This is a party planning article, if you want to read more articles like this one please check out our Party Planning 101 post.
Today I want to talk about who should pay for a party. It may seem like a fairly straight forward topic but this is not always the case.
Why The Host Should Always Pay
My rule of thumb when it comes to hosting an event is that the host should always cover the cost of the people they are inviting. This rule holds true whether you are inviting one person to a dinner or a large group over to your house for a special occasion. The fact is that by inviting someone, you have all the cards in front of you; you picked the time, location and the activity. If this is the case, why should you expect your guest to pay?
Let's look at an example. Let's say a new restaurant opens up downtown that I really want to check out. It is a very expensive restaurant. I ask if my friend would like to join me Saturday at 6 pm to check it out. They say yes as they haven't seen me in awhile due to some health issues and moving into a new house. As I took care of all the details for the reservation and picked them up they may not have checked out the menu in advance so have no idea how expensive the place is. They arrive and realize right away that it is not in the budget. Now if we are following the rule above this would not be a problem as I would plan to pick up the bill and would likely reassure them of this fact right away. After all it was my choice of restaurant and had they not chosen to come I would have kept asking people until someone said yes. However, you could see how awkward this would be if I didn't cover the bill. My friend would be very uncomfortable as things are a bit outside their price range but as they agreed to come and we have a reservation they would likely order the cheapest thing on the menu and spend the whole meal figuring out how they could come up with the money when really they just want to leave and go to the Denny's down the street.
Simple example right? But what about in other cases where the invite is a bit more flexible, say a group of friends catching up over drinks or attending a movie together? My answer is that the host should still pay. The better question is who is the host?
Who is the Host?
A host is anyone that assisted with the planning of the event, regardless of how minor a role they play. If they had a say in location, date and/or time they have contributed towards the overall events success. Still not sure who the host is? When in doubt, I always ask myself the following question:
Did the invitation require a yes or no answer or was I given a choice?
If the person inviting you provides all the details and you simply need to say yes or no, you are a guest. However, if the person starting the conversation asks for your opinion or provides several options you are co-hosts. Think of getting a formal invite in the mail for an event such as a wedding or birthday party. Your response to such an invite is yes or no. Once you arrive at the event their is no cost to you with the exception of items above and beyond the basic event (drinks, coat check, taxi home, etc). Could you imagine enjoying a wedding and then getting the bill?
Keep in mind that not everyone follows proper protocol so you may be a guest and still be expected to pay. Hopefully in these cases the "hosts" will make that clear so that you are not caught unexpectedly.
Let's look at a couple examples to illustrate my point.
Example One: A friend I haven't seen in awhile sends me a text message about catching up and wonders if I am free on Saturday. I am so we go back and forth and eventually settled on 6 pm at a restaurant half way between our houses. Who is the host?
Answer: In this case both of us contributed to the plans and therefore we are both hosting. Either of us could pay or we could choose to split the bill.
Example Two: You best friend's birthday is coming up. She is planning to hold her birthday dinner at her favorite restaurant. As she wants to make sure you can attend, she runs the date by you before formally making a reservation and inviting people. You check the date and time and your schedule is clear. Later you receive a Facebook Event request. Who is the host?
Answer: Your friend. She picked the location, date and time so she should cover the cost of all the guests she invites. You may have known the date prior to most of the other people on the invite list but other than a "yes" the date works, you didn't have any other say. If you had said "no" and she changed the date she is still the host. Your friend is simply working through the Picking a Date & Venue steps we talked about before. Chances are she had a couple different dates she could have chosen and was double checking attendance levels before settling on one of them.
Example three: Your friend is getting married. You get an email from the Maid of Honour about having an epic bachelorette party for her. You are invited into a Messenger group to discuss the plans. She is a good friend so you join the group and while you don't say anything or agree to anything the date, time and venue are settled on. It is agreed that each person will pay $100 to attend. Who is the host?
Answer: Everyone in that messenger group is a co-host. Since each person had a say, or the opportunity to have a say they have all played a part in planning the event. Cost was discussed so if it was something you were not comfortable with you have the opportunity to speak up or say you can't attend.
Remember, if you provide all the plans you should also foot the bill. It is one of the primary reasons that I choose to host at home the majority of the time. For one it is a lot cheaper but it also makes it pretty clear to your guests that they don't need to budget anything. They may "choose" to bring a gift or a contribution to dinner but it is optional.
Final Thoughts and Why I Always Host at Home
Like most rules there are always exceptions. I can only provide guidelines on how things will work in an ideal world, not what will happen in reality. Take the guidelines I have provided and then use your best judgement. While we have no control over what others do, we can choose to host events that are inclusive and at no cost for people to attend. After all, we have all been there and declining events you want to attend based on budget reasons sucks for everyone!
If you have followed this blog for awhile or know me, you will know that I often choose to host events at home. I realize that is not always an option for people but please realize that there are lots of affordable options out there where you can get a room and have some basic catering done for just a bit more that making everything yourself. Plus you don't need to do any cleaning. Check the rates at hotels, community centres or some restaurants. For one of my birthdays I hosted at a pub. They had a free party room that I could use if I guaranteed a certain amount was spent. By ordering a couple sandwich trays I covered the cost of the room and made it so guests didn't have to pay anything. Granted I didn't cover alcohol but guests could come and have a good time at no cost. My event was well attended and my poor student friends (I was one myself) didn't have to fit it into their budget.