L Bee Note: Today's post is by Anum Yoon who writes over at Current On Currency. I know many struggle with the “who pays for the birthday dinner” vs. “splitting checks” vs. “treating someone for birthday dinner” dillemma, so enjoy Anum's post!
If you ask who is supposed to pay for a birthday dinner, you’ll get a mixed response. Some believe whoever is hosting the party should always cover any expenses or think everyone should split the cost of the bill, including the guest of honor. Others believe guests paying for themselves and a portion of the cost for the person celebrating their birthday is perfectly acceptable.
The varied ideas of what constitutes proper birthday dinner etiquette can lead to some humiliating conversations if expectations aren’t communicated clearly before dinner.
Who Pays for the Birthday Dinner?
Many think a generational difference comes into play here; for instance, people in their 20s and 30s often have no problem paying for themselves or going dutch, but Grandma Baby Boomer might expect that since she was invited to dinner, the host will be paying for her meal at the restaurant.
Here are some ideas for inviting guests in a way that lets them know you’re not footing the bill without saying “pay for yourself, moocher!”
- Use the phrase “no host.”
- Ask guests not to bring a gift, attending dinner in lieu of gifts.
- Consider phrasing invitations like “let’s all take _____ out to dinner,” implying that this outing is going to be a treat for your friend, not a birthday party.
- If the party is for you, try making invitations like “Having my birthday dinner at (place, date, time), hope you can join me.”
- Or if you’re like me, go for the direct route. “Hey, I’d really like us all to have dinner for _____’s birthday, but I think it would work best if we all paid separately. How do you feel about that?”
The Key is In Setting Expectations (For you and for them!)
If you expect guests to pay, you need to have reasonable expectations. Make sure to pick a restaurant that everyone can afford. It’s not practical to invite people somewhere and expect each person to pitch in $150.
It’s also important to pick a place that suits the needs of your guests – dietary and otherwise. If you want to have dinner at a seafood restaurant but you know cousin Suzy is allergic to shellfish, you should probably consider other possible locations. Or maybe your friend Alex has finally bounced back after difficult times so you need to consider choosing a venue that won’t interfere with his recovery. If you can afford it, consider paying for dessert or including party favors to let your guests know they are appreciated.
What about the Big Eater?
Going dutch isn’t the best idea when there’s an over-orderer at the table. I think we’ve all seen this person once or twice. The friend who gets to the restaurant and sees that everyone is splitting the bill, so she starts ordering things she would never get on her own. Why yes, she thinks she will have that third glass of very expensive wine while the more frugal guests at the table clench their jaws.
If you are planning for guests to evenly split the cost of the bill, consider making a set menu with the restaurant so that the options are priced reasonably well. Opt for the set menu so you can include in your invitation a rough estimate of what the meal will cost each guest when the bill arrives.
Want to avoid dealing with financial etiquette altogether? An alternative could be to downsize your guest list and have a small party at home, where you cook for everyone. You can encourage guests to bring their favorite dish so there’s a nice variety of food, or just discuss meal options beforehand.
Communication is Key
At the end of the day, what you see as proper etiquette will depend on the guests you are inviting. You know your friends and family and should adjust for what best suits your group. The most important part of planning a birthday dinner is communication. If you don’t clearly communicate your expectations, you could end up in a very awkward and potentially embarrassing situation.
Anum Yoon is a recovering bubble tea addict, currently coping with said problem by channeling her energy into personal finance writing. She almost always has a cup of tea or coffee in her hand, and when she’s not talking about money management, she’s cooking up some Korean food in her kitchen.