If you ask who is supposed to pay for a birthday dinner, you’ll get a mixed response. There are many “splitting the bill” ideologies:
- Whoever is hosting the party should always cover any expenses.
- The group should split the cost of the bill evenly, including the guest of honor.
- Guests should pay for themselves and split the cost for the person celebrating their birthday,
The varied ideas of what constitutes proper birthday dinner etiquette can lead to some humiliating conversations if expectations aren’t communicated clearly before dinner.
So, 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.
According to The Art of Manliness :
- If it's the birthday of a single friend, usually the dinner is split by the other friends.
- With a couple, the friends can treat the couple and split the bill evenly, or the significant other can pay for the birthday boy/girl.
- If it's your birthday and you're single and want to pay, insist when the bill comes.
How to Say Host is Paying on the Invite
It's really quite simple. You can say “my treat,” or “I'd like to take a group of friends out to dinner for my birthday.” Up front communication can alleviate so much awkwardness when it comes to who pays for what at the end of the night.
If you expect guests to pay, set 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 can afford it, consider paying for dessert or including party favors to let your guests know they are appreciated.
Here are some ideas for inviting guests in a way that lets them know you’re not footing the bill without saying “pay for yourselves, moochers!”
- Use the phrase “no host.”
- Ask guests not to bring a gift, attending dinner in lieu of gifts.
- 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 know you have a large expense coming up, such as a big night out with friends or a party you're hosting, leverage an automatic savings app to “Save the change” from your normal expenses and help you save money for a big occasion faster.
What's a good restaurant for a birthday dinner?
This article says 6 people should be the cutoff if you want to have dinner out at a fancy restaurant on your birthday. I'm inclined to agree. Perhaps it's just me, but I can't remember the last time I went to a big birthday meal I thoroughly enjoyed. Usually, the place is too loud, or too crowded, and the nature of a dinner table means you can only speak with the people around you.
- With this in mind, the best restaurants are ones that are quiet and offer a chance for good conversation.
- Opt for fun, fast-casual places so everyone can order (and pay) separately. These places are also more accommodating of large groups.
- If it's a smaller group, feel free to go to a “sit down” restaurant, but try to make sure the vibe steers more casual. You never know everyone's budget for the evening.
What about splitting the bill when I didn't order much?
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. Or maybe it's someone who doesn't even think others may be on a budget when they order.
Here are some tips on how to pay only your portion of the bill when out with friends:
- Before the bill comes, silently slip out and ask your waiter if you can get your bill first as you have to get to an appointment. This way you only pay for your portion.
- If it's a restaurant that doesn't allow for credit card payments (Hello, NYC) say you brought cash and offer to pay (x amount) for your salad and water.
- 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.
13 Birthday Dinner Ideas
The bigger the group, the harder it is to truly connect over a meal.
So for those who want to skip the birthday dinner tradition altogether or create a dining experience on a budget, I've got handfuls birthday dinner ideas below.
- Cook at home. Downsize your guest list and you cook for everyone. Nothing says “thoughtful” like a home-cooked meal. One year, my brother cooked tacos for a group of about 20 people on my birthday and it was a big hit AND CHEAP.
- Leverage one of these meal boxes with a done-for-you menu and easy Wow factor to cook for a crowd (or do a fun activity with the birthday boy or girl.) Get $60 off my favorite HelloFresh by using my link here.
- You can encourage guests to potluck by bringing their favorite dish so there’s a nice variety of food and less prep work for the host.
- Gather the group at one of these 24 chain restaurants that offer free food to the birthday person on their day of birth.
- Make a nice picnic of sandwiches and a simple cheese board to take to the local park. Have everyone bring a beverage and enjoy the outdoors.
- Order pizza for the birthday guest of honor. Everyone likes pizza and for the price of your one dinner at a nice restaurant, you can feed a crowd and actually hear one another speak.
- If you really want to go out for your birthday, try breakfast or lunch rather than dinner. It's more casual and a lot less expensive.
Non-Dinner Ideas to Celebrate a Birthday
Got more than 6-8 people who want to attend? Plan on doing something creative, fun, and way more interactive than sitting at a fancy restaurant. Try out the following:
- Escape Room
- Tubing or day at a public lake/river/beach
- Host a game night at your place (or at someone willing to host for you)
- Go on a big group hike or schedule a private athletic class for you and your friends
- Splash out on a special evening outing like painting, flower arranging, or candle making (I like Groupon for this so I can get activities I wouldn't do all the time for a major discount.)
- Segway tour
- Create one of these DIY scavenger hunts for your group
I mean, I could literally go on and on, but I won't. Hopefully, by now, you get the idea that the more creative you can be with the birthday dinner ideas, the more fun you'll have.
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.
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.