One-on-one dinner with boss after meeting
June 20, 2013 2:31 PM   Subscribe

My boss and I went to a meeting yesterday. He invited me for a bite afterwards and I initially said "no, not if you have other things to do". He said he didn't, so by mutual agreement we decided to. Ended up being a proper dinner, but it was just pasta at a bistro/restaurant type place where there were lots of other people. Did I do the right thing by not refusing outright? Here are the other facts:

1. I just started this job on Monday, therefore I didn't know anything about him or about anyone else, for that matter.
2. Found out at dinner that he's got a gf who's currently out of town, hence the lack of plans
3. The meeting was held 2hrs from where we work, in a city that I'm not familiar with, and he might've just invited me out so I could see more of that city, plus because of the meeting ending at 5pm I didn't think it was an unreasonable request to grab some dinner, as it became, because we would've arrived home at 7pm if we did (plus it made sense in terms of avoiding peak-hour traffic)
4. He paid afterwards. We both had the special, so it was very cheap, but I wonder if I should've insisted more to pay my share (I offered twice)
5. It was funny to see him loosen up in the car on the way back. He was almost monosyllabic on the drive there (might've been because we were cutting it fine--he was speeding), but on the way back (neither of us had any alcohol to drink), the conversation was very normal, flowed very normally, and we talked about everything from religion to politics to cars to comedy TV shows to travel.
6. Further to the above, I didn't get asked any personal questions apart from whereabouts in my hometown is my family, and he didn't engage on any further questions relating to his gf (nothing direct, but e.g. when we were talking about buying new cars and he was complaining about how the modern headrests are at such uncomfortable angles and one manufacturer makes them unadjustable, I said that's a good point, because your gf needs to be comfortable too and he just went straight on)

There are two sets of meetings, both of which occur every 2nd month in that same city. He said he would selectively choose which one to go to, so I don't expect him to be there all the time, but if I do find myself in a situation where both of us go again--have I broken any etiquette? (he may not offer again if his gf's back in town, but gotta cover all bases you know).

posted by glache to Work & Money (37 answers total)
What is the potential problem here? Are you female and you're worried that this may be sexual harrassment? I'm male and have gone to some kind of meal after a meeting with a boss where they paid for it (because they're the boss) plenty of times. I don't think it's a problem until it's a problem.
posted by LionIndex at 2:35 PM on June 20, 2013 [11 favorites]

I'm confused why you think you were obligated to refuse in the first place? Did you not want to go to dinner with your boss, or feel pressured to say yes? Because your boss invited you, not the other way around - so I'm not sure why you're feeling like you were expected to decline his invitation.

It sounds like you did okay, and if you're wondering why your boss did this, he may have just been trying to be nice and get acquainted with a new member of the company.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:36 PM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

You did fine. It would have been awkward if you refused outright. Relax.
posted by arha at 2:37 PM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

There's a strong likelihood that he's going to expense the dinner, so I wouldn't read a whole lot into not splitting the check. At the last place I worked, it was tradition for the most senior person to pick it up anyway. This sounds like a fairly ordinary manager/employee meal to me. I wouldn't sweat it.
posted by jquinby at 2:38 PM on June 20, 2013 [28 favorites]

that this may be sexual harrassment

Should say: develop into sexual harassment or taboo relationship.
posted by LionIndex at 2:38 PM on June 20, 2013

This not weird. Your boss took you to dinner after a meeting. This happens. This is pretty normal. The meal will almost certainly be reimbursed by the company, but even if it isn't, he's your superior so it would make sense that he pays. You can relax.
posted by phunniemee at 2:41 PM on June 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

What you describe seems just fine. It all fits reasonable parameters of workplace interactions after hours. Sounds like from your description it was all above board and nothing funny happened.
I am "a boss" and if in an extended out of norm work related environment I ended up asking one of my employees if they wanted to catch diner or a drink after hours yeah I'd kind of feel it was my obligation to foot the bill weather the employee was male or female.
posted by edgeways at 2:42 PM on June 20, 2013

Questions that I think all this hinges on:

A. What do you do for a living? Is it expected that bosses and employees will be friendly? Is it standard that people socialize after work in a friendly type manner?

B. If business travel is a frequent aspect of your work, do you find that coworkers often have totally practical and non-"fraternizing" meals together when it's convenient to do so? I mean, in my opinion it doesn't seem weird at all that you and your boss would share a meal after a meeting, and prior to a two-hour drive home. I mean, what are you supposed to do, skip dinner entirely in order to save face?

C. Is it common for people in your field to be casual and open with each other when forced to hang out in the kinds of weird gray-area situations you describe, like sharing a meal or driving to/from a meeting?

All this seems totally normal to me, but I work in a field where it's common to have social time with my boss. We have lunch together frequently and often talk about non-work topics during those times. I also spent years working in a field where sharing meals and interacting casually during work-oriented travel was considered completely normal. But in more formal fields, or in fields where such situations are rare, or in fields where "fraternizing" is discouraged, I can see this being less OK.
posted by Sara C. at 2:42 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, his girlfriend has absolutely not a thing to do with this and you really need to drop that angle of it. While it is NOT inappropriate to dine with coworkers, it generally IS inappropriate to discuss their love life.
posted by phunniemee at 2:43 PM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

You just started working there this week. Maybe the boss just wanted to get to know you better, which is easier in a more casual setting. I don't see anything strange about this.
posted by rancidchickn at 2:43 PM on June 20, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'd avoid the religion and politics talk (in a big way) but this sounds innocuous/normal otherwise.
posted by headnsouth at 2:44 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hello, you're a young person, and now you're out on your own, so I can understand this is all strange.

Bosses take people out to dinner. Particularly new employees. I take male and female employees out to meals. That is a good thing. That is your chance to shine, to be wonderful, and to be thoughtful and to learn more about your boss and the company. You should be careful about presenting yourself in the best possible light while always being friendly and forthcoming.

You are not obligated to dine with your boss, but should also remember that probably lots of people are dying to get their boss's attention in such a manner.

OBVIOUSLY if dinner with your boss feels wrong in some way (he touches you! he asks you about your sex life!) that is something else entirely different. None of this happened and everything is fine.

How weird would it be if you demanded not to have dinner with your boss? Kinda weird!
posted by RJ Reynolds at 2:48 PM on June 20, 2013 [7 favorites]

By the way - if this sort of thing occurs while traveling, an acceptable way out of having dinner is to respond with "Would love to, but I really need to catch up on a bunch of stuff," even (or especially) if stuff is room service and a perusal of your RSS feeds.
posted by jquinby at 2:57 PM on June 20, 2013

What? It's totally routine to have dinner with one's boss. Your respective genders, let alone relationhips with other people, are not relevent.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:00 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think you are fine. It does not sound like he was hitting on you and it doesn't sound like there is much of a slippery slope here. The particulars make it unlikely to become some regular thing that starts feeling like dating.
posted by Michele in California at 3:10 PM on June 20, 2013

No problem at all but it's also not a problem to ask on here if you're not sure.

Just for future - if you are traveling with work people, especially the boss, it's definitely routine to grab some food if it's around a meal time.
posted by dawkins_7 at 3:13 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is totally normal. As a boss, I often offer it to employees, especially when the alternative is them eating alone, killing time because getting on the road would be foolish, etc. I always pick up the tab (generally, the most senior person should - a fact that someone should have told my last boss), and I expense it because it's work related. Conversation often goes all over the place, and discussions of family/SOs is totally normal, within reasonable bounds.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 3:14 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

5. It was funny to see him loosen up in the car on the way back. He was almost monosyllabic on the drive there (might've been because we were cutting it fine--he was speeding), but on the way back (neither of us had any alcohol to drink), the conversation was very normal, flowed very normally, and we talked about everything from religion to politics to cars to comedy TV shows to travel.

This is 100% ideal for a working relationship. Coworkers are supposed to bond to a certain extent, it makes everything soooo much easier. My first boss took me to lunch several times, and I really feel like it helped e feel more comfortable in the office in general. It really sounds like you have nothing to worry about, and, in fact, like you have a good boss.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:19 PM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

I said that's a good point, because your gf needs to be comfortable too and he just went straight on

Don't do that anymore. It's super awkward and weird.
posted by peep at 3:27 PM on June 20, 2013 [9 favorites]

I'm wondering if you made a video of the dinner. Because this is what I want to show employees in the future of an 'apporpriate dinner with colleagues'.

Nothing wrong at all. Sounds like a good boss...try not to find out where his girlfriend is though.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:39 PM on June 20, 2013

Perfectly normal, and he sounded like he just wanted to get to know you as a potential employee.

Don't mention the girlfriend again. You get a pass this time because your "boss" (really just a senior team member who makes decisions, and requires your input and support) probably realized you might have thought he was hitting on you.

But he wasn't and he (probably) won't, so don't bring it up again. If he is making you feel uncomfortable, you're also allowed to just say it in plain language, too (rather than mentioning his girlfriend, which is code language for "don't hit on me").
posted by KokuRyu at 3:43 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

You just started your job and your boss wanted to have dinner with you? That is a GOOD thing, not a creepy thing. It probably would have been better had he asked you to lunch, but still, you're reading into this way too much. It was presumptuous of you to comment on his girlfriend in the way that you did.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 3:55 PM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

Nothing out of the ordinary. I recently spent a week traveling on business with my opposite gender boss. He's happily partnered up and I'm happily married. He paid for all the lunches and dinners we had, including dinner at a really expensive, romantic candlelit restaurant where the waiter totally thought we were together. Whatever, I got a delicious meal out of it and my boss just put the bill on his company Amex. What's really awkward is when the hotel concierge assumes you only want one room, which also happened.

There's no reason to assume that your boss only offered to take you out for dinner because his girlfriend is out of town. It doesn't sound like he flirted at all, and he made a point of mentioning his girlfriend but not talking extensively about her. All very above board, very appropriate, good for building your working relationship. Don't sweat it.
posted by keep it under cover at 4:20 PM on June 20, 2013

There's either something you aren't telling everyone here or you're definitely treating this like an illicit or nearly-illicit situation when it is not, and you should be quick to stop thinking of it as such.
posted by destructive cactus at 4:23 PM on June 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

Also, keep in mind that corporate culture can differ quite a bit from company to company. I've worked for companies that were very conservative and everyone kept a strict professional distance from one another. If you're used to that, it can be a shock to go to a company where people are super relaxed about personal boundaries and staff are encouraged to get to know each other outside of the work setting.
posted by keep it under cover at 4:32 PM on June 20, 2013

What are you uncomfortable about? I think you're uncomfortable about something (or else you wouldn't be asking a question here), and in general, you shouldn't ignore it.

But what do I see here? You had dinner with your boss in another city while on a business trip. Your boss paid. This is all very normal, in my experience. Your boss should pay (and may very well get reimbursed for it as a business expense). It's okay for colleagues to socialize. This wasn't a date -- if that is what you're worried about -- unless there was some kind of weird "date-ey" vibe going on that isn't shown by your description.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:32 PM on June 20, 2013

Face time. You should always take advantage. Also there's a 100 percent chance he'll expense it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:36 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not actually sure what the problem here is. Keep a few things in mind:
- This was a business dinner, not a date - his gf is irrelevant unless you started hitting on you, and it doesn't sound like he did
- Your boss didn't pay for you, he expensed it back to the company. It is policy or customary at most companies for the most 'senior' person to pay for and expense dinner.
- It's extremely normal for a boss to have a meal with a new employee as an informal 'get to know' session.
- Eating dinner at dinner time, after a long meeting and before a long drive sounds exactly right.
posted by Kololo at 5:28 PM on June 20, 2013

It's likely he mentioned the girlfriend just to make it completely clear, in the least clumsy way possible, that he was not hitting on you.

It all sounds completely normal. It's a thing that will happen in working life. It's okay. Let the boss pay - most bosses actually have a budget line for hospitality, because it's considered a normal part of executive/manager life to have to get meals out occasionally, to spend time talking with staff (especially new staff), and to cultivate relationships.
posted by Miko at 7:16 PM on June 20, 2013

The meeting was held 2hrs from where we work, in a city that I'm not familiar with, and he might've just invited me out so I could see more of that city, plus because of the meeting ending at 5pm I didn't think it was an unreasonable request to grab some dinner

It's kind of unreasonable to insist other people not eat if you are traveling together and mealtime hits. You could politely refuse outright by saying you'd be up for a break but you aren't very hungry and just want coffee, or come up with some reason you need to wait in the car while they eat.
posted by yohko at 11:07 PM on June 20, 2013

Ok ppl holds your horses. some of your responses seem rather judgemental to me.

As for why I.posted this, I thought this was reasonable, but as I've never been in this situation before and I can be so socially oblivious, I just wanted to check there weren't any social no nos I hadnt thought of. You should've seen the stares we received when we walked in, a 40 something yr old white man with a 20 something year old Asian female. well I'm glad everyone else, thought it was reasonable too.

And no I.did not attempt to find out any further info about his gf thank you very much. my 2 previous bosses freely talked about their partners but this one obviously didn't want to engage, so I didn't.
posted by glache at 12:25 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

FWIW, I kept reading your question to find out what the "problem" was and I didn't find it. People staring is because they are judgey and I wouldn't sweat it.
posted by like_neon at 4:41 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh no no, no one was trying to be judgmental! But we WERE trying to tell you that you were probably overreacting and reading things into the situation that were not there.

You should've seen the stares we received when we walked in, a 40 something yr old white man with a 20 something year old Asian female.

People of different races, genders and sexes can be friends, it's not even slightly unusual. I think you may have gotten an innocent glance or two and blown them up into something bigger in your head.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:25 AM on June 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

a 40 something yr old white man with a 20 something year old Asian female.

This is stuff that probably should have been in your original question. While I can see that getting some raised eyebrows, the vibe I get from the original question is that you're somewhat predisposed to think this is a questionable situation, even if you know rationally that it's perfectly ok, so you're seeing things through that lens, and maybe taking innocent "who's coming through the door" glances for judgmental stares. Some people in the restaurant may indeed have assumed that something different was going on, but there's no point in worrying about what other people think in a restaurant two hours away from your job.
posted by LionIndex at 8:10 AM on June 21, 2013

my take on all this is that you have not experienced much interaction like this.

if your experience with men so far has been either relatives or guys who are interested in you, then it may seem weird to be on a non-date dinner with someone who is a)not a relative and b) not interested in dating you.

when i first read your question, i assumed you were just out of college and this was a first professional job.

the whole dinner and/or lunch thing is totes normal. and the reason the senior person picks it up is because the junior cannot be seen as having given gifts of some value like that to someone who may have influence over their pay (generally). if you were at happy hour, you could certainly buy a round.

also, maybe he likes that restaurant and wanted to expense it - and by saying it was a 'getting to know new employee' meal, presto - free meals for everyone!
posted by sio42 at 9:30 AM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't think the demographic information changes my answers at all. It was clear there was a big age disparity just by the subtext here. The Asian/white thing doesn't really make much of a difference for me, either. The more time you spend in the professional world, the more you'll be aware that all sorts of pairings and groupings of people meet and eat together. I can't think of the number of times I have had lunches, dinner, or drinks with people, including men 20, 30, 40, yes 50 years older than me. Because I wasn't self-conscious and understood that we were having lunch or dinner for business, I also can't ever remember being much preoccupied with how people looked at us. Who cares? People look around. I can't even imagine giving a shit if an older guy walked in with a younger woman and they were different ethnicities...I mean there's nothing weird about that even if it is a relationship.

If you give it all some time, I think in a few years you'll look back and wonder why this seemed weird to you. Once you get out of school, you are in the real world where people are many different ages and backgrounds and need to work, eat, and travel together for business. And people in their private lives may do things together as well, even if they're not age- and race-matched. It's not strange at all.
posted by Miko at 9:31 PM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well you see this is interesting. I have actually dined with men significantly older than me 1-on-1 twice before, totally platonically, so I'm not new to the concept. One was white, the other Indian, so another similarity there if anyone particularly cared. However, I think what made the difference was because on both occasions, they were lunches rather than dinners, and where the places were quite empty versus this which was busy, so there was no-one staring.

I'm used to being stared at, as I do pretty much everything by myself which people would be uncomfortable doing by themselves, e.g. shopping, having breakfast, lunch AND dinner (and all at really nice places), going to the movies, name it I've done it on my own and been stared at. I think it was more a sense of people judging me as a gold digger which I AM NOT, and also because on the previous occasions it was as friends, while this is new to me as a work situation and also I didn't want to feel there was any favouritism*

*Favouritism I am worried people at work will perceive me as because this job is a senior one where I have to make changes (pretty much it's my job to get us to pass accreditation) and people don't like being told what to do, let alone how to change, by a stranger. And this department is not forthcoming in its welcome. I don't think they're not nice, but they definitely aren't as eager to embrace me as some other places I've been. Whether that's because I was a contractor at my other places where they're like, well, if she's a dud it doesn't matter, she won't be here forever (this is my first permanent job) or whether because they know I'll have to tell them what to do and I'll have to liaise (or schmoozy, depending on how you look at it) with the boss a lot, or because they're just quiet, or because it's a big department and people can afford to be nice to some and ignore others (all my previous places were smaller), or.....whatever.
posted by glache at 11:26 PM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

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