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Restaurant Birthday Party- You're Invited But You Have to Pay

So, my neighbor recently told me that she and her spouse were invited to a friend's birthday party at an upscale restaurant/nightclub. They attended. There were about fifteen people. Everyone ordered off the regular menu. Cash bar for alcohol before the meal, then people ordered drinks with their food. At the end of the meal, the birthday boy went around with the bill, asking people what they had ordered and collecting money. My neighbor said she was surprised, as she had assumed that since they were invited guests, the hosts would pay for the meal. Her spouse had to run to an ATM to get enough money. This story started me thinking. In our 20s, my spouse and I attended a couple birthday parties like this, but it never bothered me because I knew that none of us at that point in our lives had enough money to pay for everybody. My neighbor is older and she was really offended. Was this type of celebration in bad taste?

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  1. For me it depends on how the invitation was worded. Was it formal? Was it "we're having dinner at restaurant X for Y's birthday. Would you like to join us?" Or "please be our guests for Y's birthday at restaurant X" If it's the former, I would presume we're coming along for the company and would pay our own way. The latter implies the friend would pay. Either way I'd be sure I had enough money to cover the cost of our food and drink.

    1 Reply
    1. re: gourmanda

      ^^^ This is very well said.

      If I am a "guest" at a birthday party, a wedding, a bar mitzvah, etc, I will of course bring a gift to the former and put cash in a card for the two latter events, with the expectation that as a guest, the host of the event pays the bill. Don't know if a formal, written invitation was involved with the OP's described event.

    2. Yes. Unless an "invitation" makes perfectly clear that attendees pay their own way, they are guests of the person extending the invitation.

      1. There have been many threads about this over the years, and they almost always turn mean...

        For me, it all boils down to the social norms of your group. In my social circle, we always pay our own way. We're all in our late 20's/early 30's, and most working in academia, so no one can afford to pay for the whole party (and no, we can't just go to a less expensive restaurant - even dinner at McD's for 20 would be a financial challenge). It is just understood that we split the check based on who ordered what (except on birthdays, when the group covers the honoree). It works for us, and that is really all that matters. On the other hand, I have a friend in a different, slightly overlapping circle, who loves to host groups and she can afford it. When she organizes a dinner out, I'm always prepared to pay my own, and see it as a pleasant surprise when she treats. She understands that the rest of us cannot reciprocate in the same manner, but graciously accepts our invitations to more modest events.

        So in short, I always assume I am paying for my own dinner, but appreciate the generosity of others if they treat.

        7 Replies
        1. re: mpjmph

          Well said. I was thinking the same..."i've seen this thread before". and yes, some people feel very strongly one way or the other. As for me...I have gone to parties at restaurants and paid for my own, and I have gone to parties at restaurants that were picked up by the host. And as best I can remember, I have ALWAYS known from the tone and context and content of the invitation which it was going to be. I can't ever remember being surprised.

          1. re: danna

            Oh I have been surprised. Very surprised.

            I've gotten invites that are VERY clear about being a guest etc., come celebrate - and then you have to pony up. At a place you would have never chosen.

            So now, sadly crass as it feels - I just ask. Cuz I am DONE with surprises and $60 snacks.

            1. re: danna

              Agreed. I've never been confused either. And I think I would generally assume that if we're going to a restaurant for dinner then I'll pay my own way - I wouldn't expect someone to pay for my dinner unless it was an event in a private dining room and a large group. That way if the inviter ends up treating its a nice surprise.

            2. re: mpjmph

              This is our norm, as well. Everyone pays their way except the celebrant. It's worked for our group for 15+ years. Everyone gets a turn, so it all evens out.

                1. re: PotatoHouse

                  This is our norm as well. I would not expect everything to be paid for if invited to someone's party at a resto or bar unless it was clearly stated on the invitation. The default assumption would not be that everything is covered, it would be to bring cash and expect to pay for what you order. My friends are older (over 50) and all have money.

                  It is easy to make the invitation clear and I have never been surprised. I have been invited to two big parties very recently. One clearly stated that a full bar and sit down dinner is provided (choose your entree from 3) and the other stated that drinks (hosted bar until 11) and apps were provided.

                  The difference seems to be what people expect if the invitation is not clear. I always expect to pay my own way but I am delighted if I dont have to. Perhaps this cultural/social expectation is changing due to general economics..... "hosting" definition change, maybe hosting is more about coordinating..... Interesting discussion.

                2. re: lsmutko

                  If you're part of a group and that's the group culture and expected, fine. But if I'm invited to come celebrate, I expect the party's host will pay and I'll bring a gift that will at least cost more than the dinner. Otherwise I expect to hear "we're all meeting up at Chez Cashcow for dinner and all treating X, whose birthday it is. Pot luck/ Dutch treat aside from the birthday girl/boy."

                  And if I'm invited to an expensive place I hate and it's not the BD girl/boys tip-top favorite, I'm pissed that I don't get a chance to help decide the venue. And I often call up the BD g/b and say, "I have a gift for you! Sorry I couldn't make your dinner!"

              1. I am wondering if ordering off the regular menu should have been a tip off to her that everyone was paying their own way. I would have expected a special menu if the host was paying, more as a way for him to control the cost of the meal. I think I would have checked my wallet at that point!

                1. Many years ago, a friend invited us to his girlfriends party at a relatively inexpensive restaurant. We had to pay for ourselves, not sure if we knew beforehand but no problem, but what irked us is we also had to pay for him and her. I could sort of see for the birthday girl, but not him too. And then as we walked out the door in a noisy mob, he grabbed a T shirt for the place off the wall and presented it to her as a birthday gift. We were a little older than the rest (30s vs early 20s) and sort of shocked, even though it was supposed to be funny. I can say gladly now he has matured quite a bit over the next 30 years or so!

                  I also remember having a gathering in a private room of a nice local place for my husband's 50th Bday, we were maybe a dozen in all. Most of his relatives declined, claiming it was weird to have a party dinner during the week, however I always believed in celebrating on the actual day. I went over everything with the maitre d' and they had a special menu made up with a few choices, and open bar. I was sort of surprised that some people didn't even bring a token gift, and the ones he did get were sort of chintzy. Turns out no one knew I was paying! Guess I should have shouted it from the rooftops but thought it was understood. One person who didn't bring anything did buy us a drink at the bar afterward, not that we needed it.

                  Maybe there should be different names for "we pay" "you pay" so it's understood beforehand? Everyone seems to have their own perceptions, but seems rude to lay it on the line I guess.