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August 4, 2008 9:38 AM   Subscribe

Birthday invitation etiquette questions

I'm about to send out invitations to my birthday party. I'm having the party at a restaurant. Is there some way to gracefully say that the food and drinks are my treat? I'm afraid some of my poorer friends will get nervous about spending too much money. Also, is it appropriate to specify "no gifts"?

Oh, one more thing - is it necessary to give single invitees the option of bringing a guest? I have a few friends who are part of a couple, and I'm inviting their SOs, but do I need to give my single friends the option to bring someone? If so, since there won't be an inner envelope, should I just address the outer envelope to "John Doe and guest"?

Sorry for all the questions, but outside of my wedding, I've never sent out invitations!
posted by Evangeline to Society & Culture (27 answers total)
Is this a huge b'day party or a dinner with few friends. If it's only few friends then you can just call them and invite, you don't need a formal invitation. You could just mention that "it's your treat" or "dinner is on you".
posted by WizKid at 9:50 AM on August 4, 2008

Birthday party invitations are typically a lot less formal than this.

Is it a special-number birthday (21, 30, 40..)?
Is it a nice restaurant?

I think your friends will understand if you just mention that the price of food is "covered"; you don't even have to go into detail about it being covered by you, if that bothers you. You can spring that on them at the last second, after there's nothing they can do about it.

And you can specify "no gifts", but there will still be at least some gifts...
posted by jozxyqk at 9:51 AM on August 4, 2008

I'm no Emily Post (and I never unpacked her 800-page tome), but I don't think there's a problem with saying it's your treat. It's pretty common for people to argue over who will pay (with each person insisting that they wanted to treat the others), so I wouldn't think anything out of the ordinary if you put it in. It could even just be a simple, parenthetical "My treat."

As a single person who's out of the loop on these things, if I got a "Mr. Fogster & Guest," I'd feel as if I needed to find a guest for fear of being left out, but past comments on here have led me to believe that I can interpret those things differently than the average Joe.
posted by fogster at 9:51 AM on August 4, 2008

Evangeline would like you to be her guest
at Fabulous Restaurant
on September 1, 2008 at 8:00 PM

The more formal way to phrase the invite would be to work in the phrase "hosted by," but a surprising number of people will not parse that as "the person making the invitation is paying."

You can address the envelope to J. Doe & Guest. If you don't mention the occasion is for your birthday, you don't have to worry about unwanted gifts. Your first instincts are correct in avoiding the "no gifts" line printed on the invite, however, when your guests call to RSVP and undoubtedly ask, "So what's the occasion" you may say words to the effect of "It's my birthday, I just want to treat you but please don't bring a gift."

On preview: by all means, send out nice invites. I love getting invites in the mail and miss them now that most invites are made via phone or email.
posted by jamaro at 9:56 AM on August 4, 2008

I see nothing wrong about saying you'll be picking up the bill - I'd make a point of putting it pretty clearly, so as to avoid putting people off because of ambiguity.

As for singles and guests, it really depends - Are you willing to pay for random people? Do you like the idea of meeting new random people? Are your single friends likely to have limited people they know and maybe feel out of the loop if they don't bring a friend? Because it's a meal, and you're paying I think the choice is totally up to you as to weather you do the plus one thing.

And yes, I think it's okay to say no gifts or at least I'm thinking of doing this myself at my next birthday since I'm heading off traveling the last thing I need is more random possessions, however cool they might be.
posted by paulfreeman at 9:59 AM on August 4, 2008

(Miss Post would be appalled by the "& Guest" bit because in a formal invite, the host is supposed to find out the name of the single person's date and yadda yadda, how likely is that nowadays. But your invite will be slightly less formal then that [what with the missing inner envelope] so & Guest will be fine.)
posted by jamaro at 9:59 AM on August 4, 2008

I'm not sure what would be "correct" (I'm at work, and Miss Manners & Emily Post are at home).

But it's your party, you can word the invitations how you like. You want to be polite, but still be able to plan accordingly. That being said...
- I don't think it's "wrong" to write something like, "It's our treat" on the invitation.
- Putting "To: Mary Jones and guest" on the invitation is appropriate (and addressing the envelope to Mary Jones). You're giving the option, but I think it's understood that Mary doesn't have to bring a date.
- Writing "no gifts, please" is also OK (but some people might ignore that, and bring one anyway).
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:00 AM on August 4, 2008

I have been reading the entire canon of Miss Manners this summer (even the 800+ page one, and I am LOVING it), so allow me to channel her wisdom for this answer.

Is there some way to gracefully say that the food and drinks are my treat?

On the invitation? I don't think so. But I think when people call or write to RSVP, you could make some mention that you have booked a room/picked a menu/something else that would clue them in that the meal is your treat. Or not- why not just let it be a fun surprise for guests at the party? It's not like the opposite situation of "Surprise, pay the bill!", they won't need to be prepared.

Also, is it appropriate to specify "no gifts"?

Not according to Miss Manners, no. It implies that gifts would have been expected unless you said it.

Oh, one more thing - is it necessary to give single invitees the option of bringing a guest?

Certainly not. Miss Manners is very against the idea of issuing a blank check to party invitees, which is what the "And Guest" feature is. If your guests have someone they might like to bring with them, the correct thing to do is find out that persons name and put it on the invitation. If there's no one worth knowing, no reason to leave an open space in the party for them. It's your party, you should have complete control of your guest list. Miss Manners would say if your single guests don't care to come to a party where they could possibly meet other nice people, they should probably stay home (although she would say it in a much more clever way than I just said it).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:01 AM on August 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think that the "my treat" thing is a bit modern for the Excruciatingly Correct Guide To Everything.

IMHO, saying that, "Refreshments will be provided" should be sufficient, or even, "Food and drink will be provided" if you have dense friends, and need to be blunt about it.

As for the "and guest", I would only do that for a particular person who you want to attend, but who will not go unless they bring *someone*. Otherwise, if someone wants to bring a date, they can just ask you personally for an an extra invite.
posted by Citrus at 10:07 AM on August 4, 2008

Response by poster: Great answers, guys!

It's not going to be a super formal affair - in fact I just got a quote from the restaurant I was considering, and it's way over my budget. My plan was to treat them all to a light dinner and then take them all out for karaoke nearby. Another option is renting a room in a pub and bringing in my own food/karaoke.

I want to send paper invitations because, well, like jamaro said, it's just nice to get something in the mail, and anyway, this is my 40th birthday, so it's kind of a big deal (for me, at least). Maybe it's just me, but when I get E-vites, I don't take them as seriously. I want people to know that they're special to me.
posted by Evangeline at 10:19 AM on August 4, 2008

Response by poster: Oh, and I'm expecting 20 to 30 people, if that makes a difference.
posted by Evangeline at 10:20 AM on August 4, 2008

You could put "The pleasure of your company is your birthday gift to me." At the bottom of the invite. Or something along those lines to address the no gift thing.
posted by pearlybob at 10:20 AM on August 4, 2008

Response by poster: I was going to write "No gifts, just your own sweet selves". I know, it's maudlin.
posted by Evangeline at 10:25 AM on August 4, 2008

As a currently Very Poor Person with rather well-off friends, I would really, really appreciate it if you clearly stated that the food & drinks would be "your treat" or would otherwise be covered or the check will be picked up. As sad as it is, at this point in my life I probably would have to skip out on any invitations for whatever occasion that would require me to spend a bit of money, even for a dear friend. Even if you specify "no gifts", people will probably still bring something, but hopefully you could encourage people to bring a handwritten card or something personally significant, like a photo or story, instead of material things.

As for single friends bringing guests, I think it's important to know the people you're inviting. If it's a group of friends who mostly all know each other, allowing single friends to bring guests is pretty unnecessary. However, if you have a lot of friends who don't know each other and the only tie to the social group is you, you should allow them to bring a guest so they won't feel uncomfortable or worry about monopolizing your conversation among people they don't know at all.
posted by booknerd at 10:27 AM on August 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Gentle Mefite,

I favor erring on the side of clarity rather than propriety, but then again my friends' parties are mostly of the red-plastic-cup, "10 pm until ?????" variety.

"Your presence is gift enough" or something similar is a fairly common "no presents, please" phrasing that strikes a good balance between tactful and understandable.

As for the other two, I favor Citrus' "Food and drinks will be provided" and not including the "and guest" unless you really, really want to buy dinner for a bunch of strangers. My personal inclination would be not to call out And Guests on the invitation, but to allow the And Guests on a case-by-case basis if the invitees ask... although I have a feeling that this is exactly the type of scenario that would give Miss Manners the vapors.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:36 AM on August 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is very helpful.

The "formal" invitation is actually going to be pretty tongue-in-cheek. The front is a picture of me on my first birthday, screaming my head off. The invitation will be pink, and the first line is "Come to my party or I'll cry". But the font and layout is going to be very traditional. I thought it would be fun to mix the silly and the classic.
posted by Evangeline at 10:40 AM on August 4, 2008

maybe I just have really cool friends, but in my experience this just does not work, not on my birthday at least.

I tend to enjoy eating at nice restaurants, whereas a lot of my friends don't or can't really afford to. So when I invite them to one for my birthday, I try to make it clear over and over again that it's on me. I feel like people are doing something nice by coming to my party, they shouldn't have to pay for the privilege, especially if it's far more than they would usually spend on a meal.

But it never happens that way. One person pulls money out, then everyone does. I argue, but they won't even let me pay for myself. So be prepared for that.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:50 AM on August 4, 2008

I think since you're obviously going with an informal, kitschy approach, you can get away with a lot. A formal invitation would neither mention that they could expect to be fed for free, since that would be assumed, nor that presents were not expected, since one never expects presents, nor does one decline to receive them. An informal invitation has way more flexibility.

Whether you need to mention that food is included or not probably depends a lot on the usual practice in your group. It's not uncommon in many social groups for people to throw themselves birthday parties in restaurants, by which they really mean ask all their friends to get together and collectively buy themselves and the birthday girl dinner. If that's how these shindigs usually go, then a brief note that "a light supper will be served" would be a good way to get across your 2 necessary points. The first is that whatever food you provide is not a full meal, so they might want to eat something else at some point in the day and that it's your treat.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:57 AM on August 4, 2008

drjimmy11, if you really want to pick up the check, the next time you go out with them, take the waiter or maitre d aside and tell them that you will be paying for the entire part and do not want the check even brought to the table. If your friends still insist on paying, take the cash and donate it charity.
posted by nooneyouknow at 11:36 AM on August 4, 2008

Just gonna say....the "no gifts, just your own sweet selves" is pretty adorable to me. I might even steal that...

Happy Birthday
posted by gracious floor at 11:45 AM on August 4, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you!
posted by Evangeline at 11:58 AM on August 4, 2008

If it was me, I'd just write "In a miserable attempt to buy your continued friendship, dinner's on me." But that really hinges on the fact that none of my friends takes anything I say seriously.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:02 PM on August 4, 2008

Response by poster: If it was me, I'd just write "In a miserable attempt to buy your continued friendship, dinner's on me."

Wow, it's like you KNOW me!
posted by Evangeline at 12:07 PM on August 4, 2008

If you're going to tell them that you're paying and you're also okay with them bringing a guest, then you should definitely say so. It's one thing to show up to a party with an uninvited guest (most hosts are okay with that sort of thing), but if I knew that the host was paying for our dinner, I'd be extra hesitant to show up with an extra financial burden.
posted by ErWenn at 1:33 PM on August 4, 2008

On the no gifts thing - "Presence over presents, please :)" is what I've commonly seen used.
posted by ysabet at 2:38 PM on August 4, 2008

I think something like "my treat!" or "food and drinks provided" would be good. As the only member of my social circle still in grad school, it's nice to know in advance that dinner with friends won't blow my weekly food budget.
Seems like you're keeping it pretty casual, I don't think it's necessary to mention guests at all. As a single person, if I saw "& Guest" I would think "Oh, I don't want to be the only person without a guest! I'd better find someone to go with me." but if not, I'd just show up by myself or ask you in advance if I wanted to bring someone. You should request that people RSVP, though, which would limit unexpected guests, or at least give your single friends the chance to mention it they did want to bring someone.

You can write "no gifts," but you'll still get them. At least they'll be of the small and thoughtful variety, though.

Have fun!
posted by emd3737 at 3:17 PM on August 4, 2008

This isn't a formal event, don't worry about the Miss Manners stuff. The only thing worse than not having any manners at all is judging people on theirs.

The only "manners" I would worry about is making sure people aren't going hungry. I've been to events that were purported to be an actual meal, and then only got scant appetizers. Had I known that in advance, I'd have eaten before hand. So whatever you're going to provide, make sure your guests know.

And yes, don't worry about the naysayers: if you don't want people getting gifts, say so. I think most people assume that a birthday party means you are socially obligated to get a gift. I can't think of a scenario where someone was having a b-day party and where gifts wouldn't be appropriate. Saying that you don't want them absolves them of that obligation.
posted by gjc at 4:07 PM on August 4, 2008

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