How to say "please come, but pay your own way" to a party-ish event?
November 25, 2006 7:07 PM   Subscribe

When is a party not a party? When it's not hosted. But how to invite people to such a (non-)event?

For my mother's upcoming 65th birthday, she has made it clear that she absolutely does not want a traditional party by any means. Instead she wishes for all of my siblings and me to take her to dinner at her favorite -- pricey -- restaurant. All fine and good.

The trouble is that her friends and our extended family all want to know what's happening for her birthday. She's also retiring at the end of that same week, so some co-workers are interested in some kind of celebration as well.

Even spread amongst the siblings, underwriting meals for a large number of additional guests at the restaurant in question is simply cost prohibitive, far more expensive than a formal dinner (buffet) in one of our homes or even a catered party at a non-restaurant venue might possibly be. (We're talking about a starting cost of ~$60/person.) And there is no shaking mom's resolve that she wants the sole celebration of her birthday/retirement to be this dinner at this location.

Is it tacky to invite people to join us for dinner at this restaurant in a way that makes it clear that they'll be buying their own meals? (Clearly at that price, they'll need to be prepared.) If it's acceptable, should it just be a matter of phone calls, or is there some polite way of writing an invitation that says "join us for dinner -- on your dime" in an abundantly clear way?
posted by Dreama to Human Relations (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No, I don't think it is tacky at all.

You can send invitations that are printed with a few menu options with the price of each. Your guests will then know they are expected to pay.

It sounds like your mom's family and friends really want to be a part of the celebration, so don't worry about sending these invitations. A mailed invitation gives the recipient a graceful way to back out if they are not comfortable with the price. A telephone call may put a person on the spot.
posted by LoriFLA at 7:21 PM on November 25, 2006

I guess I would send a pretty casual note (email?) to people, and let them know what's going down. Something like "Dreama's mom is getting together with family and friends for a birthday/retirement dinner - but we aren't able to cover the cost for everyone. It'll be $60 a person, so we understand if you can't attend. Feel free to send a card."

Though, written out, it does sound rather cheesy.

Also, is her place of work doing anything for retirement? When people have retired at places I've worked, everyone kinda chills all day, and we all go out to eat somewhere mid-range. Could someone set this up for her, or would she really not like that?
posted by niles at 7:21 PM on November 25, 2006

I've never seen any ettiquette columnist say that it's OK to ask guests to pay cash for any part of a party. People who pay are co-hosts or donors.

Go ahead and plan to do what your mom wants, especially since she is so emphatic about her wishes. And at a fancy restaurant, I bet keeping the party small (just sibs and mom) will keep it nicer.

Ask your mom what she wants you to tell people who want to celebrate. If there is "no shaking her" in terms of opening up options for celebration, just say flat-out that as much as you love her, you and your sibs can't afford to rent out the fancy restaurant, and there are people who really just want to raise a toast to her, and it would be nice to allow them to do so. Suggest a house party in the evening (pot luck is acceptable, I think).

If the second, modest and inclusive party is too pricey for you and your sibs (or if she doesn't want it), then just tell people who call that you are celebrating with your mom in the way she wishes--an elegant dinner just for family. If people insist, ask them (nicely) if they want to plan it.

People do seem to either get really tacky (charging entrance fees) or go really broke when celebrating these milestone moments. Just make it as nice as you can within your budget and the moment will be sweeter.
posted by tk at 7:26 PM on November 25, 2006

I retract my answer. From Emily Post:

Q. How do you send an invitation to about 10 people for a small lunch get together just to celebrate a friend having her 4th child (not an official shower, just a little intimate time as friends)? Also, how do I let the people know that we'll all be paying for our own lunch?

A. "Encore showers" can be fun for both the expectant mother and her friends. These showers or
the small luncheon you describe should be limited to close relatives and very close friends. Due to the
intimacy of the event, there is no need to send invitations. In addition, written invitations are not sent to
guests for an event where they are expected to pay their own way.

Instead, make it a group effort and make it clear that you are only the organizer, not the hostess. In this case, the phone works best. "Sally, a bunch of us were thinking of treating Janie to lunch before the baby arrives. It will be at noon at Chez Harry on August 4th. It's Dutch treat (or, we are splitting the bill), and we will all split Janie's meal." You don't want anyone to be surprised at the event, so make sure they are aware of the payment arrangements ahead of time.
posted by LoriFLA at 7:35 PM on November 25, 2006 [5 favorites]

Just tell them exactly what you've told us - eg "We're not really organising anything, but we will be having dinner at place X, and you're welcome to come."

On preview: What LoriFLA said.
posted by cillit bang at 7:37 PM on November 25, 2006

Is it tacky to invite people to join us for dinner at this restaurant in a way that makes it clear that they'll be buying their own meals?

posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:42 PM on November 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

And frankly, I don't know why you'd want to invite a group of people paying dutch to a restaurant, anyway- there's always someone who doesn't put in enough to cover their side of the bill, and everyone else has to sit around and add and subtract. Not very fun, especially for your Mom, who has to pretend she's not hearing it, since it's her party. I say, keep the dinner to your siblings and Mom. If someone else wants to throw a party, take her to dinner, do something, let them handle that.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:44 PM on November 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

While I agree there's certainly a degree of tackiness to it, I think the "Emily Post method" mentioned by LoriFLA is probably the best way to go about it. Doing it via a phone invite is less formal than a written invitation and more appropriate for something where people are going to be paying their own way. Though to keep people from being put on the spot, I wouldn't ask them for a yes/no right then on the phone, but just let them know it's going on and then let them call you back when they've had time to decide (and back out gracefully if they don't want to pay).
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:48 PM on November 25, 2006

We do this all the time within our group of friends. Normally, we would just send an email out with something like:
"We'll be celebrating xx's birthday/retirement on this day at this restaurant and would love it if you could join us. We estimate that it will be around $60 to $100 per person. Hope to see you there."
posted by gt2 at 7:56 PM on November 25, 2006

For my mother's upcoming 65th birthday, she has made it clear that she absolutely does not want a traditional party by any means. Instead she wishes for all of my siblings and me to take her to dinner at her favorite -- pricey -- restaurant.
Why doesn't she want a 'traditional party'? Have you considered the possibility that perhaps your mother wants to have a nice birthday dinner with you, her children, and only you - and might actually prefer that these friends & coworkers not be there? Perhaps she chose this venue specifically because she knows that it's too pricey for these other people to be invited/hosted.
posted by kickingtheground at 8:55 PM on November 25, 2006

There's no arguing with Emily Post. One small point, though, that might make this whole thing massively less of a hassle, is that an email laying out the plans is not a written invitation. Email, like the phone, can be used as an informal way of communicating things.

If at all possible, try to arrange a prix fixe option for the dinner so everyone comes into it knowing what they'll have to pay, and comes out of it at the end owing the same amount. It eliminates vast problems with large unhosted meals.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:41 PM on November 25, 2006

I think that the retirement party should be kept separate from the birthday gathering--let her co-workers handle that one, scheduling it for another week.
posted by brujita at 3:43 AM on November 26, 2006

Etiquette arises to avoid uncomfortable social situations, so it's not just some arbitrary sense of tackiness you should seek to avoid, it's creating discomfort for people. For me, it would be uncomfortable to hear about a celebration and have to decide between spending more than I'd like and appearing to snub the occasion and the person. The suggestions above that eliminate the possibility of that discomfort are the ones I'd second.
posted by daisyace at 5:48 AM on November 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'd talk to your mother some more about this. Make sure she really intends to conflate her birthday and retirement. I have never heard of a person with even a minor tenure of service at a company being asked to host her own celebration, much less pay for it. It is up to her company to provide that celebration, not you. It is also common for family to be invited to witness such events.

In addition, ask your mother what she really wants, because it's not really clear if she means this to be an intimate family dinner or catch-all celebration. If the former, tell her friends and extended family that she's requested that there be no large party, but they can contact her directly with birthday wishes. If it's the latter, gently remind her of the prices at the restaurant -- then ask her if she really wants to put her friends and colleagues in a position to have to pay that cost per plate in order to celebrate the occasion with her.

If she insists she wants the big do with everyone in the world at Chez Expensive then, honestly: you and the siblings are going to have to go suck it up and pay, or refuse her wishes, because there is no way -- no way on this earth -- you can put people in this position without engendering a lot of ill will and hurt feelings. People in your extended family and in her close circle of friends are going to want to go -- or feel obligated to go -- and pay their respects, and will be prevented by the expense, and that is a small and terrible way to feel. That's not just tacky, it's hurtful, and people don't soon forget such things. I'm betting if you talk about this some more with your mother, you'll find out that either she really did intend a very small intimate family dinner, or will reconsider her request.
posted by melissa may at 6:32 AM on November 26, 2006

Why not tell the people from work (for example) that they'd be better off organizing their own goodbye/retirement celebration for your Mom? There's no reason for them to be at your dinner and no reason that you are obligated to organize the get-together they want.

Your Mom has told you what she wants. You can either agree to it or tell her you can't do that. But don't agree to it and then try to find ways to turn it back into the larger gathering.

I'd say take your Mom out to dinner with just your siblings and when anyone else suggests they'd like to celebrate her also, tell them that's a great idea and they should organize it.
posted by winston at 8:21 AM on November 26, 2006

Mom's been very clear that she wants no traditional party for her birthday or retirement, the dinner is it. She also isn't concerned about numbers; there was never any pretense of this being a small, intimate affair because we're already beyond three dozen attendees with just immediate family. The woman does have nine children, all partnered, who will be there, and some of her 36 grandchildren are coming too. This was never destined to be a little family gathering because where we're involved, there's no such thing.

I think some phone calls and e-mails will be the way to go, and we'll see who wants to come out and join us.
posted by Dreama at 10:47 AM on November 26, 2006

If your mother doesn't want a "traditional party", then why not have a big ol' afternoon tea, or such like (in addition to the schmancy family dinner)? Your could keep it very casual - either at home or at a cafe - just an opportunity for people can drop by, eat some cake, and wish your mother all the best?
posted by hot soup girl at 6:01 AM on November 27, 2006

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