Q: My brother’s birthday is coming up and I want to throw a surprise party for him at a local restaurant. I can’t afford to take a whole party out to eat, though. Is it fair of me to expect everyone to pay for their own bill?
A: When the fete is for a member of your immediate family, you’re automatically considered the host, meaning that you will foot the bill. (After all, if your brother’s party were in your home, you wouldn’t ask guests to contribute at the door.) Be clear with invitees about your intentions. Here’s how you communicate that you’re picking up the check: “I’m hosting a dinner for Stan at Jackson’s Place. Can you join us as our guest?” If you can’t afford to entertain a large group at that restaurant, don’t ask others to contribute. Simply invite fewer people, choose a less expensive location, or have the party at your home instead. If the honoree is a friend rather than a relative, then the rules are different. To communicate clearly that you’re merely the organizer, not the host, say something like this: “John, you heard about Jill’s promotion. What do you think about the four of us-you and Sara and Eddie and me-taking Jill and her husband to Miromar’s to celebrate? If you’re interested, I’d be more than happy to make the reservation.” Now John knows that if he says yes, he’s picking up his share of the bill.