these factors.
Here's a simple rule of thumb: If you did the inviting, you should expect to take responsibility for the check.
If there are multiple attendees or if this is joint meeting involving a number of different parties, it is perfectly appropriate to ask when scheduling the meal (or at the very beginning) about the possibility of splitting the check. Waiting until the check arrives to discuss the possibility of splitting the check can cause unnecessary anxiety among the attendees and a potential inconvenience for your server.
Also, if you have invited a colleague to lunch or dinner in order to obtain information or valuable insight, it is always proper for you to pick up the tab. Remember to follow-up this type of meeting with personal "thank you" note. Tip:
Be sensitive and aware of the various factors surrounding who is "expected" to pick up the tab, but when in doubt, err on the side of picking up the tab or at least not hesitating to pick up the check first to see how the other party responds. Be especially cautious about the appearance or fact of a conflict of interest when, as a consultant, you are dining with a prospect or client. In these cases, it is always best to discuss the issue openly. This is not the time to be embarassed about being ethical.P.S.
Remember that taking care on how you handle the other party's kind gesture of picking up the tab is equally important (e.g. "Next time is on me," or "The next time you find yourself in [my town], I insist that I pick up the tab." © 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA