Footing the Birthday Bill

When you’re invited to attend a birthday celebration at a restaurant, do you think you should be responsible to pay your portion of the bill? When CHOW’s Helena Echlin tackled this sticky subject, she resolved that you can’t miss a close friend’s birthday, so your only options are to split the bill (without accepting money from the birthday girl or boy) or declare that you’re eating on a budget at the beginning of the meal, completely avoid sharing any food, and pay for your order in cash, contributing a little extra for the host’s dinner. That said, Echlin doesn’t recommend the latter option:

[If] you can afford it, it’s always better to split the check. Sharing a meal is supposed to bring people together, not remind them of socioeconomic disparities. If you’re confining yourself to one dish and one drink, other people may feel guilty for indulging themselves. You may feel depressed that you don’t have as much money as they do.

I think this is practical advice for a meal at a reasonably priced restaurant—especially among groups of friends who celebrate all their birthdays this way. But CNN reports on a $3,450 birthday bill that would have worked out to more than $500 per person, plus tip. Needless to say, the woman who ordered “rice, miso soup and tea” wasn’t up for splitting the cost evenly. So, she put $50 next to her plate, pretended to visit the ladies’ room, and walked right out of the place. When she later received an angry email from the birthday girl requesting the remaining 450 bucks, she knew their friendship was over. This is an extreme situation, but sneaking out of the restaurant probably wasn’t the most graceful way to deal with it. Linnda Durré, PhD, an Orlando psychotherapist, suggests this script for those who are hit with an unexpected bill:

‘When I’m invited to a party, I assume that the host is paying for it. To learn that I’m responsible for all or part of this is rather unexpected and rather off-putting. I wish you had told me beforehand. I’m really under no obligation to pay for this and I resent that you didn’t tell me in advance.’

Of course, this speech is a bit of a party foul, too. But when did it become socially acceptable to invite people to a party that you expected them to pay for? If the focus is on sharing food and making everyone feel comfortable, then a cheap home-cooked meal of spaghetti and meatballs—or treating friends to dinner at a pizzeria—makes a lot more sense than asking everyone to drop a bunch of cash at a fancy restaurant, doesn’t it? Or am I just old-fashioned?

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