1. Brenda Scott

    Emergency Question: Ordering birthday invitations for surprise party at a restaurant. We will provide appetizers while waiting for the guest of honor, but then it is a dutch treat of a limited menu of 3 items. How do we word that on the invitation?

    • Elizabeth

      Hmm, it’s tricky. It’s important to be as explicit as possible so there are no surprises. Maybe something like this:

      Please join us to celebrate John’s 40th Birthday at Barfield’s Bar and Grille at 7:00pm .
      SHHHH – it’s a Surprise!
      John will arrive at 7:45 for the big surprise. Complimentary appetizers while we await his arrival.

      Dinner is Dutch Treat, and the restaurant has prepared a special menu for our group:
      For 19.95, you can choose from the fish, chicken, or beef.

      Please RSVP by X date (with your meal choice – if requested by the resto).
      If you find that you cannot arrive by 7:30, please wait until 8:15 to arrive so you do not spoil the surprise!

      (Sorry, I know this is a bit cheesy – I’m sure you can find better surprise party verbiage online. But – again, just be as direct and explicit as possible about what people will and will not be paying for.)

    • Country Girl

      I’m actually middle of the road to Elizabeth and Clara’s responses. I agree with Elizabeth that I actually don’t think there is anything wrong with having a party and just providing appetizers, however you are correct, it is all in how you plan the party and preface it in the invitation.

      That said, I do side more with Clara in that I think instead of insinuating on the invitation that guests will be expected to pay for their dinners, it would be a nicer idea to center the party more around the hosted appetizers. There is nothing wrong with simply leaving the invitation at “Party starts at 7pm with appetizers provided as we wait for John’s arrival at 7:45.” (I would avoid the word “complimentary” as it sends the message to me that the establishment is somehow providing unlimited appetizers.) Your guests will be smart enough to take it upon themselves to plan to either have a light meal or snack before the party or will understand that they can choose to purchase dinner/extra food on their own if they like later on. If the restaurant is offering an optional limited menu, they should provide paper menus to have near the tables for those who are hungry after the appetizers, so there is no need to include this information in the invitation.

      If the restaurant is requiring that everyone eat dinner and if you are set on having the party center around dinner, then that is ok, but then this is not a hosted event and thus a formal invitation is not required. (You don’t formally invite someone to pay their own way.) You would be more of a coordinator than a host. A verbal “Hey a few of us are getting together to surprise John for his birthday, would you like to join us? We are meeting at Barfield’s Bar and Grille at 7, surprise at 7:45. They have a special menu for our group to order from with prices ranging from $12-20 for dinner and I’ll be providing some appetizers while we wait for John. Please let me know if you’d like to join us so I can give the restaurant a head count.”

      • Elizabeth

        I was torn about this as well. Usually, as an adult, the birthday boy/girl organizes the party for him/herself, and the onus is on that person to ‘host’ his/her own party. However, in this case, it sounds like a group of friends of family members is hosting the party in honor of the birthday celebrant. I don’t know that they have an obligation to pay for everything in the same way that a person hosting their own party is. I think as long as Brenda is clear about the cost to the guests, then she is acting as ‘organizer’ who will also ‘host’ the appetizer hour. I’m sure that the restaurant needs a firm count, and so to frame it like “whoever wants to can join us!” probably doesn’t get that across, or it sounds like the dinner is a more private family thing that people can join “if they really want to.”

        It also depends on the age group these people belong to and also what the norm is in their region. It would be very normal in my friend group to have drinks and apps at someone’s house (if someone was hosting their own birthday) and then for us to go out and pay for our own dinners. Personally, I like to host my own b-day parties at home, and so I naturally pay for everything, but some people really like to go out, and we as their friends also like to go out, and how the check is split is really not at the forefront of everyone’s minds. However, I can imagine being much older and very established and this kind of thing really rubbing people the wrong way.

  2. Clara

    Please do not make people pay for anything. You are not truly “inviting” them to something, you are asking them to chip in for the party. These are 2 totally different things. If I received this invitation, I would be very put off.

  3. Lilli

    In business I always address people I do not yet know as Mr./Ms. Smith. Recently I’ve noticed that I get a lot of response back for “Lilli”. Am I wrong to be put off by this trend? I prefer people to use my first name once a relationship of some sort is established, but I was wondering if anyone else has noticed this sort of causalization of business contacts.

    • Yes, I’ve noticed it.
      Yes, I believe it’s odd.
      My parents correct people: “Actually, it’s Mr. Smith. And yes, I do like the options on this new car, but do you have the same in red?”

      I refer to others I meet in a business setting as Mr./Ms./Dr. until they specifically say otherwise. My head-of-department is always “Dr. Jones” at work, though I call her “Suzy” outside of the university setting. The last time someone took me to task on it was in an email exchange over a professional listserv. She actually told me that I am clearly new to professional life (untrue) and she could tell because I referred to someone else as “Dr. Smith” instead of “John”! I explained that I had not yet been formally introduced to Dr. Smith, and would not assume such familiarity. She shut up.

    • Elizabeth

      I think different fields and different workplaces have different cultures. In a medical setting, you will never hear a doctor addressed by his/her first name. But in other fields, it’s very common to go right to a first name basis. If you insist on using more formal terms of address when the culture is very casual, you’ll end up looking odd and unfriendly. I think the best thing to do is be aware of what the prevailing culture is and go with it.

    • Jody

      Lilli — I too have noticed that business contacts have become more casual. I work for a large law firm (I’m a paralegal), and I try to tailor my greetings according to each situation. If the client signs an e-mail or letter with his/her first name, I’ll use that first name from then on. If I’m making the first contact, I usually start out with Mr./Ms./Dr. [last name] and see where it goes from there. Sometimes the client will say “call me [first name]” or use his/her first name and I follow their lead.

      I do agree with Elizabeth, that each field/workplace has its own culture as to how formally people are addressed.

      • Lilli

        Thanks! I’m a paralegal as well, and I agree that while around the office I always go by my first name, I was just off-put by job candidates, whom I have not met, going straight to my first name when I addressed them by their surname. It might be persnickity, but I think it just shows a lack of attention to detail (which is hugely important in our job!).

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