Financial Etiquette: Who Pays For the Birthday Dinner?

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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:

 

  1. Whoever is hosting the party should always cover any expenses.
  2. The group should split the cost of the bill evenly, including the guest of honor.
  3. 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.

 

 

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!)

 

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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.

 

 

Want to avoid dealing with financial etiquette altogether?

 

 

There's also the idea of cooking at home instead of going out if you'd like to save pennies this way. Nothing says “thoughtful” like a home cooked meal.

  • An alternative could be to downsize your guest list and you cook for everyone.
  • 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.
  • It is very poor form to host a party where guests bring a gift and then ask them to “pay” by bringing food and beverage.

 

Try out a meal delivery service like HelloFresh to help with small parties. Get $20 off each of your first three boxes using my link.

 

 

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.

 

Financial Etiquette: Who Pays For the Birthday Dinner?
    • Laurie Norman
    • January 14, 2017
    Reply

    This has happened to me. I organized a birthday cooking event and sent those asked to participate the link for them to sign up. Two showed up with no reservation because they didn’t complete the reservation link to sign up and pay for their spot. Never again.

    1. Reply

      Oh no! That sounds like my nightmare. It’s so hard because you want to do something nice, then feel like a jerk being hyper vigilant about everyone signing up and paying.

    • Penpal
    • February 10, 2016
    Reply

    I think if the birthday boy or girl invites people to their birthday dinner, then the birthday person pays. Just as if you would be inviting them to your house for a birthday dinner that you are throwing yourself. The only time someone else pays is IF THEY invite you. Or else, it is like inviting people to pay for your birthday dinner. That’s just proper etiquette.

      • Ineke
      • February 21, 2019
      Reply

      Your answer is the ONLY right one .
      Why invité people if youre not willing to pay for them ?

  1. I pay for what I ate and sometimes a drink for the birthday boy/girl if it’s a good friend.

    1. That’s a good idea! It sounds like you and your friends have a good system 🙂

  2. Reply

    Once upon a time, about 20 of us went out to eat and then to play mini golf to celebrate friends birthday. My boyfriend (now husband) did not feel well and did not eat anything at dinner. There was a rude guy who was the date of an actual member of “the circle” and he started splitting the bill EQUALLY among all people. Well, some of us had dessert. Some didn’t. Some were old enough for alcohol, some weren’t. And he wanted my poor boyfriend to pony up too. Thankfully, we outnumbered him, but we clearly could have use some etiquette pointers!

    1. There’s always that one person who insists on that – even when it’s clearly not going to be an “equal split.” Being upfront about everything beforehand has saved me from a lot of those awkward financial situations – especially with people I’m not particularly close with. But a dinner out with friends plus a round of mini golf sounds like a really fun birthday idea!

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