Nonetheless, there were numerous caveats in the comments. Many folks didn’t mind attendees chipping in for a dinner party in general, but many offered better ways to go about it. We were intrigued by the whole affair, so we contacted a few etiquette experts and asked them to explain the dos and don’ts of cost-sharing a dinner party.
Yes, charging guests for a dinner party without warning is impolite.
“An in-home dinner party for friends or family is neither a ticketed event nor a fundraiser,” argues Thomas P. Farley, widely known as Mister Manners, an etiquette guru. “It’s a get-together where the host is expected to greet guests warmly and serve a meal for their enjoyment.”
That isn’t to argue that visitors should arrive empty-handed. “In exchange, the guests bring good cheer and conversation, as well as — typically — a thank-you present for the host(s),” explains Farley.
Providing food is an unspoken component of hosting, and the host is responsible for staying within their budget. “You should tailor the evening to match your budget if you’re doing the inviting, organizing the cuisine, and hosting without asking for any advice from others,” says Josephine Oria, cookbook author and creator of La Dorita, a kitchen sharing and culinary consultancy company.
But, as Oria points out, it’s fine to ask your guests to share some of the financial burdens by asking them to bring a dish. You may invite people to bring their favorite alcoholic beverage to share, or you could ask if they could bring a side dish or dessert. But, according to Oria, it’s critical to express this in advance, as part of the invitation, to avoid any shocks.
Yes, in certain instances, you can ask guests to contribute.
Before we go into when it’s acceptable to charge guests for a dinner party, let’s be clear: if you intend to charge visitors, you must make that obvious from the moment they are invited.
“If someone wishes to charge people for dinner, the exact costs and event information would have to be made very plain and unambiguous with every invitation,” says Nick Leighton, host of the monthly etiquette podcast, Were You Raised By Wolves? Don’t invite guests and then ask them to pay a few days later, and don’t try to send someone a Venmo request after the meal is finished.
So, when is it acceptable to charge guests in advance for a dinner party? If you’re conducting a fundraiser, it’s fine to ask for donations as long as you’re upfront about what you’re asking for. If this is the case, Farley recommends making it explicit on the invitation what the funds are for, as well as any admittance fee or suggested donation.
“On the other hand,” Farley wonders, “is this a casual friend get-together where everyone orders pizza or Chinese midway through Netlfixing?”
If that’s the case, “guests should plan on paying for their delivered meals, which will vary in price depending on what they order.”
If you’re arranging a party where you all cook together — which, in a sense, means you’re all hosting – dividing the cost might be a good idea. In Argentina, according to Oria, organizations frequently host a hacemos una vaquita. “The precise meaning is ‘let’s make a cow,’ but in colloquial parlance, it means ‘let’s all pool our money to buy goods and meat to cook together,” she explains. “As much as the dining itself, communal cooking is a part of the day.” The expectation is set upfront once again.
Another situation where you might want to ask visitors for cash is if you’re preparing something pricey that everyone agrees to contribute to. Farley uses the example of hiring a celebrity chef to prepare a meal for everyone in your home, which may be out of reach for any individual.
There are a few approaches you might take if a host unexpectedly charges you for a dinner party.
“Guests who are faced with a money request upon arrival would be well within the range of proper manners to verbally convey their astonishment (though ideally not their scorn) after removing the shocked looks from their faces,” Farley adds. “Guests should not be blamed for politely excusing themselves and leaving, lesson learned for next time, if the cost of the dinner is ridiculously expensive and the host given no advance information of an admission fee.” In other words, if the request is ridiculous, it’s fine not to pay.
However, perhaps a better strategy is to pay the bill and consider it part of the price of cutting relations with the hosts. Oria says, “I’d probably be too ashamed for them to pay the money that one time.” “Then I’d drink a lot of wine and swear I’d never go back.”
In the end, you should never find yourself in this predicament more than once.
“I’d think carefully about accepting any future ‘invitations’ from this person if a host surprises you with a bill at the end of an evening,” Leighton adds.