Color of Money: Stop charging me to attend your celebrations -- #guestsdontpay

Michelle Singletary on

WASHINGTON -- I don't mean any harm, but I am not paying to attend your parties anymore.

I want to commemorate your life moments -- your birthday, engagement, bridal shower, baby shower, anniversary or retirement. But if you can't afford to host, stop charging me for your celebration.

Too many times, I've shown up for an event and been told after consuming the meal that I'm expected not just to pay for my food, but to chip in for the guest of honor.

I've been at events when others -- caught by surprise or knowing they don't have the money -- skip out without paying their share. This leaves the remaining guests to pick up the cost of what wasn't paid.

During one birthday party I attended at a restaurant, there was a long awkward moment when nobody wanted to ante up for the guest of honor and the other diners who had bolted without paying. One person feigned a trip to a nearby ATM and never returned. Arguments ensued, and some choice words were spoken, until one guy just paid the difference. He was a champ, but not a happy camper.

Another time, I was invited to a birthday brunch at an all-you-can-eat restaurant. Nothing in the invitation indicated that guests were expected to cover the cost of their meals. So, I ate and celebrated. Then came the bill. At my table was someone I knew couldn't afford the meal. She was out of work and struggling to pay for necessities. She was so stressed about coming up with the $30 that I ended up covering her portion, plus the tip, in addition to the expected cut for the guest of honor.

Even after some guests were unhappy about haggling with fellow diners about their fair share, the celebrant said callously, "You guys figure it out. It's my birthday!"

I also felt bad for the wait staff. As I was paying the cashier, she noticed my tip and thanked me profusely on behalf of the staff working the party. Why? Because many partygoers, salty about being presented with a check, hadn't tipped.

That was it. The defining moment when I decided I had had enough.

I now respectfully decline such invitations. If it isn't clear whether I'll be charged, I ask. If I have to pay, I don't go. I'll offer congratulations and perhaps send a card or gift later. But I will not be a party to this etiquette breach.


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