This is my dilemma: My birthday is coming up this month. I want to have some friends join me at a restaurant for dinner, but I am in no financial position to pay for everyone. Would it be rude to invite them and expect them to pay for their own meal? If not, what should I say when I invite them?
Perplexed in Pensacola
Money ruins everything. It’s a shame, but it’s true. You name it, and money’s dragged it into the street and laid a steaming hot turd in its mouth, which, unless that thing is a Japanese porn star, would effectively render said thing ruined. It is at the center of every single geopolitical crisis since the beginning of time. Even all the things we love to blame on the ugliness of fanatic religion is really about money.
I don’t mean to try to diminish the importance of your question, but rather to just put in perspective the galactic level pain in the ass that financial concerns place on things so simple such as friendship and birthdays.
In a perfect world everyone would know it’s your birthday and flying puppies would jump out of the ground with magical little cupcakes and serve you and your friends fancy vittles as you sing Feliz Cumpleanos to lutes and various fantastical instruments. But we don’t live in a perfect world, puppies don’t fly and cupcakes aren’t magical. Unless you get them in Amsterdam.
Inviting people out to a group dinner is well within the realm of politeness even without the special occasion of birthday. People do it all the time. The only thing that manners and taste dictate is that if you’re not in the habit of rolling with millionaires you should pick a restaurant that is competitively priced. Meaning that if your friends are anything like the rest of the suffering middle class of this country you should stay away from places that require credit checks upon getting a reservation.
The only time it’s expected that you foot the bill for your own birthday is if you’re having a party at your house, or at a special location. I had a brief run in over the summer with a group of extremely well off individuals. We had dinners, a few parties, etc. It was a pretty interesting situation because they all came from money, so money did not enter into situation. There was no splitting of the check, someone always picked it up. They didn’t have birthday parties at dirty little dives like the rest of us mere mortals, they rented yachts and circled Manhattan. In cases like that, it’s definitely assumed that the thrower of the soirée is going to cover all costs.
In your situation, you can most definitely ask people to pay for their own dinner. In fact, I’d go so far as to assume that they’d probably be expected to pay for your dinner as well, though that’s just generally the case with the people I know. You don’t need to offer any extra information, except perhaps mentioning in your invitation that the restaurant you’ve chosen is “very affordable” or something like that (which it ought to be).