What does ‘It’s on the house’ mean?

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘It’s on the house’?

If you hear this at a restaurant, it’s good news.

Here it is used as an idiom meaning that the food or drinks are free. In other words, you don’t have to pay for them, they are paid for by the restaurant.

But the idiom ‘on the house’ is not only used in restaurants. It can also be used to mean free in other situations. But usually it is used when you get free food or drinks from a place that sells them (eg. cafes, hotels, bars).

There are different reasons you might get food or drinks ‘on the house.’ Maybe it’s because the waiter made a mistake with your order. Maybe it’s because you’re a regular customer. Maybe it’s because the restaurant is having a special event.

Here are some examples using the idiom ‘on the house’:

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(Waiter) “We are sorry your order took so long earlier. Please accept these desserts on the house

(Restaurant manager) “Thank you for reserving our restaurant for your anniversary. This bottle of wine is on the house.”

(Waiter) “Happy birthday, sir. These drinks are on the house!”

To reply to ‘It’s on the house’ you can say thank you using phrases like ‘Really? Thank you very much’ or ‘Really? That’s very kind.’ Sometimes it’s a good idea to also check what you’re getting ‘on the house’ and what you have to pay for 😉

But, be careful, you wouldn’t say ‘It’s on the house’ if you are having food or drinks with your friends and want to pay for them. In this case you would say ‘It’s on me’ or ‘It’s my shout.’

On the other hand, if you don’t want someone to pay for your food and drinks, and you want everyone to pay equally, you can say ‘No, let’s split the bill.’ Here’s an example:

(After finishing dinner at a restaurant and about to pay)

Friend A: “Today’s your birthday. This is on me.”

Friend B: “No, it’s too much. Let’s split the bill

Related links:

How can I speak more politely to customers?

What does ‘Let’s play it by ear’ mean?

How can I explain my country’s food?