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Besting The Saga Of The Birthday Dinner: Say Goodbye To Ridiculous Bills & Fears Of Being Rude 

Rebecca Cohen  |  November 8, 2019

No one wants to get stuck splitting the bill for an enormous celebratory dinner (especially when you only ordered a salad) but is there a way to get out of it gracefully? 

Can we talk for a minute about how much we secretly hate group birthday dinners? There never seems to be the right amount of food.  God forbid you have any food allergies or don’t want to drink that night. The long table inevitably makes it hard to socialize with more than two people at any given time. And when the bill comes… bring on the drama. 

It usually goes down a little something like this: Everyone slowly reaches for their purse or wallet, perhaps hopeful that one generous soul will offer to foot the whole bill. Inevitably, that doesn’t happen, so then the chorus of questions begins. “Are we seriously splitting this?” “Are we paying for the birthday girl and her husband?” “Who even chose this restaurant?”  Eventually, the bill gets evenly split, with the exception of the birthday girl, who gets a free meal as her gift (in addition to the gift you may have already chipped in for). You walk away unhappy with the final cost, but you keep quiet to avoid starting a fight, and looking like a miser. Sound familiar? 

It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s time to get your friends on board with a new way of doing things, stat. 

Establishing The “Laws Of The Meal” 

As soon as the group texts and emails are flowing and a restaurant is chosen, it’s the responsibility of the dinner’s organizers to do some research and let everyone know about how much the meal will cost, says Carolyn Hax, etiquette expert and Washington Post advice columnist. When this happens, people who signed up to celebrate won’t be ambushed when the bill comes at the end of the night, which Hax says is a perpetual complaint about these kinds of events. Guests can then choose to opt out of the event if they feel they can’t afford the meal, which helps them avoid the other two options of awkward conversations or paying something way out of line with their budget

Another great option for party organizers is to select a restaurant that’s within budget for everyone attending. “Know your audience,” Hax says, then link to a menu and prepare guests for the cost, either by setting a spending limit per-person, or sharing an estimate. 

Another great move is to establish up front whether the group will be splitting the check, or if everyone will be paying for themselves. If you’re all on separate checks, then treat yourself to whatever you’d like. But, if it’s going to be an even split, or if one person is paying for the whole group, ordering an expensive entree is not appropriate, Hax says. 

At The End Of The Day, Who Should Pay? 

The thoughts on this are about as varied as the menu at any diner, if the members of the private HerMoney Facebook group are any indication. (What? You’re not a member? Join us!) Maisa Sarsour-Hamdan, a 37-year-old from Tampa says that guests should pay for their own entree and drinks, but split the cost of apps and desserts, and the organizer should pay for the birthday girl, unless someone else insists. Laurel Nelson, 31, from Salt Lake City, says she likes to split the bill, and have all guests chip in to cover the birthday girl. Stormy Good, 27, from Colorado Springs, CO, says that her preference is to have everyone split the bill evenly, or have one person pay for the dinner on their credit card, and then send a Venmo request of even amounts to each of the guests. 

Remember: No One Likes An Ambush

Hax says that no matter what works best for you and your pals, communication is key. “The better answer always is to prepare people so they aren’t ambushed,” she says. If the restaurant looks too expensive, suggest one that’s more in your budget. If you think the check-splitting math was done wrong, then offer up your expertise — or calculator. If you know you have a strict price limit for the night, simply let your friends know ahead of time so there are no uncomfortable situations the night of the event. Establishing ground rules before arriving to the restaurant is the best way to ensure the birthday dinner will be just that — a fun celebration of someone you love. 

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