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[Pressure points] Should non-drinkers split the check with friends who drink?

May 14, 2024 - 15:37 By No Kyung-min
(Getty Images)

Where does the value of liquor lie at gatherings involving food and alcohol: in its price tag or in its mood-enhancing role?

The social pressure on non-drinkers to chip in for their friends' alcoholic drinks is a contentious issue here, as shared platters, paid for collectively, often make up the bulk of the bill, unlike in some societies where individuals typically cover the cost of their own meals and drinks.

Indeed, anonymous online discussion forums such as Blind, for verified employees in various industries, are rife with discussions about whether sober participants should be obligated to split the total cost of a night out evenly, including the cost of alcohol.

A user on Blind questioned the fairness of requesting a non-drinking friend to shell out for booze when another friend, who drinks heavily, orders at least four bottles of soju for their occasional get-togethers: "Should we continue with this practice of going Dutch?"

Price of liquor is 'no joke'

One Blind user claimed that evenly splitting the bill results in non-drinkers shouldering an extra 5,000 won ($3.60) to 20,000 won per drinking session, for beverages they don't even consume.

It may not seem like much, but “it can accumulate over time.”

The issue can be further compounded by the prices of alcoholic beverages consumed, as pointed out by Park Min-young, an office worker in her 20s.

According to Park, splitting the bill for moderately priced alcohol is reasonable, but if expensive liquors dominate the order, it becomes a different matter.

"Paying a share for a few bottles of soju and beer is acceptable," she explained. "However, when it comes to high-caliber whisky or wine, it may feel unfair for water drinkers to be burdened with the same financial responsibility."

In such cases, Lee Ye-jin said she tries to exempt non-drinkers from chipping in.

"I make it a point that when dividing the bill among friends, I separate the costs of food and alcohol so that non-drinkers can only pay for the meal,” she said. Lee further stressed the need to show consideration for those who would love to participate in social gatherings but are physically intolerant of alcohol.

Given the current increase in prices of soju and beer at local restaurants, typically ranging from 6,000 won to 10,000 won per bottle nowadays, some simply opt out of drinking outings altogether.

A Seoul resident surnamed Song in his 30s, expressed his preference for participating only in the dinner portion of such gatherings.

"I'd rather head home early after dinner," he explained, "than spend more money going to a bar afterwards. If I truly want to catch up with friends, however, I choose to order non-alcoholic beverages at a pub or suggest going to a cafe for coffee."

Paying for the social experience

Some anonymous online users on Blind expressed frustration at the notion of accommodating non-drinkers, asserting that attendance at drinking gatherings is a matter of personal choice.

One comment stated, "If you don’t drink and are unwilling to chip in, simply don't attend the drinks party."

"To a certain extent, meticulously calculating the costs of food and drinks may seem overly business-like," remarked Park, alluding to her preference for prioritizing relationships over monetary concerns.

"For me, it's crucial not to jeopardize friendships over such matters, as long as everyone remains considerate and thoughtful," she added.

Another commenter questioned the motive of meeting up with friends if someone holds onto grievances about unequal financial contributions.

It's important to recognize that these gatherings entail more than just food and beverage consumption, said one individual on Blind.

The poster's argument was based on the premise that people don't usually divide food prices based on individual consumption. "The costs even extend beyond food and drinks to include expenses like the restaurant's rent and server wages," the comment read.

Despite abstaining from alcohol, Kim Beom-jun, 26, ruminated over social costs, as such meetups carry social implications that should be factored into how the tab is divided.

"Even though I don't consume alcohol, I'm still willing to pay for the drinks," he said. "I believe that what truly makes a gathering enjoyable are the overall elements of social interaction and the ambiance, rather than the specific beverage I consume on that day."

Kim compared it to splitting a karaoke bill with friends, even if some of them only sit in the room for the snacks without having a turn on the microphone.

"Pressure points" delves into the seemingly trivial, yet surprisingly contentious topics that ignite debate in our everyday lives. -- Ed.