Payment Position: Entertaining at a restaurant

by epi on January 3, 2012

Q: I’m holding a surprise birthday dinner next month for my husband at our favorite restaurant.  I invited three other couples — am I expected to foot the entire bill, or is it OK to ask everyone to split it?

A: When you’re the host, you pay the bill.  Since you’ve already invited the others to this birthday party, expect to pick up the tab for this.  Next time, try this: “Hi, Erik.  Would you and Jess like to meet us at Delicious Restaurant on Saturday night?  The Hillards are joining us, too.”  This way, it will be clear that you’re the coordinator, not the host, and each couple will expect to pay for their own meals.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Elizabeth January 3, 2012 at 12:19 pm

I don’t think the answer goes far enough in making it clear that one wants to be an “organizer” rather than a “host.” To substitute the verb “to meet” for “to join” doesn’t cut it, and the guests would be justified in thinking that it was a proper invitation for a hosted night out.

The better option would be to choose a cheaper restaurant where you can afford to pay for everyone, or just host something at home.

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Maggie January 3, 2012 at 4:21 pm

I think the given advice works for a general dinner invitations. An invitation to “meet” some couples dinner indicates to me that the coordinator is not treating and she’s just coordinating friends so they can eat dinner at the same time/place.

But it’s just doesn’t work to to word an invitation to a *birthday party* that way. You’re hosting a party, which is really not a “meet-up” for dinner. The guests are coming specifically to celebrate your husband, they’ll likely bring a gift, and they’ll arrive at a rigid time so you can execute the “surprise.” They are acting as party guests and shouldn’t be asked to pay.

I think this rule is less rigid if a *friend* (rather than a spouse) is “organizing” a birthday dinner among a group of friends. Or perhaps if the gathering is of younger people who have an established practice of going dutch for such dinners. But, unless you and the couples have an established practice (and since you’re asking, it doesn’t sound like you do) I think you have to treat.

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Ruth Peltier January 4, 2012 at 7:47 am

I had the opposite problem a few years ago. My husband had a party for my birthday. It was not a surprise. We made arrangements ahead of time for the bill to be paid by our credit card. When the time came to order it became VERY clear that the others were NOT comfortable with us paying and the rest of the meal was “difficult.” Of course, they did not bring me gifts either but that was not expected. It was really a strange experience. I thought I knew “the rules” but clearly in that community the rules were different,

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Kara January 20, 2012 at 9:55 pm

My husband and I hosted a event for 16 “invited” guests at a restaurant for my parents 25th wedding anniversary. It never crossed my mind that my guests should chip in for the bill. Luckily, the issue of one of the guests trying to contribute money never came up; I would have been embarrassed. On the flip side, I was out with a friend one day shopping and “we” mutually decided to stop to grab a quick bite for lunch. When the check came, she looked at me and said,”thanks for lunch.” Yikes! It wasn’t even costly, but I have never forgot about it (and never even suggested eating out again). I was so flabbergasted, I didn’t say anything and just paid it.

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Deborah Angel March 5, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Is it then NEVER acceptable to invite people to “meet/join/whatever-you-want-to-call-it”, and have everyone pay for their own meal? My daughter wants to plan something for our 25th anniversary, but there’s no way she could afford to pay for everyone! I would offer to help her, but we can’t afford it either. It would be made very clear that NO GIFTS preferred. Help!

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Just Laura March 5, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Dear Friend,
As you may already know, Parent & Parent’s 25th anniversary is coming up. We were planning to get together for dinner at Fancy Restaurant. If you’d like to join, we’re meeting up at 7:00. Here’s a link to Fancy’s website for the menu. Entrees typically run around $35.

I’m not sure why you’d have to tell people that no gifts are preferred, since this is your anniversary. I mean, why would anyone outside your family give you a present for something that special is between you and your husband? That seems to encroach on personal territory. Still, I’m glad you are already of the notion that expecting gifts for this occasion would be in poor taste. I wish you 25 more wonderful years.

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Country Girl March 5, 2012 at 6:50 pm

It is important to note that hosting = paying. If the invitation is formal, or if it is indicated that your daughter is throwing or hosting the party, then that means guests are being treated and should not be asked to pay their own way. This can certainly be done on the cheap though. As I just mentioned on another thread, a party thrown at a home and including home baked cookies and tea and coffee incurs very minimal costs and can be perfectly lovely. (So long as it doesn’t take place during a meal time like noon or 5-7 pm when guests will have hungry tummies.) If she wants to host a party at a restaurant, another cost-saving option might be for her to throw an appetizer party and provide a couple appetizer platters and a few select pitchers of soft drinks (instead of individual plates of food and open bar).

If she would like to gather friends at a restaurant and have them pay for their own meals, that is ok too, but then she is neither throwing or hosting a party. She is coordinating a get-together. An invitation should be verbal and worded along the lines of “I am coordinating a get-together at Charlie’s Grill at 6pm this Friday to have dinner and celebrate my mom and dad’s anniversary. We were wondering if you would like to join us? Prices there usually range from $10-$20 a plate.” This way guests know that they will not be hosted and won’t have the unpleasant surprise of finding out once there.

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Elizabeth March 5, 2012 at 7:44 pm

If you went with Laura’s suggestion, I would recommend that you add: “Please let us know if you can make it, and we’ll make one reservation for everyone.” I wouldn’t make it sound like people can just drop by – most restaurants, fancy or not, want some kind of notice for at least how many seats or tables to put together.

However, you could also suggest that your daughter host a party (at her place or at yours) in honor of the anniversary. Homemade food is a lot cheaper, and people might even offer to bring things. (Plus, restaurant parties only last the duration of the meal, and with a party at home you can control the music, etc.)

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Just Laura March 5, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Thanks, Elizabeth, for adding the reservation part. Completely slipped my mind, but is very important.

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