How to decline eating out?
April 30, 2007 6:26 AM   Subscribe

How does one gracefully decline eating out when already spending time with a group of people?

My friends (and numerous acquaintances) like to eat out often, however, while I can afford it, because of financial goals I shouldn't. How does one manage to gracefully decline without putting a damper on the night?
posted by tehgeekmeister to Society & Culture (32 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
“Sorry, I won’t be able to join you.”

Alternatively, “Sorry, I’m saving my pennies and won’t be able to join you.”
posted by kika at 6:36 AM on April 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Invite them over for dinner and suggest that you start taking turns doing that. Or invite people over for appetizers and drinks then head out, again explicitly stating that you'd like to start a trend. Eating something ahead of time can reduce the bill quite a bit.

Say that you are tired of expensive restaurants and tonight you feel like hitting a cheap but good joint, like pizza etc.

Or meet them out for drinks afterwards.
posted by about_time at 6:47 AM on April 30, 2007

If you bow out of going, you pretty much put a damper on your own night. You can encourage them to go somewhere cheaper, go out with them and not eat anything, or order just an appetizer if you want to save a bit of money. Depending on the friends, you might be able to go eat at home and rejoin them later, but the social dynamics will be different than if you went to eat with them.
posted by yohko at 6:51 AM on April 30, 2007

Don't make it sound like it's about money, even if it is. You don't want people to enter into a bargaining game with you or think that you're cheap. You're not, you're just trying to be responsible.

"Sorry, I have other plans," will suffice.
posted by hermitosis at 6:59 AM on April 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

You know, I've never understood this "don't make it about money thing".

Make it about money. There is *no* shame in saying, "sorry guys & gals, I'm keeping my eye on the prize. Maybe I can catch up with you later?"

I'm willing to bet that someone in your group can't really afford it and that having someone who can, but chooses not to, say that they would rather save the money would be a welcome out for them as well.
posted by FlamingBore at 7:06 AM on April 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Do they start with dinner or end with it? If the former, you'll just "join up with you later" or "meet you there after dinner". If the latter I can't think of any method that won't eventually, after several repetitions, become noteworthy. At which point you'll have to explain. So maybe just start with the explanation but keep it non-judgmental.

You could also go out with them, but only order as much as you would normally spend with them during a similar period (i.e. as much as a movie or whatever would cost).
posted by DU at 7:08 AM on April 30, 2007

Be up front and honest. Say this:

"I feel like I am spending too much money eating out all the time and it is really beginning to bug me."
posted by bkeene12 at 7:13 AM on April 30, 2007

I have no problem saying something like "Sorry guys, I'm being good and putting some extra in to savings, so I can't join you for dinner."

I also like FlamingBore's "sorry guys & gals, I'm keeping my eye on the prize. Maybe I can catch up with you later?" - that's even better, actually.

If you're straighforward about it, they don't have to speculate why you don't want to join them.
posted by KAS at 7:15 AM on April 30, 2007

I'm wondering if you meant something different by "when already spending time with a group of people" than other respondents are thinking. Do you mean you're already out and about doing things and someone proposes going to dinner?
posted by phearlez at 7:37 AM on April 30, 2007

Response by poster: Phearlez, that's exactly what I meant. Going to dinner is never proposed ahead of time, but only after we're all together.
posted by tehgeekmeister at 7:47 AM on April 30, 2007

my friends and i were always honest about money. tell 'em you have resolved to save more/pay off credit cards/whatever and that you'll join them later.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:51 AM on April 30, 2007

The reason it's impolite to make it about the money is that it essentially communicates to someone that spending time with them is not worth the expense of X dollars.

This would be different if it was a singular event, or if it was generally understood that your financial situation is poor. But if you beg off citing money matters, yet everyone knows that you have the money to hang out if you really wanted to, then it can send the wrong message.

Also, people often cite money concerns as an assertive (or even passive-aggressive) way of changing group plans to suit their own needs. Your friends may perceive a money excuse, however jovial, as a subtle request to adapt plans to better suit you. That's why it's best to just decline citing other plans, so that they feel free to enjoy the plans already set in motion without feeling like they are excluding you or pandering to your needs.

Yes, yes, plate of beans. But that's what etiquette is for: shooting down as many potential hurt feelings or faux pas as possible with the simplest gesture.
posted by hermitosis at 7:52 AM on April 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

see, this is what i get for not previewing. okay, so if you're already together, suggest something cheap (familiarize yourself with good options so you can suggest one easily) or go and just order an appetizer.

i'd still be honest about the money, though. if they're truly your friends, they'll respect that and once they know it's a goal, they probably won't suggest dinner as often.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:53 AM on April 30, 2007

Whatever you decide make it about money if it's about money because if you don't they will assume it's about money anyway or worse - think it's about them!

When I was saving to buy a house I used that as my excuse for not dining out regularly with friends let them know that you will still do it once a week or month but cannot stay on financial track doing it as often as you do now.
posted by any major dude at 7:53 AM on April 30, 2007

It might be handy to have some alternate activity ideas in the back of your mind, so that you can suggest them on a moment's notice. I know when my friends and I are hanging out and we end up getting food, it's often because we're not sure what else to do. Most of us would probably prefer not to spend the money or eat all the extra calories, but a restaurant is an awfully convenient idea. If someone were to suggest a walk around the lake, or a game of bocce ball, or maybe picking up some groceries so we could all make our own pizzas or a giant salad (if hunger really is the driving issue), I think we'd all go for it.

That said, I think you can be honest about the money issue, as others have said. There's neither shame nor rudeness in having financial goals. As long as you can find something else fun to do with your evening, I don't think you'll be "putting a damper" on anyone else's fun by bowing out.
posted by vytae at 7:59 AM on April 30, 2007

I already have dinner plans, but I'd be love to catch up with you guys afterwards for drinks or coffee or bowling, etc.

Who am I having dinner with? Nobody, but I need to:
1) do some time-sensitive, complex work while I eat.
2) cook these octopus tentacles before they go bad.
3) multitask some chores like critical laundry for work
4) return some personal calls while I cook
5) check on a sick pet/let the dog out
6) urgently pay some bills
7) meet the lawn/pest/plumber guy
8) drop off dry cleaning on the way
9) help my neighbor hide a body
10) stick to this crazy diet I'm on
11) change out of these work clothes
12) work out before I get full/drunk/tired
13) sneak a quick nap, I didn't get a wink last night
14) clean my house, I have company coming right after work tomorrow
15) feed my neighbor's cat
16) remove my CCW before we go to a bar
17) check for a UPS package I'm anticipating
18) check my answering machine messages
19) sign up for a class online before it fills
20) stick with this budget I put myself on
posted by popechunk at 8:03 AM on April 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

"I feel like I am spending too much money eating out all the time and it is really beginning to bug me."

The last part of that sentence is obnoxious. Nobody is forcing him to go out. They're going out someplace expensive, if he can't really afford it, he should decline. Saying yes and then being annoyed is absurd.

If he would like to go out to cheaper meals with them, he should try to organize his own night out with the same people, arranged around a more modest budget.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 8:04 AM on April 30, 2007

Don't make it about money. This accomplishes nothing but making your friends feel guilty and prompts them to worry about your money on your behalf. Trust me, you don't want that.

The thing is, you don't really need to explain yourself. You can keep your reasons to yourself and if they're your friends they'll accept your decision and move on. A simple, "I'd rather not," "not tonight," "I'll take a raincheck," "maybe next Friday," etc etc should suffice. Even a little white lie along the lines of "I already ate," or "I just had sushi last week, you guys go ahead" is fine. If they plead with you just repeat your excuse eg "I'd really rather not." If they do ask you why etc., provide a variation on the excuse and move on. They might be put off by your constant refusal to eat with them so once in a while splurge and feast with them for a night.

For your close friends you can pull them aside let them know the deal. Hopefully they'll be work with you so such situations don't keep arising.
posted by nixerman at 8:07 AM on April 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Whatever you do, don't be the guy who says "Instead of going to <medium restaurant>, like you suggested, let's try <cheap thing>."

Just say no to the first thing, and then separately offer to do the cheap thing as a different activity, for a different time. Nobody will be bothered if you organize a night out at the Vietnamese or Ethiopian restaurant.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 8:19 AM on April 30, 2007

I have a friend who often comes along to the big dinner and just drinks water while hanging out. Other times, she orders something small, and some times she orders a meal. When she gets nothing and is asked about it, she says that she ate something big at home in the afternoon. No one's ever given her a hard time about it, because she seems to be taking care of herself just fine.
posted by xo at 8:32 AM on April 30, 2007

There might be additional ideas in the similar previous question.
posted by pineapple at 8:51 AM on April 30, 2007

Go. Order the cheapest thing or skip things (i.e. alcohol). If anyone asks you what you're doing, "Sorry, I'm just trying to save a little money for x. I'm not all that hungry anyway so it's not important, I just wanted to hang out with you guys tonight." And then change the subject. The more unconcerned and offhand you sound, the better it goes.
posted by anaelith at 9:13 AM on April 30, 2007

The problem with making it about money: Someone offers to chip in for you, thinking that you're short this week, not that you are making different lifestyle decisions. You then either have to decide whether or not to turn down an honestly-meant, though slighly not-the-point favor.

The problem with NOT making about money: You order an app. as your entree and otherwise cut corners to watch your pennies. Most others order more food. At the end of the night, it's suggested that the bill just be divided x ways, and you have to stand up and be the cheapskate who insists on itemizing the bill. So it's about money anyway.

My suggestions.
1) Beg off the dinner portions completely citing fatigue or finances or another commitment.
2) Find a comfortable and breezy way to explain that for the foreseeable future, you will be counting your pennies, so yeah, you're only going to pay for your empanadas and a coke, not everyone else's three-course meal.

It would also be helpful to pick someone in the group and privately explain your perspective with the expectation that they'll be your ally at key moments. So when someone says, "aw, c'mon, just [financially uncomfortable suggestion]," you'll have someone backing you up.
posted by desuetude at 9:37 AM on April 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

One other problem with being honest is that you might unintentionally invite judgement. I have a close friend who often refuses dinner invitations because he's trying not to spend much. So whenever he mentions that he ate out (or bought something cool, or went to a movie), I tend to have a reaction. I feel dissed and de-prioritized, even if that is not totally rational.

On the other hand, I totally applaud the idea of spending less on eating out.

I guess if you do start begging out of the eating out together tradition your friends and you have established, just continue to show them that the friendships are important by spending other kinds of time with them.
posted by serazin at 9:52 AM on April 30, 2007

I am in the same situation on occassion. Either for financial reasons, or I maybe I had a big lunch, or I just ate something at home. I don't usually tell the reason, but if I want to socialize, I tell them I will meet them at the restaurant, but to go ahead and order, because I am just having a drink. And by drink, I usually mean iced tea or a soft drink. Very inexpensive, you get to socialize, and you don't have to explain anything.

You can go at the same time, or tell them you have a couple things to do and will catch up. Getting there after they order takes some of the pressure off, because you don't have to put up with all the "oh come on, order something!" stuff. (Which is rudeness on THEIR part, btw.) If you DO go at the same time, and anyone pushes you about ordering, the best response is just a "no thanks" and a smile, and then ignore any other discussion of it.

People choose not to eat for many reasons: health, fasting for religious reasons, money, time, nothing sounds good, not hungry, want something better later on, etc. You don't have to go into which reason is yours at that time. Good friends won't hassle you.
posted by The Deej at 11:08 AM on April 30, 2007

go and eat light or nurse a beer, have a few cups of coffee or tea, or even a water...try that more in place of the occasional full on meals so that you can be present...or you could always do the glass of beer then head for home thing....i really don't think people look down on this, especially when the meals are spontaneous ones

and if you have a financial plan just say, after a few nights when you do what you do no one will ever mention it or think twice about it again, it'll just be part of who you are
posted by Salvatorparadise at 11:37 AM on April 30, 2007

Long before someone suggest you go out you should say, "I really should to start eating at home more often." The friends you say this to might even be thinking the same of themselves. Then, the next time you're asked to go along to a restaurant you can say, "I'm trying to eat at home more, so I'll meet up with you guys later.", and it they'll be able to remember the last conversation you had. I would aslo suggest trying to arrange a pot-luck or dinner plans you are o.k. with before anyone suggests anything else.

You don't really have to make it about money. You can also eat healthier, and more responsibly at home.
posted by Packy_1962 at 1:08 PM on April 30, 2007

Go and have a drink. Don't make a big deal out of it, and certainly don't make it about money.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 1:52 PM on April 30, 2007

The reason it's impolite to make it about the money is that it essentially communicates to someone that spending time with them is not worth the expense of X dollars.

I disagree with this wholeheartedly. I can't imagine any of my friends reacting this way, and I've had to bring this issue up before -- they haven't reacted this way at all.

Suggestions about just getting a soft drink are decent ones, but I don't believe that'll achieve the desired effect if you keep doing it repeatedly. Eventually you'll be asked "why is it every time we go out you just get a drink?" - and then you'll have to either lie or answer truthfully, which is what I think you should probably do in the first place.

Suggestions about being honest are what I believe is the right way to go, but some of the ones I've seen above are worded pretty snarkily. I'd suggest something more along the lines of "I've promised myself to stop eating out because I'm trying to [whatever your goal is - retirement fund, vacation fund, pay off debt], but I'll come along and have a drink." (or meet up afterwards)..

I'm really surprised to see all of these people saying "don't make it about money." If it's about money, it's about money. Maybe I'm nutty, but I think that if someone can't respect me being honest (but not rude), then I don't really want them as a friend.
posted by twiggy at 2:16 PM on April 30, 2007

Best answer: From the wording of your question, it sounds like your goal is to politely decline eating out with your friends. I think you can just do this without offering any further explanation. Friends: "we've been hanging out doing ___ for a while. Let's all go get dinner." You: "I think I'm going to head home, but enjoy the meal. See you guys tomorrow." You don't have any obligation to join these friends for every activity they propose, so there's really no need to say anything else. Imagine, for the sake of argument, that you hate watching boxing matches. If your friends went to a lot of boxing matches, you could just say, "thanks for thinking of me, but I'm going to have to pass today" whenever they invited you to come with them. No need to say, "I think boxing is stupid and don't understand why people watch it" or "watching boxing is really bad for you because it desensitizes you to violence" or "I don't want to pay for tickets." Your friends may eventually figure out that you don't like boxing matches, but so what? (Depending on what your friends are like, how close you are with them, etc., it may also be fine to just be honest. Only you know how honesty will probably be received by your friends. The disagreement in this thread shows that not everyone will react the same way.)

Some of the responses here have been about how to accompany your friends while spending less money at the restaurant. If you're interested in trying this, a few words of caution:
* Obviously, be tactful and don't make your friends uncomfortable. Eating out with someone who loudly comments on the price of items on the menu ("$8 for a salad?!") is not fun. Neither is dining with someone who orders and quickly devours a tiny appetizer, then spends the evening wistfully staring at everyone else's food. This is pretty basic, but not everyone follows this advice.
* In some restaurants, ordering only an appetizer or a drink is fine. In others, it may be considered bad etiquette. It depends on how formal the restaurant is, what the norm is where you live, how the menu is structured, etc. Sipping a beer while your friends eat pizza shouldn't be a problem, but asking for a seaweed salad and a glass of tap water at Masa will not go over well. This might not be an issue in your situation, depending on where you live and where your friends like to eat, but I'm throwing it out as something to be attuned to just in case.
* For whatever reason, social situations can sometimes get awkward when money is involved. If you join your friends for dinner and try to keep your costs down, be aware that awkwardness of some kind may ensue. (I'm not saying that things should be this way, just that they sometimes are.) Try to be on the lookout for any signs that this is happening so you can head it off if need be.
posted by barelylegalrealist at 3:19 PM on April 30, 2007

Best answer: In my group of friends, it's customary to announce 'I/We are saving for a house/paying off a loan/saving for a car/thinking about having kids' and then it's just accepted that for at least the next year, and possibly the next two or three, you'll be skint, and stuff like eating out is just not going to happen. Coffee, maybe, but dinner? Maybe once a month or less. Hanging out at someone's house is the usual alternative, because $20 goes a heck of a lot further at home. And plus, the chairs are usually more comfortable.

My group of friends is quite diverse, financially speaking; we have incomes from around $5k a year to around $100k a year, and everyone understands that no matter what you earn, sometimes you won't be able to afford stuff. And, well, it's accepted. YMMV, of course.
posted by ysabet at 6:04 PM on April 30, 2007

On the "about the money" issue. No, I wouldn't make it about money. (I wouldn't lie about it either though.) There is a reason "polite society" is encouraged to not talk about money: it can make people inadvertently uncomfortable. They may feel compelled to offer to cover you, or just feel bad, thinking you are on hard times, and not know how to respond.

If pressed, I wouldn't suggest lying, but polite people don't press people for more information than they have made clear they are willing to give.

Sometimes, when pressed, I am able to come up with an obvious joke answer that gets a laugh, relieves the tension, and changes the subject, without making the asker feel insulted. Tricky, but it can be done.
posted by The Deej at 8:51 AM on May 1, 2007

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