How do very wealthy people split the bill when they eat together?
The very wealthy, especially old wealth, have a set of protocols as second nature to them as splitting the bill is to us. The ones I have glimpsed are as follows:
The rich don’t handle money. They have someone for that. The waiter, the chef, the butler — traditionally these were servants and so such things would be handled at that level. I’ve seen two forms:
- An employee follows the rich person around and pays for anything desired.
- They have an arrangement with the establishment, whether it’s an exclusive restaurant or Harrods. At the restaurant there is no bill. It is just handled. In the case of shopping, often the store comes to the wealthy person. An employee, perhaps of the store, perhaps of the wealthy person, with impeccable taste or specialist knowledge selects a variety of items which are brought to Madame or Monsieur for approval. Monsieur cannot make bad choices if only good choices are offered.
The private club: I happen to be a member of a club. It’s definitely not a very hoity-toity club but I’m guessing many of its traditions are copied from the same. One tradition is that there is no money exchanged in the club. You are a member. You are known. You are served. If there were any questions, you wouldn’t be a member. The bills are handled invisibly. At the club, the staff knows who you are – it’s their job. They likely saw your guests come in with you, or they sat at your table, or you bought them a drink. Maybe you introduced your guest to your favorite bartender, who will then be expected to remember his or her name. If your guest arrives before you, the doorman will have your guest’s name. If it’s a busy night with lots of people arriving, your guest’s worst case scenario is, “Good evening, I’m Joe Blow, guest of Sam Smith.” When you arrive it’s, “Good evening, Mr. Smith, Mr. Blow is waiting for you in the bar.”
Slumming. In general the very wealthy don’t go to the same places we go, but there’s no reason they can’t so sometimes they do. In this case see #1 above or they may get in the spirit of things and even carry cash. To that end, a story: When I worked at Apple International I met a really great guy but I should say gentleman because he was from a “good family” of Latin America. This was a time when it was fashionable that scions actually do something useful. He told me of a night on the town with an Argentinian industrialist. It was spontaneous so it wasn’t clear where they would go. No problem. The industrialist opened the safe in the drawing room and his aide took out 10 packets of $100 bills (U.S. currency interestingly enough). This was likely $10,000 and the year was 1987. This was just in case they went slumming, i.e. to places where he wouldn’t have a relationship. They did. They spent it all.
Finally, there’s a famous story about how Howard Hughes never carried any money. He once flew a date to Las Vegas for dinner, then flew back, all without a penny changing hands. (He owned the airline and the hotel.) After returning, they were strolling through the deserted airport in the wee hours of the morning. Perhaps Hughes was showing off his new TWA terminal or maybe they were just enjoying the privacy. Eventually, Hughes had to use the restroom and in those days airlines deployed coin operated stalls. Hughes goes into the bathroom, then comes out and asks his date if she has any money. She doesn’t. So the richest man in the world crawls under the door of the stall to do his business. The next day, all the pay toilets in TWA terminals worldwide were removed.
And so, the Referee knows how to handle these sort of situations, when Travellers work with Nobility or Corporate tycoons.
And when the Travellers ARE Nobility or Corporate tycoons?
Well, that’s a story for another time…