Do (my parents &) I have to foot the whole bill for birthday party?
July 3, 2021 3:53 PM   Subscribe

Is it okay to have guests individually pay for their own drinks when I celebrate my birthday at a bar? And if it's okay, how do I convince my parents that it is?

I am a single adult in my mid-30s who will be celebrating a birthday this month. I've made plans to rent out a movie theater and see a film with about a dozen friends. This ended up costing more than I anticipated (the mid-pandemic days of a movie theater rental for $99 are long gone, at least in my city) so my parents, who live in another state, are paying for some of it as a birthday gift.

After the movie, we'll probably go out for drinks at a local bar. My parents have also offered to cover the tab for this portion of the evening. And for some reason, that makes me uncomfortable, even though I was happy to accept their money to help cover the movie theater rental.

My parents are saying that as the party's host, it's my responsibility to pay for my guests' drinks, but in my experience of celebrating friends' birthdays in bars, it usually seems to go the other way. That is, guests pay for their own drinks and also offer to buy a drink for the birthday person, who should never have to pay for their own drinks that night. Is this a generational thing? Did something change between my parents' young adulthood and mine — or am I just cheap?

I also worry that paying for everyone's drinks would give my friends the impression that I have more disposable income than I actually do. But at the same time, I don't want to publicly admit that it's not me who's covering the bill, it's my parents — which seems inappropriate for someone of my advancing age.

So I wanted to take the pulse here about what's appropriate for post-pandemic birthday socializing. Is it okay to expect guests to pay for their own drinks? If so, how do I politely turn down my parents' very generous offer? Or should I follow the rules of old-fashioned hospitality and take my parents' money, and if so, how do I do that without feeling uncomfortable or making my guests uncomfortable?
posted by clair-de-lune to Human Relations (40 answers total)
 
I would not expect the birthday celebrant to be buying drinks for everyone. honestly, I would expect to buy a drink for them.
posted by noloveforned at 4:05 PM on July 3, 2021 [69 favorites]


I think this is pretty individual to your socioeconomic status and maybe generation. For me, in my 20s we all happily paid for drinks etc. In our 30s, people planned parties they could host. So for some of us that meant backyard/park hot dogs and burgers with non-craft beer and plenty of iced tea and cake.

So with that context I guess I’d be asking why you’re planning a party that’s out of your budget? But I might be ancient on this. Probably your parents think like me.

Reference: I’m in my 50s.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:07 PM on July 3, 2021 [18 favorites]


You're hosting the movie theater event, and your parents are already helping foot that bill. Turn down their offer for anything post-movie, and let your friends make suggestions for after-event plans.
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:10 PM on July 3, 2021 [4 favorites]


Best answer: I (33) have never once in my life gone to a birthday party where the birthday person bought drinks for everyone else, rather than getting them bought for them. That sounds absolutely backwards to me.

However,

I don't want to publicly admit that it's not me who's covering the bill, it's my parents — which seems inappropriate for someone of my advancing age.


You could just tell them your parents gave you this fun night out as a birthday gift, you know. You don't have to lie about it! It won't make you look pathetic to accept a gift from your parents!
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:10 PM on July 3, 2021 [63 favorites]


Best answer: I would find this strange, unless you were also planning on getting married at the party, which is a detail you presumably would have included in your question if you were.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:15 PM on July 3, 2021 [20 favorites]


No, definitely not normal for the birthday person to pay for everyone else's drinks. Drinks are bought FOR the birthday person, and sometimes even gifted by the bar and/or strangers. (In fact, if a birthday person had tried to pay for everyone else's drinks, they likely would have been told a very firm NO, that it was THEIR birthday.)

I don't see this as generational, either, at least not in my experience. I'm mid-40s, my parents are early 70s... and my parents and their friends and other people we knew handled it the way I described above, too.

Pacific NW, if that matters.
posted by stormyteal at 4:29 PM on July 3, 2021 [3 favorites]


I think people are way less likely to foot the bill for drinks out at a bar than say, at a rented venue or something. Also, like, it can cost soooo much to buy cocktails in a bar. At a rented venue, you typically have an agreed on set of cocktails and beer and wine but it's not the whole shebang. I think people tend to drink more when they aren't footing the bill and that makes me uncomfortable, too. I wouldn't want my parents to 1) get a huge bill they weren't expecting or 2) feel in any way responsible for overly-drunken behavior or consequences from that drinking.

They kindly offered and you should decline. The movie night out is a very nice gesture, leave it at that.
posted by amanda at 4:41 PM on July 3, 2021 [5 favorites]


The last birthday I spent at a bar, everyone got their own drinks. I think that's a "fend for yourself" situation.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:46 PM on July 3, 2021 [4 favorites]


In my peer group (mid 30s, Australia) the host provides drinks for a party at their home or in a private space (including booking a section of a bar or pub for a private function ), but not if we’re all meeting at the bar with other patrons around.

It sounds to me like the post-movie drinks are just a casual hang-out in public, so I would expect to pay for my drinks, and for the drinks and food of the person we are celebrating.
posted by third word on a random page at 4:46 PM on July 3, 2021 [17 favorites]


It is certainly not* expected.. but! It will be fun!

If I were the bartender/owner of the bar, I'd consider offering a cap for the amount of guests you expected to attend. 1-2 median level drinks (above well, below whatever finest scotch, etc), or maybe just free pints up to $xyz amount. Maybe your parents know covid was a bummer and are trying to really help you celebrate: You should let them!


Or don't. It's your birthday. And yes, it's very nice when friends pay for drinks.
posted by firstdaffodils at 5:15 PM on July 3, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Since you've used the word "state" I'm assuming you're in the US, but this does vary globally - I have a fair number of international friends and have lived abroad, and have learned that in much of the world it is the person with the birthday who is expected to pay for the party, including all the drinking being drunk (whether that be at a private home or bar). But in the US, at least among my social circle, it's the opposite.

But I strongly agree with showbiz_liz that there is nothing embarrassing about saying "My parents know this past year has been hard given the pandemic, and so they wanted to help me and my friends go all out for my birthday this year - so drinks are on them!"
posted by coffeecat at 5:23 PM on July 3, 2021 [17 favorites]


Best answer: Miss Manners would agree with your parents here.

If you do accept their offer, and you’ve already accepted for the theater, any reasonable people would consider it lovely if you publicly thanked them for their generosity. It doesn’t make you look bad, but would rather show that you have a loving relationship. Gratitude is never a bad look. And it would be a kindness to your parents. What would seem weird and not very classy to me would be finding out later that they paid and you didn’t acknowledge them.
posted by FencingGal at 5:23 PM on July 3, 2021 [12 favorites]


Generally, the Birthday boy/girl gets the free drinks. And most restaurants have a little cupcake and singing too (if approved).

But there's nothing wrong with you buying ONE round for everyone. Just don't make a habit of it. :)
posted by kschang at 5:40 PM on July 3, 2021 [1 favorite]


If your parents pay, you have to acknowledge them. So accept their offer or don't, but don't worry about people thinking you are rich, bc you will tell them "drinks are on my awesome parents tonight! They want for all of you to drink freely and celebrate with me :)"
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:58 PM on July 3, 2021 [3 favorites]


So hey, I just turned 50 and we went out to a fancy pizza place. I paid for the food + sodas/ tea, but anyone who wanted booze got their own. And three of my guests decided to cover the food for me as a gift. After we went to a bar and they bought drinks, but that part was optional.

Maybe talk your parents into paying for popcorn+soda and leave the booze up to guests? Plus not everyone drinks anyway.
posted by emjaybee at 6:04 PM on July 3, 2021 [1 favorite]


You purchasing a round of drinks would not be out-of-place at all, but, by and large, the attendees should be responsible for their own tabs.

If anyone walks on their tab, I would say you should probably cover that, though not required, since you could get dunned for someone who was just incidentally there and not part of your party.
posted by JustSayNoDawg at 6:11 PM on July 3, 2021


Late 50s here. Been in both your position and your parents. I have 3 kids mid 20s.

I think it has to do with where everyone is in life. If you and your friends are all starting your careers and not making great money, then having your parents say, "The first two rounds are on us. After that we are going home to sleep." is ok.

If you and your friends can readily pay for your drinks and are further along in life, then I would tell your parents that if they want to help more, to pay more for the theater. Your friends can buy their own drinks.

Regardless, it is ok to take a gift from your parents and tell your friends that they are treating everyone as a birthday gift.

I agree with your parents that the host should pay, but I think they don't get what it is you are hosting. You are hosting the movie theater event. After party is just that, after party at a bar. If you are renting a room in the bar, then maybe I would expect payment for drinks in that case.

One more thought. It depends on what bar you go to. Is it one that costs an appropriate amount based on the general financial level of your friends or is it a step higher where paying for drinks themselves would be stretching their budgets?
posted by AugustWest at 6:14 PM on July 3, 2021 [3 favorites]


No, your friends will have fun and enjoy the movie, and should want to treat *you* to drinks, as it is your birthday; that's how that works. guests pay for their own drinks and also offer to buy a drink for the birthday person, who should never have to pay for their own drinks that night. I am a geezer, and this is just the way it is. If you want to provide drinks, you have people come to your house, and even then, they should bring wine or whatever.

also, it doesn't matter what your friends think about your income, none of their concern.
posted by theora55 at 6:18 PM on July 3, 2021 [1 favorite]


I’m 43 and I’ve only ever been to one birthday party at a bar where the person with the birthday bought drinks for guests and I believe it was just two drinks. I think he worked out a drink ticket system with the bar IIRC. He’s *that* kind of person, and he also makes more money than a lot of his friends AND he invited clients as well. It was fun but a very specific kind of party. If you’re treating everyone to a movie and the drinks are a pretty casual thing afterwards it’s absolutely fine to let people buy their own and yes, people will probably buy your drinks for you and that’s fine too.

I think the fact that you say this is standard for birthday parties you’ve been to tells you what you need to know. Etiquette isn’t universal and it sounds like your plan is absolutely fine in your circles. Just tell your parents thanks but no thanks.
posted by lunasol at 6:21 PM on July 3, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Broadly agreeing with most of the other comments, that, as a guest, I would expect to pay for my own drinks, and also chip in with the other guests to pay for the celebrant's tab.

One thing I'll add is that I actually prefer to pay my own way - so that I can, if I want, chose a more expensive drink without awkwardness. Some of your friends may feel the same.
posted by kickingtheground at 6:22 PM on July 3, 2021 [7 favorites]


Best answer: This is definitely a generational/situational etiquette thing: I am closer to your generation and wouldn't in a million years expect the birthday-haver to foot the bill for a party held at a bar. Assuming your circle is similar, you are not on the hook here.

That said, if someone told me their parents were paying, my thoughts would be limited to pretty much "oh, that's nice of them!"
posted by eponym at 7:28 PM on July 3, 2021 [1 favorite]


I'm in my 50s so we MIGHT buy everyone drinks, but we only have like 1-2 each, LOL.

In my 30s (in Seattle), at the bar we'd all buy our own drinks AND drinks for the birthday person. If you're paying for the movie, THAT's the party you held. The bar is a hangout of friends that they pay for.
posted by tristeza at 7:46 PM on July 3, 2021 [1 favorite]


"after the movie, I will be at the X bar from 7-10" is how I see it phrased when you aren't buying.
posted by flimflam at 8:15 PM on July 3, 2021 [4 favorites]


Response by poster: Thank you for all your thoughts! It seems like there are 2 socially-valid options here:

1. Politely decline my parents' offer, saying it tends not to work that way among my social circle and it actually makes things easier on everybody if my friends pay their own bar tabs

2. Accept the offer and be upfront with my friends that my parents are covering the whole tab as a birthday gift (rather than trying to hide or conceal the fact)

Honestly I'm not sure which option I will take—I'm going to sleep on it—but it was very helpful and reassuring to hear that it doesn't make me look cheap if I don't pay, that it doesn't make me look weird if my parents pay, and that if I do decide to accept the offer, being more honest with my friends about who's footing the bill might make me feel less uncomfortable.

Thanks again!
posted by clair-de-lune at 9:03 PM on July 3, 2021 [6 favorites]


To me it’s the difference between between a birthday/other celebration and a night out with friends on the occasion of a birthday/other event.

If it’s an event, I would take that more seriously, and either provide hospitality or appreciate the host’s hospitality. I would go to celebrate/honor my friend. If it’s night out on the occasion, I would be more likely to consider how much I like the bar/activity, feel more comfortable playing by ear in terms of rsvp-being/flaking at the last minute, stopping by for a very short time and not even having a drink of its someplace I wouldn’t normally budget for me, etc.

Either kind of event can be nice.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:47 PM on July 3, 2021


This is Rich People problems or social expections btw, which you can choose to opt into or out of.

The supposedly polite social thing of catering for everyone is really about showing that you have the *wealth* to do so. It's the same social circles in which potlucks etc aren't acceptable.
Poor people just aren't supposed to have parties or birthdays, because apparently you shouldn't have them unless you can afford to cover everyone's food and drink. 🙄

And, I'm kind of kidding, but kind of not and pointing it out here, because I think it's really important to point out that this Miss Manners approved behaviour is actually staggeringly rude to people from different income levels and social classes, and is one of the ways that locks people from poorer backgrounds out of certain social situations.
The other main way of locking out is just the straight up requiring people to attend really expensive events to socialise, or splitting really expensive tabs, but a bar usually has a range of drinks at a range of prices, and you can opt into drinking how much you want.

If it's a one off that drinks are covered, it's cool, so this situation is fine, I'm just pointing out that as soon as there's a social expectation that that's how it should happen most of the time, you've just locked out people without the financial capacity to do that from socialising with that group, because they can't ever reciprocate. Ask anyone who's working class who went to an expensive university.
If politeness was truly about making people feel comfortable, then it's good to distinguish between that, and subtle enforcement of a class boundary, which is what a bunch of miss manners style etiquette actually is.
posted by Elysum at 10:35 PM on July 3, 2021 [11 favorites]


My family is middle eastern and hosting is taken very seriously in that part of the world. I grew up in the states. The middle eastern part of me thinks that having guests pay is tacky, the American part sighs and shrugs. I have ended up never really having a birthday party for myself so I could avoid this Inner conflict. A few years ago though I did arrange a small birthday dinner and I covered most of the bill (happily) for my guests. We went to a bar afterwards and they bought me drinks all night. It seemed like a good compromise and I had one of my best birthday celebrations.
posted by namemeansgazelle at 10:40 PM on July 3, 2021 [10 favorites]


Are you European? My parents had me buy gifts for my friends on my birthday or when moving away when I was little, but changed as we got more canadianized.
See this list #13 specifically says which countries do as your parents suggest
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:20 PM on July 3, 2021 [2 favorites]


But also you’re in your 30s so do whatever the fuck you want.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:23 PM on July 3, 2021 [1 favorite]


Are you European? ... See this list #13 specifically says which countries do as your parents suggest

Am European, can confirm. #12, 13, 14, 15 are absolutely true in my part of the world. Which means people should take advice on the good-ol' world wide web with a grain of salt, and that you absolutely should pick out advice from your area and culture.
posted by gakiko at 11:44 PM on July 3, 2021 [3 favorites]


Your parents are frickn' AWESOME!

Make sure your friends know that your parents are paying for it.

Up front and prominant.

If your folks can't attend in person, have all of your guests call them/ do social media/ do video social media with them and show them how aweseome they are for helping fund the party.
posted by porpoise at 12:34 AM on July 4, 2021 [5 favorites]


As a guest, I would feel really uncomfortable having the birthday person buy me drinks. I would definitely expect to be buying my own, plus chipping in for birthday person.

If your friends know your parents, I think you could happily pull off "First round's on my parents!" and maybe video call them for a toast if the timing is sensible for that.
posted by ktkt at 12:41 AM on July 4, 2021 [2 favorites]


And, I'm kind of kidding, but kind of not and pointing it out here, because I think it's really important to point out that this Miss Manners approved behaviour is actually staggeringly rude to people from different income levels and social classes, and is one of the ways that locks people from poorer backgrounds out of certain social situations.

This is a misunderstanding of Miss Manners' point of view, and since I brought her up in the first place, I want to reply.

Per Miss Manners, it's true that if you're hosting a party, you give the party you can afford. So let's say I want to have my birthday party be a Kim Kardashian-style three-day getaway to a private island. Well, I can't afford that, so Miss Manners would say the answer is not giving my dream party and having my guests pay their own way (which is what some people who write her basically want to do). The answer is to give the party I can afford.

So maybe I can take my friends out for dinner. If I can't afford dinner, maybe I can take them to a bar. If I can't do that, maybe I can prepare dinner for them at home. Still too expensive? Try homemade cake and lemonade. I've been on food stamps, and I could have afforded that kind of party then. Hell, I was very poor when I hosted a friend's wedding reception at my house (she said she couldn't afford to have one). I made a cake and punch for about thirty people, and everyone had a good time.

Actually, when I was poor, what I would have been locked out of was going to someone's party at an expensive place where I had to pay my own way, especially if I would have also had to worry about being asked to chip in for the birthday person's dinner.

The point is that if you want to host a party, you need to figure out what kind of party you can host. What you cannot do is throw a party in your own honor and ask your guests to pay for it. I suppose that does lock me out of the three-day island getaway, but I don't think that's unreasonable.

(If my friends and I want to arrange a three-day island trip as a group, that's something else altogether. This is specifically about hosting parties.)
posted by FencingGal at 4:54 AM on July 4, 2021 [13 favorites]


Actually, when I was poor, what I would have been locked out of was going to someone's party at an expensive place where I had to pay my own way, especially if I would have also had to worry about being asked to chip in for the birthday person's dinner.

Make that a series of expensive dinners, one for each friend, rather than hosting something I can afford once a year.
posted by FencingGal at 5:46 AM on July 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


If you don’t cover it, I think the word you might want (maybe even just to communicate with your parents?) is “no-host bar.” I agree with you about the social mores that people treat the birthday person, but even apart from that, even some weddings will have a “no host” or “cash” bar. Another option is to give everyone one drink ticket and everything after that is up to them — I’ve seen this in some conferences. Framing it as “first round’s on my parents” is nice. As long as you make things clear in your invite and choose a bar that’s the same cost as your friends would typically go to, then I think you’re good.
posted by slidell at 7:14 AM on July 4, 2021


If you do the inviting, then you are the host and you pay. Whether your parents are actually footing the bill is beside the point ... if you invite someone to a party, you are offering to "host" them. Don't invite people to a party that you can't afford to pay for, adjust your plans to your budget.

That's the movie theater part of this.

If people invite YOU out for your birthday, they are offering to host *you*. They pay for you and everyone covers themselves.

If your parents honestly want to pay for this so you can have a good party, then let them! Sometimes it's a gift to someone to let them give. Take your parents' money, make the post-movie bar an official part of the party, and have fun!

If you REALLY want to not take your parents' money for the bar tab, you need the "going out to a bar" part of this to be initiated by your friends, not from you. If someone else takes charge of the "going out to a bar" part, then you're off the hook for the bar tab.
posted by mccxxiii at 7:26 AM on July 4, 2021


If you do the inviting, then you are the host and you pay. Whether your parents are actually footing the bill is beside the point ... if you invite someone to a party, you are offering to "host" them. Don't invite people to a party that you can't afford to pay for, adjust your plans to your budget.

Guess I, and also everyone I know, is a real goddamn asshole then!

Seriously, this is not universal.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:21 AM on July 4, 2021 [6 favorites]


I agree that when you host a party, you generally pay. But only a *party*

"Let's go to a bar for drinks after!" would not count as a party in my book. That's just an outing, and as a bonus can be free for anyone involved (unlike a dinner, where it's weird if you go and don't order anything). The movie theatre is the party, and it would be unreasonable (imo and social circle) to charge your friends to attend. The bar is just friends hanging out and you are not obliged to "host" that.
posted by stillnocturnal at 10:24 AM on July 4, 2021 [4 favorites]


In my experience (early 40s, middle class), a privately hosted party (e.g. a ballroom at a hotel, or at your home) is usually open bar, and if it's in a rented space that means the hosts are paying rather than providing (and for a party at a private home it's courteous but hardly mandatory for guests to bring a liquid contribution of their own, so even then some guests may choose to contribute). A party held in a public space (at a bar, a restaurant, --- and at the concession stand outside the specific theater you rented, at that) usually means guests are on their own dime though unless explicitly stated otherwise.
posted by jackbishop at 12:42 PM on July 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


it doesn't make me look weird if my parents pay

Agree. I have been a person who has occasionally taken people out for MY birthday, just because I want to see them, have a place I want to go, and don't want people to feel they can't go if they can't afford it. When my mom was alive sometimes she'd chip in for this and it might mean I went to a place that was a little fancier or got a cocktail that was really (to me) expensive even if I wasn't sure I would like it. I think that the idea is just to be magnanimous and treat your friends and if you're doing that because your parents are also treating YOU that is okay and I think (in my culture which is kind of New England/US) that would be okay.

But also nthing what people are saying: it's super normal in the US if you are all just "going to the bar afterwards" for people to buy you drinks and for them to cover their own drinks, especially if you were splurging for the first part. Happy birthday in any case!
posted by jessamyn at 3:33 PM on July 5, 2021


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