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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 ...to 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.

                                1. Imo the host should pick, unless the honoree is a child, in which case the child should pick.

                                  If it is an adult, he/she should be mature enough to realize you don't always get to pick, and you're lucky anybody remembered your birthday at all.

                                  /nobody ever remembers mine
                                  //I am a man of constant sorrow

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: redfish62

                                    Happy Birthday! (A bit early perhaps - anything to abate the constant sorrow...)

                                  2. How about the other direction? My family and I would probably tend in this way. If you offer to take someone out to lunch, and they lowball you so as to not put you to too much trouble or expense. If you want to take them to a lovely lunch place and they insist that the diner with the 6.95 specials is where they would like to go. They might adore going to the bistro with the $20 entrees, but that's not what they are going to ask for unless you present it as an option.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: thinks too much

                                      Yes... one might even argue it's better etiquette for the host to make a few suggestions so the guest has an idea what price range and atmosphere the host has in mind.
                                      And some guests may be clueless (in-laws from different backgrounds with different expectations, of a younger generation, not used to going out, fond of restaurants that don't suit everyone in the group for good reasons) and need even firmer guidance.
                                      It's an invitation. If the invitee truly feels overly controlled by the parameters, they are always free to decline.

                                    2. How could this even be an enjoyable date without some discussion? Unless this is a total surprise, how hard is it to discuss a invitation and while at it discuss where to go? Gosh, if you care enough to host a friend/loved ones meal, why would the where be tough?

                                      What's the right way to go? The place that results from mutual discussion. If it's a surprise, pick a place you already know they like.

                                      1. Can the host just not say "I'd like to take you to XYZ for your birthday, are you free then?"

                                        1. If you're a close enough friend to the birthday guest - which I assume you would be if you're planning on hosting a pricey restaurant birthday dinner - then it shouldn't be too much angst to feel them out re: the kind of food/restaurants they enjoy or would enjoy. Take it from there.

                                          1. You could always ask your guest to name a few (3) places they'd enjoy and the host could make the final choice based on what his/her budget is. I actually think that the very question would prompt a person to name places with different price points.

                                            1. I'd say the best way is for the host to give a couple of options (in the appropriate price range), and the guest to choose.

                                              An open ended question is okay if it's for someone who you could tell that it's out of your price range.

                                              1. How about the other way around when the birthday boy/gal invites you out to a meal? Also, who pays?
                                                (There has been commentary here on CH about this before, like within these threads:
                                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/817887 )

                                                1. I typically take my brother out for his birthday dinner. And include a number of family (this year there were 7 of us total).

                                                  The conversations starts with "Have you thought about where you want to go for your birthday?" Then we go back and forth and after we come up with a place we both are excited about, I then decide how many other people to invite.

                                                  This year the place was very moderate in price. But if you are close enough to the person to be hosting their birthday dinner, you should be close enough to discuss the dynamics of it.

                                                  1. In my family, the birthday girl/boy picks, and birthdays are seen as an opportunity to enjoy a restaurant that is generally for special occasions only. At this point in my life (late twenties, single), my parents still pay for these meals. I have tried to pay on occasion, but they will not allow it. This has been the custom for many years now, so we are all on the same page with regard to price range.

                                                    With my friends, the birthday girl/boy still picks, usually from our regular rotation Friday/Saturday night restaurants. We tend to split the check with everyone covering a portion of the honoree's bill.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: mpjmph

                                                      Key word: custom
                                                      If this is an annual event, happening every year on your birthday, with the same people, same guidelines.

                                                      1. re: wyogal

                                                        Key word: family. What goes on in any family is their own odd customers to enjoy/hate/bicker about/seek therapy in later years.

                                                    2. I always allow the birthday guest to choose. No restrictions.

                                                      That said, the conversation that ensues after, "Where would you like to go to dinner on your birthday? Any thoughts on who you'd like to invite?" is usually more of a collaboration, with both of us bouncing ideas off of each other until we hit on the guest's preference. Occasionally, they'll come back to me later and say, "You know, I was talking to X, and they mentioned possibly going to Y. I think that'd be fun," at which point we go to Y.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: MonMauler

                                                        And what if you can't afford Y and/or you thought you were just inviting a couple people for dinner and now it's six...what happens then? I am surprised at the different perspectives here and wonder how much is about what people can afford.

                                                        1. re: escondido123

                                                          I am in the fortunate position where the location and number of people is of no matter, at least where I live. Sure, footing the bill for airfare, accomodations and dinner at the French Laundry for several people would be prohibitive, but that simply is not a request any of my prospective guests would make.

                                                          And you are absolutely right. It is about what I can afford. I don't begrudge those that treat this situation differently. This is just what I am able to do now, and I do it gladly. Back when I was a broke, starving college student, I still treated birthday guests, only we would discuss options in my budget, we would often just do lunch, and it would usually just be the two of us.

                                                          I have seen a number of different approaches listed here, and I think all of them are fair and generous. Ultimately, and in most food-based endeavors, I think the company dictates the enjoyment of the meal moreso than the food. This is especially true for birthday meals. In most places good food can be found at almost any price point. If a friend wants to have lunch with me for my birthday, and all they can afford is splitting the cost of a medium pizza, I will accept, eat, be thankful and be merry.

                                                      2. I think the birthday boy or girl should be given the choice, but hey ... I was taken out for my birthday today to a restaurant that was the host's choice (where we'd been before), and I wasn't looking a gift horse in the mouth.

                                                        I might suggest 2 or 3 places I'd like to go, at somewhat varying price points, and allow the host to choose. Right now my to-do list of places to go has at least 25 restaurants on it at all price points.

                                                        I did know of an instance where a birthday girl insisted on being taken to an expensive place by someone who had to stretch to do it. That's the type of behavior that landed her on my former friends list, and I think it had pretty much the same result with the new friend.

                                                        1. Whenever I've offered to take a friend out for a birthday, I throw out some suggestions but ultimately leave it up to the person I am celebrating. I have never had a friend choose an uber-pricey place after I suggested more mid-range options (if anything, they are usually trying to choose more downscale).

                                                          With my boyfriend it's different because our finances are intertwined but we set a budget and he decides where wants to go.

                                                          1. I have a few friends or family members who would NEVER select one of the higher priced restaurants in town. If I'm sure it's the kind of food he or she would love, then I'll just pick and pay.

                                                            In other cases, I just ask what the person would like for a birthday meal.

                                                            I think it just depends on the person with the birthday. As long as they have a good time, that's what matters.