Google Answers Logo
View Question
Q: Proper etiquette for party invitations ( Answered 3 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: Proper etiquette for party invitations
Category: Family and Home
Asked by: mcwpc-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 28 Oct 2004 18:08 PDT
Expires: 27 Nov 2004 17:08 PST
Question ID: 421450
WE are having an 80th birthday party for my dad and would like to have
a buffet dinner.  Is it proper etiquette on the invitations to include
the cost of the buffet, or is it expected that the family giving the
party pay for all the meals?
Subject: Re: Proper etiquette for party invitations
Answered By: pinkfreud-ga on 28 Oct 2004 18:43 PDT
Rated:3 out of 5 stars
By most standards of etiquette, it is not considered proper to expect
guests to pay for their own meals.

Is this sometimes done? Yes. Does it receive a stamp of approval from
people such as Judith Martin, the famous "Miss Manners"? No. The
prevailing view is that if those who are planning a party cannot
afford to buy meals for invited guests, it is better to structure the
festivities around something other than dining out.

Here are some online references regarding similar situations:

"How Do We Tell Guests To Pay Their Own Way?

Q: My husband and I will be renewing our wedding vows for our 20th
anniversary on the beach at sunset on Waikiki... We would like to go
out to dinner after the renewal of our vows with our friends, but are
not having a reception. Everyone will order off the menu and pay for
their own dinner.

The question is, how do you tell people that will be the case? I will
probably hand-write invitations after we arrive on the island and set
up the details. I'll need to include the dinner details in the
invitation. Your help with wording would be appreciated. Thank you.

A: ...It is hard for me to advise you on the proper etiquette for
handling this issue in terms of wording the invitations since having
guests pay their own way at an event such as this would not be
considered socially correct in the first place. If a group of your
friends were to invite you out to celebrate your anniversary, they
would be expected to pay, not just for themselves, but for your
portion as well. However, when you are inviting guests to celebrate
your anniversary with you, typically the expectation is that you
intend to host the celebration.

I'm afraid that there is simply no wording suggestion I can offer for
the invitations which will conform to the standards of proper
etiquette or social correctness... to extend invitations to a
celebration in honor of such an occasion, expecting guests to pay
their own way, is not a practice which would be deemed 'socially

SuperWeddings: Ask the Wedding Expert

Even the relatively recent introduction of a "cash bar" at a
celebration is considered improper by some authorities on etiquette:

"A 'Host Bar' refers to the scenario in which the hosts of the wedding
or function will provide alcoholic beverages for their guests. This is
the opposite of a 'Cash Bar', which refers to the scenario whereby
guests are expected to pay for their own liquor consumption, a
situation which does not adhere to proper wedding etiquette. Although
having a 'Cash Bar' at a wedding is highly discouraged, today some do
it nonetheless."

SuperWeddings: Ask the Wedding Expert

"I am planning a surprise fortieth birthday party for my spouse at one
of the fine restaurants in my city and I am preparing to send
invitations to thirty people. My dilemma is that we are unable to
provide dinner for the guests. However, I am providing the banquet
room along with a wonderful cake, of course to share. How do I
tactfully inform the potential guests that they must purchase their
own food and drinks?

Thank you for your help!

Dutch Treat Dilemma

Dear Dutch,

There is no tactful way to inform guests that they are expected to pay
for their own food and drink at a party you are professing to host. I
have a hunch that you will surprise more people than just your

The Proper Thing

"A host is someone who offers hospitality, which includes planning,
orchestrating and paying the bills. So for all those folks who throw
themselves on Miss Manners's mercy, hoping to enlist her sympathy by
pleading that they are planning something really special for
themselves, their spouses or their parents, and expecting her to solve
the detail that they can't afford to pay their guests' way -- too bad.
They are going to have to settle for something they can afford.

It is fine to organize a cooperative party, to which everyone
contributes and no one is host, but then everyone gets to chime in
about the arrangements. Thus it should not favor one person's wishes
(or family ties) over another's. It would only be for someone's
birthday among a group of friends in the habit of celebrating one
another's birthdays, or for an anniversary as a joint family project."

Washington Post: A Host of Concerns

"I want to give my husband a birthday breakfast at a banquet hall. I
wanted to invite 50 to 75 people made up of family and other deacons
and their wives. The breakfast costs approximately $13 per person. I
can not afford to pay the total cost ($650-$975) for the breakfast but
I perhaps could pay part of the cost... So, I was thinking of inviting
the people to the birthday breakfast and putting the cost of the
breakfast on the invitation (at full or partial cost) but also saying
that a gift is not required as their presence would be the gift. Poor
taste or acceptable? Some people might be offended but I think most
would understand that I could not afford to pay for everyone's meal.

Gentle Reader, 
Ah, yes, Miss Manners keeps hearing that so-called guests should be
able to understand that they are not being invited to partake in
hospitality, but are expected to purchase the opportunity to attend
other people's personal social events.

What she fails to hear is that so-called hosts might understand that
if they cannot afford to entertain in a certain style, they must
entertain in a style that they can afford."

Archived copy from MSN Women: Miss Manners

To be fair, it should be noted that the verdict is not unanimous on
this sort of thing. Here is an instance in which it is mentioned that
guests at an anniversary party may be asked to pick up their own tab:

"It is not uncommon for guests to pay for their own meals when an
anniversary celebration is held in a restaurant. This allows for all
those who may not be able to afford a big meal to just have a small
amount or drinks only and still join in the celebration without
feeling awkward.

If you are attending an Anniversary celebration in a restaurant then
you should ascertain whether you are expected to pay for your own meal
prior to attending, typically the host should confirm this to you when
you respond to the invitation."

Anniversary Ideas: Wedding Anniversary Party Planning

Google search strategy:

Google Web Search: "etiquette" + "guests" + "birthday" + "pay"

Google Web Search: "expected to pay" + "guests" + "celebration"

I hope this is helpful. If anything is unclear or incomplete, or if a
link doesn't work for you, please request clarification; I'll be glad
to offer further assistance before you rate my answer.

Best wishes,
mcwpc-ga rated this answer:3 out of 5 stars

Subject: Re: Proper etiquette for party invitations
From: pinkfreud-ga on 03 Nov 2004 13:56 PST
I am sorry that you were not fully satisfied by my answer. In the
future, when rating a question, please keep in mind that if a
Researcher's response does not meet your needs completely, you can use
the 'Request Clarification' feature to obtain further assistance from
the Researcher before assigning a final rating. In this way we can
work toward giving you just the kind of information you need.

Subject: Re: Proper etiquette for party invitations
From: riverrat-ga on 19 Nov 2004 13:15 PST

you nailed the answer in your first sentence.


Important Disclaimer: Answers and comments provided on Google Answers are general information, and are not intended to substitute for informed professional medical, psychiatric, psychological, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice. Google does not endorse, and expressly disclaims liability for any product, manufacturer, distributor, service or service provider mentioned or any opinion expressed in answers or comments. Please read carefully the Google Answers Terms of Service.

If you feel that you have found inappropriate content, please let us know by emailing us at with the question ID listed above. Thank you.
Search Google Answers for
Google Answers  

Google Home - Answers FAQ - Terms of Service - Privacy Policy