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Jul 17, 2012 11:05 AM

When inviting someone out for a b'day meal, who 'should' pick the restaurant? - the host or the guest?

I've seen this handled both ways (the host picking (or selecting a few options), and the host asking the b'day guest to pick) and I'm wondering what your standard method is and/or if there is a 'correct' method according to normal social graces.

I see the upside of asking the b'day guest to pick as choosing a spot they either have been wanting to try and/or something they'd enjoy

I see the upside of the host picking as a way to control costs and perhaps location.


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  1. My thoughts are that it is nice for the guest to be given a choice. Perhaps the host could suggest a few spots in the price range he or she is comfortable with, and see what the guest would prefer.

    1 Reply
    1. re: CanadaGirl

      I would lean towards this.......allow the guest to choose,

    2. It's up to the host (after all, he/she is HOSTING), but the host may always defer to the honoree. Host's option.

      1. The guest should have the first say.
        If the host is worried about cost, the host shouldn't have offered.
        However, the host can recommend places, but the ultimate decision should be on the guest.

        20 Replies
        1. re: dave_c

          So the sky's the limit? I can't ask anyone out to dinner unless I'm willing to pay whatever the cost? I have to disagree. If I ask someone out and I do not have an unlimited budget it's perfectly ok for me to suggest restaurants within my price range. And as a guest, one should not order the most expensive item on the menu.

          1. re: escondido123

            Totally agree!! The very idea that an invitation to dinner comes with an obligation to spend whatever it takes is absurd.

            1. re: escondido123

              The way I look at it, I would only offer to buy dinner for someone I know. As a result, I automatically have an idea of the price range based upon the person.

              It makes sense to offer up some restaurants within your price range, but for some people (spouse, kids and parents) the sky is the limit.

              In regards to the question of "who should pick," I still believe the guest has the say. If I think I couldn't afford their restaurant, I would not even offer.

              1. re: dave_c

                For people with a limited income, the limit would fall far shorter than the sky. Glad you've got the money to pay any price.

                1. re: dave_c

                  dave_c - So, you presume to know what restaurant someone you know would pick? I think most people who have an appreciation for high-end fine dining also enjoy more affordable, yet delicious spots, and more importantly, some quality time with a friend who is generous enough to offer a birthday dinner - anywhere. I guess I just find it odd that your list of friends each have only one set price-range of restaurants that they will dine at and you know what it is for each. Obviously this makes it easier for you to rule out offering birthday dinners to certain folks, but it is pretty weird.

                  I would never, ever suggest anything that I thought was out a friend's price range...and I can't imagine anyone I am friends with would do that either. I think if you are close enough to someone to be asked out to dinner, this is a lot easier to figure out than your method of the host pre-determining what restaurant the guest would select. Either that, or you are trying to say that you have a lot of classless people in your life.

                  That said, it is fine to choose a restaurant that you think your guest would enjoy. Just as you would chose a birthday gift or what type of wine or dessert to bring to one's home when you are a guest - without their input. IT IS A GIFT.

                  I think if you feel guilty locking a guest into YOUR CHOICE, a good route is to say, "Hey, I would love to take you to XYZ Restaurant for your birthday, but if there is something else you may prefer, let me know. I am open to other ideas". By naming a specific place you are giving an idea of your price range. Hopefully the person you are inviting to dinner isn't a total dolt.

                  1. re: dave_c


                    Hang in there buddy.....I'm with you.

                    I think all who say it's the host's choice to decide control the situation and costs.....really do not give their friends enough credit to simply be gracious and appreciative of the moment...rather than speculate on whether they will take advantage of one's generosity.

                    There's the old adage....don't ask the question if you don't wont to hear the answer..

                    And last.....I'd be willing to bet most of your friends do not even know of restaurants like:

                    Per Se, Le Bernardin, Eleven Madison Park or The French Laundry......but they may know of Peter Luger or the like in their home area.

                    1. re: fourunder

                      Of course, you then have the friend that's not sure what your budget or expectations are, and is trying to think of a restaurant that's cheap enough that it can't possibly cause a problem, but is some place they'd genuinely want to eat at.

                  2. re: escondido123

                    Definitely agree. I also think it's important for a guest to choose a restaurant in their host's budget. It's rare for someone to invite me out for a birthday meal and for me to have no idea of that person's general budget. If that's the case, you can always just suggest and cuisine or an area and have the host choose.

                    1. re: escondido123

                      Hopefully you'd have a good sense of the person to know whether they'd take advantage of the offer and insist on the French Laundry when you were thinking $30pp, or if they'd need some coaxing to choose someplace they really want to go rather than settling for a slice and a coke so as not to impose on your pocketbook. If I invite a friend out for her b-day, I assume she'd choose one that we'd go to if we were each paying our own way, unless I pushed her to choose a more spendy one for the special occaision. If you did issue an open invite and the person responds with something totally out of the price range, hopefully you're close enough to level with them (nicely so as not to embarass them), otherwise, suck it up and order yourself a cup of soup while they have the tasting menu (just kidding).

                      If you're really worried about price, maybe throw some suggestions out there in the price range you're thinking of (e.g. Hey - I want to take you out for your b-day...I was thinking maybe X, Y or Z place...what do you think?) or you could even pick a place that holds some special significance for the two of you (e.g. I want to take you to that new place we've been talking about trying out, or I want to take to you to X where we had such a good time last year).

                      1. re: akq

                        And that is exactly what I suggested in the first place.

                        1. re: escondido123

                          I was agreeing with you and expanding on what you said.

                      2. re: escondido123

                        Plus 1, Escondido... a bit over 10 years ago, I was dating a 'foodie' type guy. A good cook, and very interested in food. His birthday was coming up, so I asked what he wanted to do - he shocked me by suggesting he wanted to go to one of the MOST expensive - very good, of course, - but VERY expensive - restaurants in town, and go with a couple who were friends of mine he had gotten to know a bit and liked. They were both very sophisticated about food and wine as well.

                        They and I were quite close, so I felt ok talking frankly about the challenges in making this happen with them.

                        I don't recall quite how I broached the subject, but I believe I invited them with the clear distinction that I would pay for us two, and if they decided to join us, would need to pay for their half - I just could barely swing out bill. In fact, I couldn't but planned to suck it up and do it anyway. I felt a little taken advantage of, BTW; I would NEVER have asked him to take me there for dinner for my birthday - knowing how big the bill could be.

                        Well, we all went and had a lovely time, and these dear friends of mine picked up the whole bill. I was kind of embarrassed at the time, (mostly as my date had kind of worked the occasion), but he is long gone and we have all remained dear friends who I have cooked for and dined with many times over the years. I think it was kind of a present to me, and as a thank you for all my work the year before managing their wedding reception which was a 6 course sit-down dinner for 50 at a winery....

                        It was a strain in several ways - except to the birthday boy, who just was pleased as punch he got his fancy Canlis dinner. Sigh.

                        1. re: gingershelley

                          Those sound like great friends and a boyfriend that you're certainly better off without.

                      3. re: dave_c

                        Most people can afford to treat someone at many restaurants, but not all. I am relatively well-off financially, but I can think of a few restaurants in my city where I could not in good conscience host someone for dinner. If someone can only afford $20 a person, they shouldn't feel as thigh they should never offer to take someone out. There is a big range between "I can only afford to spend $3" and "money is no object".

                        1. re: CanadaGirl

                          I think that taking someone out for lunch at a really nice place can be a way to give them a real treat at a price that's affordable. Prices are lower and we tend not to drink quite so much in the middle of the day.

                        2. re: dave_c

                          If someone chose Per Se as a place to go for their birthday and I couldn't afford it? I would be obliged to tell them so. Hopefully the people in question (host and guest) know each other well enough that this wouldn't be an issue, but to assume that the host can afford a 4-star restaurant without detailed knowledge of his/her finances seems rather odd.

                          1. re: LindaWhit

                            Agree, LW.... see my post above - awkward!

                            1. re: gingershelley

                              Wicked awkward! I agree with escondido - good friends you have, and you're better off without that ex-BF.

                            2. re: LindaWhit

                              I always assumed as well that people would have some general idea about what price range was feasible if someone said, pick wherever you want. However, I once read a post on one of the regional chow boards were someone requested recommendations for a celebratory dinner of a reasonable size (~30ish?). They stated they were told they could pick wherever they wanted. Understandably, fellow hounds started listing their favorite restaurants, many of which were the pricier establishments in this city ($$$ or $$$$). The poster came back a couple of days later and asked for things more in the $15-20 range per person total (apps, drinks, mains included). A big difference from the $100+ places that most people recommended (although, several people did recommend places that they assumed would be more appropriate for such a large group and associated check).

                          2. Do you take the birthday-person with you to pick out a birthday present?
                            Of course, one would want to choose a gift that the recipient would enjoy.

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: wyogal

                              Good point... What would Miss Manners say in this situation?
                              Etiquette will dictate what is the correct way to handle this question.

                              1. re: dave_c

                                I would bet RBHound's Costco rebate (that's another thread) that Miss Manners would agree with me.

                              2. re: wyogal

                                Of course, for a birthday gift, if the recipient hates it, or can't use it, they can thank you graciously and then dispose of the gift. It's a bit harder to do that when you're sitting in front of a plateful of food you don't want to eat.

                                1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                  I guess if it's a friend, one would already know their tastes. I am not recommending that the host order for the birthday person as well.
                                  Jeez, why can't people understand that the invitation to dinner is a gift from the giver? To be accepted or declined by the receiver? Y'all seem to be making such a big deal out of this.
                                  If indeed they are friends, then this shouldn't even be a big deal. And unless someone is ordering for someone else, there should be no reason one ends up with "a plateful of food you don't want to eat." If one is that picky, they should simply decline the invite.

                                  1. re: wyogal

                                    I'm thinking of stories I've heard from people of the vegan taken to the Steak restaurant, or the person who hates seafood taken to the fish place, or the flaming gourmet taken to Olive Garden, because that was the favourite restaurant of the host - the tastes of the guest are not considered important. Or, for that matter, the person who adores Olive Garden as the height of haut cuisine and P.F. Chang as the Best Chinese Food Ever taken to a hole in the wall Chinese place that specializes in organ meats, because that's what the host thinks they should appreciate.

                                    1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                      That wouldn't be a good friend, then, would it?
                                      If I choose to give a gift to someone, I choose. And I wouldn't give something so inappropriate.
                                      sheesh. Y'all are overthinking this one.

                                      1. re: wyogal

                                        Apparently, you and I are alone on this one.

                                        1. re: ricepad

                                          I guess. I just think it's weird. Yes, for a recurring event that your family does, example: I ask my kids what they want to eat on their birthday. But if I want to invite a friend, my treat, my gift, to a birthday dinner, i would have a pretty good idea of what their tastes are and as they would also be an adult, would graciously accept or decline the invitation.
                                          It's a gift. Not a "gimme"

                              3. A reasonable alternative - the host could give a few choices with varying price ranges (within their budget) and see where the birthday person would like to go.