Don’t Bring the Check Before the Meal Is Done

Last summer, I lived for a month and a half in Beijing. It was a life-changing experience, due in no small part to the city’s world-famous cuisine.

One evening, a local friend took me to Beijing’s best Hot Pot restaurant for dinner. Since I’d heard wonders about Beijing cuisine, expectations were high. And expectations were exceeded. The restaurant staff sang a song for the foreigner (i.e., me), my friend and I finished our delicious meal, and then we got the check. I’d never been so happy to pay for something.

The following evening, we had dinner at a different restaurant: Beijing’s best Peking Duck restaurant. This time, the restaurant staff sang a song for the foreigner (i.e., me again — I peaked), we began our meal, they brought us the check to pay at our convenience, and then we finished our meal. We paid, of course, but we weren’t particularly excited to do so. It was more a “they gave us food, so now we give them money” sort of thing. It was transactional, not generous.

The food was equally delicious in both restaurants, so what was different? The first restaurant provided an enveloping experience, which we were then happy to pay for, while the second one inserted paying into the experience, which prevented us from losing ourselves in it.

So whatever you do, don’t bring the metaphorical check until your metaphorical patrons are done with their metaphorical meal. Metaphors aside, bringing what you want into the picture before you’re done giving will do a disservice to both those you want to give to and to yourself.

Give them the full experience. Then, ask for what you want, if anything. Hopefully, by that point, they will already want to give it to you.

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This is how the word “Beijing” is written in Mandarin, in case one of your friends ever asks you the classic question, “Hey, how is the word ‘Beijing’ written in Mandarin again?”

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