The who-pays quandary strikes again

The Daily Herald - - HOME & GARDEN -

Adapted from a re­cent on­line dis­cus­sion. Hey, Carolyn: I com­pletely un­der­stand that peo­ple have very dif­fer­ent ex­pec­ta­tions about who will pay at a cel­e­bra­tory “let’s go out to XX restau­rant” night. What I strug­gle with is how to know who will pay.

I re­ceived an Evite from the birth­day girl to join her at a restau­rant with a hip­ster bar, and be­cause I love her and want to cel­e­brate, I RSVP’d yes. Be­cause I am short of money, I planned to buy the b’day girl a drink, stay for an hour, give her a lit­tle gift, and head out.

My plan was quashed, though. The party was not in the bar, but a seated, multi-course din­ner, at which the birth­day girl or­dered lav­ishly for the ta­ble, in­clud­ing bot­tle af­ter bot­tle of wine. When the check came, she was silent, al­beit gra­cious, as the rest of us split it. I tossed in my faded-from-use credit card, and chalked it up to life lessons. Bud­gets get blown.

We are old enough (early 40s) and far enough down our ca­reer paths that it isn’t un­usual for a host to pick up the check for the ta­ble; things have changed since our 20s when it was un­fath­omable that any­one had $500 or $1,000 bucks to spend on a birth­day din­ner. The chal­lenge is know­ing what TELL ME ABOUT IT

kind of night you are at­tend­ing: Are you be­ing hosted? Are you able to swing by for a drink? Have you been sum­moned to fund the guest of honor’s vi­sion of a lovely night?

Can you help me script a way to have my ex­pec­ta­tions set ahead of time on these events?

— Ex­pec­ta­tions I say just ask the host di­rectly: “Is this a sit-down-for-din­ner thing, or a swing-by-the-bar-for-a-cock­tail thing?” That has the ben­e­fit of sound­ing like a con­cern about the tim­ing/sched­ule vs. cash.

For what it’s worth, I think a per­son who ar­ranges the event and or­ders the food also picks up the check — even the birth­day per­son, even when peo­ple at the ta­ble in­sist on pay­ing for the birth­day per­son. It’s so easy for hosts to pull off: They just ar­range in ad­vance with the restau­rant that they alone will be re­ceiv­ing the check.

What you de­scribe puts too many peo­ple in a ter­ri­ble spot — not just the ones who don’t have the money for a full share and were plan­ning to or­der only what they could af­ford, but those who don’t drink or aren’t hun­gry. They all get hosed by this ar­range­ment. Bleah. Sorry you got sucked into it. Re: Bill: The an­swer is not a FWIW state­ment, this is a PSA: The per­son who in­vites pays, pe­riod. That’s good man­ners. If the guests want to pay then the per­son who would nor­mally be ob­li­gated can al­low them, but that agree­ment ac­knowl­edges that the ini­tial re­spon­si­bil­ity was on the host (the one who did the invit­ing).

It’s sim­ple man­ners, and any­one who makes you think oth­er­wise is just plain wrong. — Anony­mous

A P.S. to your PSA: If the guests want to wrest the check away from the host, be­cause the host is also the guest of honor, then the guest who vol­un­teers has to cover the whole thing. A guest can’t vol­un­teer all of the guests to pay for the host/hon­oree. That’s check abuse.

© 2016, Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group

CAROLYN HAX

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