A Thought On Birthday Party Dinner Etiquette

Oh birthday dinners, doesn’t everyone have something to say about those?

Before I go any further, I must clarify that I do in fact love a good birthday party. I love to celebrate peoples’ birthdays and I have always had a penchant for throwing big birthday bashes. I mean, I guess that’s the joy of being in your 20’s. We are allowed to get drunk, have a wild and sometimes extravagant birthday and celebrate the fact that we are still young, don’t need Botox, relatively carefree and party until 5 a.m. just because we can. When you are in your 30’s, it seems that would be a lot less socially acceptable, but I can’t say for sure because I am not there yet.

Anyways, what I don’t love about birthday dinners is this little situation that seems to happen far too often and I think someone should probably just tell it like it is (because I know you all feel the same way about the issue).

One day you find a Facebook invite to a birthday dinner from a girl, (whom you might not know all that well) for Friday night. The birthday girl has picked Pastis or Indochine or something of that nature and price point and it’s going to be so, so much fun. You decide to go, because she might think it rude of you not to go after she made an effort to extend your friendship, when really she just wanted to make sure it looks like she has LOTS of good, close friends. And your friend Jenny, who always likes to get drunk and have fun, is going to go so you figure why not? What do I have to lose?

Well, my answer to that is lots of money. After several hours of dining, ordering a few too many drinks and making the usual conversation about how you all happen to know the birthday girl, where you went to college and then proceeding by playing the name game called Do You Know —? The bill arrives. The presumptuous ones had assumed the birthday girl (i.e. her parents) would be paying for the meal because she had alluded to it and why else would you go to such an expensive restaurant on your poor assistant salary these days? Of course, those people chose to order the lobster or the filet mignon, a few glasses of Veuve, etc.

Then comes that awkward moment when everyone realizes they are in fact supposed to pay for their own meal/drink, in addition to paying for the birthday girl (otherwise it would be rude). It’s typically the people that ordered far more than everyone else that decide it might be best to split the bill equally. Right? Because that just makes things the easiest. Clearly. Or, if they are really great, they will try to pass it off like they only had two glasses of champagne, not five.

Then comes that moment of anger, but you can’t say anything to the birthday girl’s BFF that you don’t know all that well. That wouldn’t look right….

Or, the math genius decides to take on the arduous task of figuring out everyone’s tab down to the penny. Once everyone has supposedly paid and the money counter is totaling the cash and credit card amounts, they announce that you are still $200 short. Everyone stares blankly at each other and then starts offering up more dough because it’s increasingly awkward. Thanks a lot to the asshole who didn’t pay—we all know it was you. They hand the waiter the outrageous check back with a medley of credit cards and cash.

Meanwhile, everyone sits there feeling slightly buzzed, stuffed and perhaps perturbed at the ongoing situation. The birthday girl pretends to be blissfully unaware of the situation, or that her stupid birthday dinner cost you a week or two of groceries. People start checking their cell phones and texting each other from opposite sides of the dinner table about how annoyed they are. You wonder why on earth you decided to come anyways and then decide the best way to get past this stupid experience is to go out and drink some more. As 20 credit cards are once again passed around the table, you sign your appropriate copy and then make a break to leave these people.

“I am never letting that happen again,” you think as you walk out the door. Well, never again until tomorrow night, when the circus happens all over again. TC mark

image – gfoster67


More From Thought Catalog

  • https://twitter.com/#!/nvvmxac danne rassle

    I'm a true believer of check karma, and not only tab skippers but abusive waiters , i fell like everytime I go to a bar I need to bring a check chaperone now

  • http://twitter.com/lukebourassa lukebourassa

    Might I suggest… http://www.theawl.com/2011/03/

  • Scytle

    “When you are in your 30’s, it seems that would be a lot less socially acceptable” It all depends on who you decide to include in your life.

    Admittedly I have not been in “my 30's” for that long, but so far its been a lot more fun than my 20's.

    You got a little more money laying around, your life is a little more stable, you probably have picked a job, and a town, and some friends. And recent trends in medical science mean you are actually just as healthy (or more so) than people in their 20's. Done correctly, your 30's should be a lot more fun than your 20's (and your 40's should be better than your 30's etc).

    Society is just a big game, once you learn the rules it's not that hard to figure out how to cheat.

    • http://twitter.com/kyleangeletti Kyle Angeletti

      a little sensitivo about rounding the bend, huh?

      • Scytle

        you have no idea…ha ha

  • http://twitter.com/kyleangeletti Kyle Angeletti

    luke beat me to it, but there was a funny article on the awl a day later.


    seems like the gays have it figured it out.


    I don't celebrate birthdays, others or my own. This is one very good reason why.

    • federico

      agreed. birthdays suck always and leave you feeling like shit afterwards


        I also hate how often people “have” to do things for birthdays.

        Me: “Hey, do you want to go to [insert really awesome movie or auto racing event] tomorrow night?”

        You: “Can't, it's [person]'s birthday and they're having a thing.”

        Me: “It's always someone's fucking birthday.”

  • Kathryn Higgins

    Or the really awful situation that results when you decide to pay cash. Big mistake! You have put in your cash and then the waiter comes back saying the $$ is short — and there's no evidence that you paid anything, whereas the people with credit cards have the receipt. Never pay cash for your share!


      Never PAY period! Let someone else cover you because, after all, it will be your birthday eventually.

  • Paul

    Ugh, birthday dinners are the worst. Like, actually the worst. Does anybody ever survive feeling like they had a good time and like they didn't get raped by the bill? Actually, this applies to most group dinners of groups of more than 5 people. Especially when one of the people is super cheap and another one is super willy-nilly with the ordering. Avoid!

  • enjoyingtheflowers

    The prevalence of this problem is scary: http://www.madatoms.com/site/b

    • Comic Insult

      And then there's the classic NY Times article as well…


      This article made me realize I'm not alone in my thinking that birthday dinners are a horrible burden.

  • http://www.roaringpajamas.com Melanie

    Kristin, you know I”m a fan and now I'm a bigger fan because I LOVE this post! I tweeted it today too. BTW, this issue is still an issue for the 40 somethings – and yes, we still have birthday dinners where people drink too much and have a wild time – only instead of dancing on the table, someone usually ends up sleeping in his chair. (Pretty wild, huh?)

    Anyways. . . my issue is that I don't drink alcohol (rarely anyway). So, I come to the table, order a $3 bottle of sparkling water – or a large $6 to share with someone else – and a $12 salad. At the end of the meal, I'm stuck with a $50 tab. It's just so wrong. Hubby and I were just talking about this very topic and I've decided not to take it anymore.

    The next time I'm asked to pay for a table's worth of drinks, I'm pushing back. Call it reverse etiquette (i.e., blatant rudeness or the anti-etiquette); That's me, Melanie, changing the rules of birthday dinner etiquette. Don't ask me to pay for your alcohol and I may give you a ride home cuz you're drunk. I think that's a fair trade, don't you?

  • Mean Mom

    We are the parents to a recent  Bday girl (adult) who said she wanted fam and friends to go to a local favorite of  hers (her choice, not our plan, so pretty obvious we are not expected to pay, right???) Hubby “checked” in with her the day of to verify that we were not expected to pay for the 4-8 friends that may show up (we told her we were already planning on paying for ourselves, our son, and a couple of drinks for her and her dinner, so we figured 100-125).

    Soooo, long story short, most of her invites show (12 total), drink and eat up, and
    low and behold, after (literally) passing the hat (all to other
    mid-twenties adults), we had a tab of 230 dollars left (for a tab of
    $430+), including the tax and $75 dollar pre-charged tip due to large party. Heck, I’m pretty “tipsy” at this point, and we did not keep track of who
    ordered what and such (they are all adults, and we figure they know by
    this point how to add, right?), but we certainly did not expect to pay
    the difference- it was not our invite (never even met some of the folks!), our party, etc…

    We were paying for 4 of us out of the 12 that showed up (means our tab should be about a third?) And one of the 4 was a minor= no booze, just a burger and soda; hubby and I SPLIT a dish, and I had one well drink. We
    ordered a couple of appetizers to share with the table.  Including paying for the daughter’s meal, and one
    super-duper big tropical drink that she shared with half a dozen of us, no way in Hades should our tab have been over half of the tab!

    So, was it assumed that the tax and tip, which equals about $100, is not part of their share, and is just going to be magically paid? Or did a couple of people not pay up or “forget” that they drank more than they thought? Our daughter and husband did discuss afterward, and she says she will help pay for some of it, but that does not seem right either.

    Maybe we should not have taken charge when we passed the hat, especially since there seemed to be an assumption by others that someone else would pay what was left, meaning us (because we are the oldest??? because we are her parents??? because we look rich- ha! ???) Maybe we should have  not even touched the tab at all, since it was not our gig, and just sat around looking perplexed, like the rest of the “adults,” at the $400+ tab while everyone scrambled to figure out how to pay.

    Much different then when we suggest/plan/invite all our kids and assorted partners to a restaurant and we know in advance that it will be assumed we will pay (even if we don’t say we will) because we are the mommy and daddy (does that EVER change? Will it be assumed that we pick up the tab for our kids/grandkids forever?)  But this is my first experience with a group bday party like this that includes complete strangers (to us), and I think we will ask for separate checks if ever in that position again.

  • Jine

    Maybe it’s because i’m still in high school, and we are all a little frugal with our money, but when I go to  birthday dinners, we all pay our bills separately 

    Nobody has ever discussed it or asked; it’s just assumed.

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