I am a regular party thrower, or perhaps regularish. I host a party a few times a year, sometimes larger, sometimes smaller, sometimes for a reason and sometimes just because it is nice to host a party. You plan, you invite, you entertain and chat with friends, some of whom perhaps you don’t see all that often. You provide food and drink and maybe music or games and you do this because you are fond of the people you have invited and you want them to enjoy themselves. They are people that you want to spend time with, or that you want to celebrate something with and that act of hosting a party is something of a gift to them in acknowledgment of your fondness. And so to me, it does not feel so fond, or so welcoming, or something I can’t quite put my finger on it, when at the end of a party you are presented with a bill for your pro-rata share of the festivities.
In the last several years I have been invited to a number of parties, usually birthday parties for an adult, at a restaurant. You are welcomed by the “host,” frequently the spouse of the celebrant, or perhaps the celebrant themselves, invited to order a drink or have a glass of whatever is being offered and then shown your seat. You may choose from the limited menu, you may eat, drink and make merry and then you may pay. And in exactly zero of the events that I have attended ostensibly as a guest but as it turns out as a funder I am never thanked by the “host” for my contribution to the party. It may be said, “it was good to see you,” or “let’s do this again soon.” But I have never been thanked for being a part of the collective hosting of the event, neither have I been asked if I wanted to be involved in the planning of the event that I will be hosting, nor, and perhaps it goes without saying, have I been informed that I will buying a ticket to the party in advance. I care deeply about my friends but that little bit of information might make me consider whether or not I want to celebrate with them at the big party or perhaps instead during a quite lunch, dinner, movie whatever else of my suggestion given that I am hosting.
This is probably a good spot to digress and say I am also not a fan of registries for gifts. They had a purpose long ago for people getting married and for the birth of a first child. That purpose has largely been lost as couples live together for long years prior to a wedding, and you can basically get a baby started kit in a box at Target. Registries now exists for every conceivable gift giving event and they have become and embarrassing exercise in self-centered demands for presents. We can talk about the art of gift giving on another day.
There is of course a simple, if old-fashioned solution to the problem of who is paying for the party. When it comes to good manners you really don’t have to reinvent the wheel. On the invitation you simply say “hosted” or “no host.” That’s it. Then people who you are inviting understand that you are welcoming them to an event at which they are your guests, or they understand that you are asking if they would like to join you for an outing of your choice (it is after all your birthday) and that you will be independently responsible for your costs. “Hosted” or “no host.” That is all the information anyone needs in advance and they can decide what they want to do about it. When you come to me, or have your proxy come to me at the end of a party and present me with a bill, well that is just tacky and rather than feeling like a cared for friend, well I feel used.