BYOL (Buy Your Own Lunch)

by JohnGreer1 min read8th Apr 20188 comments


Personal Blog

For the format that’s easy on the eyes:

Imagine you’re at the tail end of a business meeting at a restaurant. Your plate is still 2/3 full since you didn’t get to eat as much as you wanted because you were too busy answering questions. (That’s a problem for a different post.) The check comes.

“I’ve got it, Jim!”
“No, Bob. Let me!”
“Really, it’s quite alright!”
*insert wrestling match over the check holder1*

I never liked playing the back and forth game of who pays the bill. I don’t like it as a diner and I didn’t like it when I worked as a server.

The problem seems to be one of signaling. I’ll have to get Robin Hanson or Scott Alexander's opinion but it seems like it’s rude if you don’t offer to pay for the group. It’s also rude and signals cheapness if you don’t argue with whoever is offering to pay.

In poorer families, when one person, let’s say Grandma, is known to have more money, everyone else knows not to argue with her and instead just says “thank you” with a hint of humility and shame.

The dating world has certain established norms like "the man pays for things". The problem in the non-dating world is it would be weird to say upfront that you aren’t going to pay for someone’s meal because there’s not an established norm of who pays for a meal outside of a potential employer paying for a potential new employee’s meal.

It’s like trying to break up a friendship. There’s no norm for that like there is for breaking up a romantic relationship:

I wanted to try to solve the problem of communicating that we can pay for ourselves without it being so weird.

Enter BYOL. There’s (bring your own booze) BYOB. I am coining the term (buy your own lunch) BYOL. Well, technically my cofounder Kelsey helped me come up with the name so she deserves credit.


We’d love to meet for lunch (byol).”
“We’re having a lunch meeting at Mendocino Farms (byol).”
“We’d love to meet for dinner at 6pm (byol).”
“Our meetings are BYOL.”

Yes, I know dinner and lunch are different things, but we like byol over byom and I don’t think anyone is going to get confused.

My next step is including it in messages and seeing how it goes. I'm going to include a hyperlink to the Medium post. It might look a little pompous to link to my own writing but someone has to do it.

Some other awkwardness to consider:

Servers don’t like splitting the bill among too many individuals.

My co-founders and I will usually pay with one card and the other person can pay cash, with their card, or Venmo us. For really large parties, cash or Venmo seem to be the best options, otherwise, one person does need to pay for everyone.

Let me know what you think, or if there any tweaks, problems, or alternative solutions you see. I tend to lean toward meta-communicating rather than avoiding but am open to hearing other strategies.

And if you try it definitely let me know how it goes!

1. Fun fact: Yes, that black book they give you the bill in is called a “check holder” or “check presenter”. No, despite working in the restaurant business, I never knew.

Further reading:

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