How to word a party invitation without sounding tacky?
February 26, 2013 12:45 PM   Subscribe

My husband mentioned to me some years ago that he'd never had an actual, cake-and-candles, friends from the neighborhood invited, hats and horns birthday party in his entire life. I'd like to give him a small surprise birthday party for his upcoming birthday in late March, but I have questions about how to actually word the invitations.

I'm planning only to invite about six people - different friends that he hangs out with and some couples that we both have known for years. (We both work from home and have for the past 10 years, so our social circle is a bit small.) Even with the relatively small number of people, I couldn't figure out a way to invite everyone to our house (Mr. Adams would obviously notice all the cars parked out front, etc) so I'm thinking of hosting it instead at a nearby Chinese restaurant that he and I have frequented for the past decade.

I've attended parties for folks at restaurants over the years and sometimes I had to pay for whatever I ordered and sometimes I didn't. In this case, I plan to pay for the food for the attendees. Is that something I should mention when I invite people? How to phrase it? "You're invited to (details of date and location and occasion) and the food is on me!" Is it crude/tacky to assure the invitees that they won't have to pay for dinner? I know that one of the potential guests has been out of work for a while and lives almost an hour away, so I'm thinking that reassurance that he won't have to pay for dinner on top of his gas might encourage him to attend.

As you can see, I'm rather clueless as to how to proceed. I read Miss Manners regularly, but I don't know that our invitees necessarily do and are clear on what a restaurant party invitation means. Would you be offended if you received an invitation that clearly spelled out that dinner and drinks were covered, and all that was requested was your attendance?
posted by Oriole Adams to Human Relations (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Not tacky, at least to my modern ears. Restaurant-parties are unpredictable with regards to whether guests are expected to pay; "I've got the tab," or "My treat!" is entirely reasonable to add.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:48 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

"You are invited to _Oriole's husband's_ ##th birthday party on the _date_!"
In smaller text under this large and happy statement, put "Food and drink will be provided."
posted by DisreputableDog at 12:51 PM on February 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

Yeah, I tried the, "please be my guest" invitation route, and while I meant that I was going to be paying the tab, nobody understood that. Saying, "Surprise birthday dinner, my treat!" is clear and fun.
posted by ldthomps at 12:51 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's not tacky to make it clear that the cost of the party is on you. I think it would be fine if your invitations said: "Please join us on Friday the 1st for a celebration of the birth of Mr. Adams. Dinner will be provided."
posted by inturnaround at 12:52 PM on February 26, 2013

Best answer: I agree with Tomorrowful, both in that it's not tacky and that "my treat!" would be the best way to do it. Maybe:
You're invited to the SURPRISE (details)! Please join us for dinner, our treat!
I spent a big chunk of time unemployed and near broke a while back, and something like this would have been the difference between my going or not going. Thank you for thinking of your friend. :)
posted by phunniemee at 12:53 PM on February 26, 2013 [11 favorites]

What: A real, old-fashioned, cake and candles birthday party for Mr. Oriole Adams!

Where: Jade Gardens in the Fairmount Plaza

When: Saturday, 7:00 PM

Cocktails and Dinner will be served, hope to see you there!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:13 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

As a veteran of NYC restaurant birthday dinners which can really add up, I would LOVE to have it spelled out that dinner was covered!! If it's just a few close friends, I think you could send a casual email or evite (to ensure yes or no responses for head count) saying more or less what you said here. 'Hubby's first real cake and candles bday dinner- I'm so excited to see you, dinner's on me, and party hats will be provided!'
posted by bquarters at 1:41 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Please be my guest for a small surprise dinner for Charlie's 49th birthday. Meet at ChowMein Palace at 7pm sharp, park around back, and prepare to shout "Surprise". Party hats and horns will be provided.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:54 PM on February 26, 2013

If I read that food would be "provided", I still wouldn't be 100% sure whether that meant "and paid for by us" or not, so I say spell it out.
"Our treat" or "On us" does the trick.
posted by penguin pie at 2:57 PM on February 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

Technically it shouldn't be necessary to tell people you are treating them, the mere fact that you are inviting them rather than merely suggesting an outing subject to group approval should be enough.

But more and more often, invitations are issued to events where the guests are expected to pick up the tab. So more and more people get invitations to restaurant events and don't know what they mean in terms of the tab.

If you were issuing super formal invitations, as for a wedding, it would not really be appropriate, but this is a birthday party so the invitation is probably pretty informal. I might go with something like "Dinner, Cake and Party Hats will be provided!"
posted by jacquilynne at 4:11 PM on February 26, 2013

Getting your guests excited about the party definitely increases everyone's enjoyment of it - writing an invitation that makes people enthusiastic means that you put them in a good mood before they even show up. So, don't be afraid to tell them about all the good stuff they'll get to share if they attend. Who wouldn't smile at the idea of a free dinner with cake and candles? (some grump who you don't want at your party anyway, that's who)
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:45 PM on February 26, 2013

Are the guests allowed to chose from the full menu? With absolutely no limits to number of drinks, desserts, or expensive menu choices? If you would prefer to have control over the costs, you might be able to work out a limited menu with the restaurant and then can include a cutely formatted copy with the invite: "food and drinks on us, see accompanying" (better phrased and formatted, of course). Regardless, I recommend ensuring the staff at the restaurant is quite clear that you are paying. I usually give them my credit card upfront so that if someone else tries to pull the waiter aside to ask for their portion of the charges/separate checks/pick up birthday boy's bill, the waiter can honestly respond that it is already taken care of.
posted by beaning at 5:39 PM on February 26, 2013

Agree, spell it out. We just went to a restaurant surprise party this past weekend. It wasn't clear what the intent was, so I assumed guests were to fund their own meals (which is fine with me, just nice to know either way). We had to leave early, so asked for our check, which flummoxed the server for a minute. When he finally brought it, and we had paid, the inviting person seemed very confused, wondering why we did that. Umm, because you weren't clear, and we don't assume other people are footing our bill unless they specifically say so. So, a little awkward.

Also what phunnimee said - making this crystal clear could be the difference between a yay or a nay from the economically challenged but embarassed.
posted by spinturtle at 6:49 PM on February 26, 2013

It looks like everyone has the wording cleared up for you, so I'm going to offer another suggestion for a surprise party: If you go out for dringks and dinner with your husband, then while waiting at the bar you realize that oh no, you forgot your (something?) can we just run back by the house and pick it up before we go into the restaurant? Then you discover that all your friends have gathered at your house and decorated and set up a surprise party. They picked up dinner from your (other or same) favorite restaurant (which you paid in advance), etc.

It also works if you do this the day before the birthday and send husband out to the store to get one more thing that you need to cook dinner, then have friends come over while he's gone. (sending him out to the store on his birthday seems odd to me).
posted by CathyG at 1:54 PM on February 27, 2013

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