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What is proper if Im paying for drinks and invites are paying for their own dinner?

I am having a surprise 40th dinner for my husbands birthday at his favorite dinner place. I got a back room to fit everyone and I am letting guests know that I am having an Open bar from 6pm-7:30pm (we won't arrive til 6:30pm) But I am not paying for their dinners, just paying for drinks/alcohol. Is there a proper way to convey this information to my guests?? Most are family with a few friends.

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  1. Your invitation needs to be very, very clear that you are not paying for dinner, just the open bar, from 6-7:30, and none after that time, so drinks after that, with dinner/dessert are on their own tab.
    Very. Clear.
    An invite to a party like this reads like you are paying for the whole dinner. The inviter pays, is the general rule.
    Please be absolutely clear about this so that people can rsvp accordingly.
    It might help to stress NO GIFTS, so it's not an additional financial burden you are placing on your not-a-guest.

    Have you discussed with the restaurant how many tabs they will have to generate for this party? Are they guests expected to pony up cash? Will the restaurant process all those different credit cards?

    1 Reply
    1. re: monavano

      My thought exactly on payment...easy enough to separate the beverages into one check but the dinners? Be sure to not only be clear with your guests, but clear with management on how they will handle these transactions.

    2. This is tough to really get across, and because traditional etiquette doesn't really allow for asking guests to pick up their own tab, there's not an accepted short form like "RSVP" or "black-tie" that will get this information across.

      How are you inviting people? By email or phone or printed invite? Is it acceptable for someone to stop by for the drinks portion of the evening and not stay for dinner? I'm assuming there will be some appetizers served with the hosted bar portion of the evening? Is there a set menu / prix fixe for dinner or is everyone ordering off an a la carte menu?

      This assumes some answers to those questions. But I would probably go with saying or writing something like:

      "We're having a surprise party for John at (RestoName) on (DateTime). There'll be an open bar and some appetizers starting at 6:00 until 7:30. John will be arriving for the big reveal at 6:30.

      If you'd like to stay for dinner, we've also arranged for that starting at 7:30. Guests will be responsible for their own dinner bills.

      Please let us know if you plan to join us for drinks, dinner or both."

      It's a lot to say/write, but it's really, really important that these things be clear, so no one is caught by surprise. Depending on the answers to the questions, I'd probably change some of this wording.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Jacquilynne

        I thought about food with the open bar- 90 minutes. That's a long time to go without any nibbles, especially when alcohol is being consumed.

        1. re: monavano

          Yes and also add probably another 30 min for a large party to order and actually receive food.

        2. re: Jacquilynne

          It is a lot to write/say, but none of what you wrote would offend me if I was one of the invited guests. But then again, I'm in the camp of not expecting my meal for somebody else's Birthday to be paid for. I know that opinions on this subject vary greatly on this forum.

        3. Just a thought, because I think there are a lot of questions unanswered, but I wonder if you've considered how much it would cost for hosting the full dinner with limited bar and a set menu with limited selections?
          If you have a fully open bar with top shelf liquor, your bill will be a real eye opener. Controlling the liquor selections can limit the cost a great deal, as can limiting the menu selections.
          Again, just a thought.

          1 Reply
          1. re: monavano

            Absolutely ..I would rather pay for food than drinks! Of course I am old school...I invited, I pay.
            Random lets get together to celebrate soandso bday then people pay for themselves.

          2. "Please come for celebratory cocktails from 6 to 7:30. Feel free to join us for dinner as well. Entrees range from $ to $$$. Looking forward to seeing you."

            5 Replies
            1. re: letsindulge

              I think it needs to be clear as crystal that the "guests" will be buying their own dinner. And what of payment methods? So many tabs, will they need to bring cash?

              1. re: letsindulge

                I think the 'Entrees range from X to Y' is a good way to get across that people will be paying for their own dinner. And I think it's really good information to include, as well.

                But if I read this I'd assume I was also paying for my cocktails. And if I was a person on a budget, I might decline where I would otherwise be able to accept a less expensive invitation where I only had to cover my dinner.

                1. re: letsindulge

                  This is not just to list the price range of the entrees. It might also be assumed that you're still an invited dinner guest and you may pick from entrees in this price range; I'm still paying. Also, OP might want to have a private dinner with spouse...let's not assume she wants the extra company, so putting "feel free to join us for dinner" on the invite may be a no no.

                  It still needs to be clear that OP is not picking up the tab for dinner. Something like " Please join us for cocktails from whatever time to whatever time in celebration of blankey blank's birthday" should suffice. Then, once guests arrive, if she wants to have them at the table, she can verbally let them know she would love to include them in the meal, but due to finances she's unable to host that part of the celebration, however, they are welcome to join them at their expense.

                  1. re: Cherylptw

                    Wait, are you saying that she should tell them that it's a cocktail hour/open (at this point, presumed without any food at all) that she's paying for and oh, btw, we're staying for dinner do you want to join us at your expense?
                    That's uncomfortable on 2 points (at least). First, the "guest" is to perhaps accept to join an impromptu dinner with unexpected expense in food, drink and maybe baby sitter. Second, how is the restaurant supposed to adjust last minute to the guests dithering about changing plans last minute and maybe needing more or less tables?
                    This feels very clumsy to me.

                    1. re: monavano

                      What I'm suggesting is that the OP makes the occasion a cocktail hour, period. He/she can word that exactly on the invitation...if she can't afford dinner for everyone, it needs to be a cocktail hour. People who choose to attend will probably have arranged for a sitter if they require one.

                      Common sense would be to allot time for a meal when arranging for how much time you need the sitter to stay if they intend to eat out. If not, they can eat at home or wherever afterward. If the OP wants to include guests in her meal, she can verbally let people know they are welcome to join them by asking them to RSVP and then he/she can contact them and explain that dinner is not included but hey, you're welcomed to stay at your own expense or by including something like this on the invite, "Guests are welcomed to help us continue celebrating later by joining us in a unhosted dinner at the same restaurant".

                      They can then ask guests to RSVP, he/she can get the number of people who will be attending both for drinks and then for dinner and host can make the reservations at the restaurant. They already have a room, they will have the space to be served a meal if that's what they choose to do.

                2. Honestly, I think it verges on tacky. If you want to pay for everyone's meal, great. If not, also fine. But to partially pay for your guests- it's a bit awkward. Why not make it later in the evening and just meet for drinks?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Hobbert

                    It's more than a bit of a sticky wicket.