Emily Postmodern: How To Handle The Group Birthday Dinner

Is it okay to do a birthday party at a restaurant and ask everyone to pitch in a set price (in advance) or is this just horribly icky? And if it’s okay, how does one word that invite? Help!

I don’t know about you, but party planning tends to exaggerate my social anxiety. Organizing any activity around myself is uncomfortable enough, but then asking friends to shoulder the bill? Egads. If I was already worried that my friends wouldn’t want to come to my party when it was FREE, then why would they want to come if they have to foot the cost?

But, I love planning parties in honor of the people I love. Sadly, it isn’t in my budget to host a Gatsby-esque rager every time one of my oldest and dearest friends turns 30. And, it’s generally believed that the hostess assumes all costs of a party regardless so the location. But, in the real world we aren’t all rolling in buckets of money and sometimes, it takes some collaboration to pull off a swank soiree. The social logistics of party planning can start to quickly feel awkward. So, before you go asking for cold hard cash, consider the following:

  • Are you hosting your own birthday party?
  • Are you planning a party for someone else? Is it a surprise?
  • Does it include a fixed menu or will people be ordering as they like?
  • What about booze? Does everyone drink?
  • Who’s on the list?

Let’s start with the ins and outs of planning your own birthday party. You wouldn’t expect — or ask! — your friends to contribute to the cost of hosting a party at your own home so you can’t expect it for a party outside of your home either. I am sure if you hosted a party at your house, people would come bearing food and drink that would probably offset the total cost, and at least one or two people would bring something pricier than your actual cost per head if everything was split evenly. But, when you invite people to your house, you’re not expecting everyone to come with a $25 contribution in hand. They’re in control of the cost of their gesture, from a $40 bottle of wine to a $2 bag of ice.

You might be thinking, “Wait! If I met three friends at a restaurant for my birthday I know they would offer to treat me as a gift. What’s the difference?” The difference here is the you’d never expect or ask them to do that. You’re extending an invitation to enjoy the company of friends, not to get the to subsidize your dinner and drinks.

But, let’s say you want to plan a surprise party for a friend at a local spot. As hostess, it’s assumed that the cost of the party will still fall on you, and honestly, if it’s all your idea, you should be prepared for that. However, if a group of people got together to plan the function and you’re just the point person/coordinator, be upfront about cost responsibility and expectations. Find out what everyone is comfortable contributing and if they want a final okay on the expenses. Most people are okay with these sorts of things as long as they don’t feel like the cost is sprung on them after they’ve agreed to attend.

If you’re worried that your friends and loved ones will go crazy ordering at a restaurant if they know you’re picking up the tab, don’t be afraid to prearrange with the restaurant what you are and are not paying for in advance. No one is going to think you’re a total scrooge for only covering one glass of wine with dinner. Just make sure the waiters communicate to your guests so they’re not blindsided with the bill at the end of the night. This also allows people who don’t drink room for opting out gracefully. Don’t worry, I’m sure they won’t have a hard time finding someone at the party to drink their prepaid glass of wine.

If you’re really concerned about the cost of things and potentially shelling out for a party that no one shows up to (basically my recurring nightmare, regardless of personal monetary cost), then preplan to your heart’s content! Email all of your friends to find out if they’re available. Call your location of choice to find out the cost per head for a sit down meal and whether or not they have room for a graze and drink cocktail party, or any other options they might have for specific headcount or larger groups. No one’s going to side eye you for seeing if people are interested in participating in something for a fixed cost in honor of your birthday (or someone else’s.) if you leave them room to say no before they’ve accepted the invitation.

It can be frustrating if you don’t have the space to have a party at your own house or the budget to throw something at a restaurant, which is more often than not the case when you live in a city of tiny apartments and high costs. When hosting it is always best to assume (and budget for) paying for things yourself. If you really want your guests to know how you feel about shared responsibility, you can always just wear this t-shirt. Problem solved!