It's on Me: Paying for Dinner in Korea

To celebrate my friend's birthday, I invited her out for dinner. We got all dressed up and met in Gangnam for a nice meal. Like usual, she didn't want to pick the restaurant, but I reminded her that this was her day and she should get to choose. She decided on a nice Italian bistro and we enjoyed a great dinner together to celebrate her 24th. Then the bill came. Who pays?

There are two rules in Korea when it comes to paying the bill:

  1. The one who invites pays for everyone.
  2. The birthday person pays for everyone.

We argued over it for a bit. She said it was her birthday and she should pay, to which I countered that I invited her out AND it was her birthday, so I should pay. It got a little tougher when she played the "culture" card and told me that Koreans usually pay for the meal on their birthdays. I tossed the culture card right back at her and said that in Canada, we like to take our friends out for their birthday. It was tough battle of cultures, but my stubbornness paid off in the end and the meal was on me.

Like many Korean traditions, things are changing with this generation. While custom states that the inviter pays for everyone's meal, that doesn't happen when I go out with Korean friends my age; we split the bill evenly. That works well when the custom is to share food, like at a galbi (Korean barbeque) restaurant. However, with older co-workers or especially school dinners with the principal, I know that the meal is taken care of for me. I just remember to serve the beers (being the youngest in the group, that's my job) and repeat many thanks before I head out.

Turning a Year Older in Korea 
Turning 1 in Korea the Traditional Way