Is it still okay to charge your friends for dinner?


Earlier this month, a strange and very Seinefeldian etiquette question was put on twitter by Los Angeles-based comedian Amber Nelson.

“I was invited to someone’s house for dinner and they made me pay for it…it’s weird isn’t it?” she tweeted.

In the thread, Nelson told the story: The dinner took place in Los Angeles. The host mentioned that guests had contributed to the passage during dinner, then Venmo sent his friends a request for $20 later. Dinner was penne alla vodka, not bechamel lasagna or spun pasta from an $899.99 Costco wheel of parm.

Nelson took a few portions and continued on his way. She paid when the request came in, but she hasn’t spoken to the host since.

While most people answered something like “yes, it’s very weird,” some people said it happened to them too.

Others admitted that they self-host their friends for a fee.

“As someone who hosts often, I usually ask people to contribute what they can to help me with the costs if they enjoyed the food. I would never stop anyone from eating, however,” one person said. “I invite my friends who I like to hang out with and they pay whatever they want to make it happen more.”

Some have wondered if Nelson’s friend who hosted the dinner was from the Netherlands. The expression “to become Dutch” comes from there, after all.

“In the Netherlands, it’s completely normal, especially when you’re a young adult,” a woman said. “Not everyone has enough money to feed a group of friends. I always expect to pay. (Of course, just as many commentators were quick to fire back, “Hey, look at this ! I come from the Netherlands and even this is a step too far for us. “)

Some have wondered if refilling was a california thing or one The thing, since that is where the party took place. (As a lifelong Angeleno, like the Dutchman above, I take umbrage!)

Some argued that it was a generational thing: Everything has become so transactional for millennials, even something as healthy and humane as breaking bread is tainted, they said.

Others felt that the whole incident spoke of the evils of Venmo culture: No one would have the nerve to ask for money if they had to do it face to face; Asking for money on an app is relatively painless.

Alexander Ford via Getty Images

“I was a little surprised [by the request]a man accused of a dinner party told HuffPost. “I thought he was joking so I laughed. Then he said he was serious.

Some on the thread speculated that it was a upper middle class or wealthy person thing or maybe specifically, more of a nouveau riche thing.

“It’s definitely a new money thing,” said Avijit Ghosh, a computer scientist who responded to the thread, told HuffPost. “People who didn’t grow up with generosity as the norm behave that way. I grew up in India and something like that would be horrible.

Ghosh, who now lives in Boston, had tweeted about his own experience with a cash-hungry host last May.

“Is it normal for your friend to invite you to dinner a week in advance at his new multi-million dollar house in the suburbs, buy a pizza and then bill you on Venmo? #AskingForAFriend,” he joked.

Something similar happened to Jarrel Benedict, a photographer who works in advertising in Canada, a few years ago, before the pandemic. In this case, it was a traditional dinner for 10 people where pork tenderloin was served. Cheese and nuts, bacon-wrapped asparagus, mashed potatoes and sugar pie for dessert were also on the menu. (Compared to Nelson and his penne alla vodka, at least Benedict got his money’s worth!)

Later, as the digestives were circulating, the host walked over to Benedict and casually informed him that it would be “$30 for your share”. (That was on top of the $70 wine that Benoit had already brought to dinner).

“At the time, I was a little surprised,” he told HuffPost. “I thought he was joking so I laughed. Then he said he was serious.

Clumsiness ensued.

“I told him I didn’t really have any money on me (because I just use my card or Apple Pay) so he suggested I transfer the money to him through Interac, which is like Venmo here in Canada,” Benedict explained. “I transferred the money to him only because it was awkward to discuss it.”

Etiquette experts weigh in

Naturally, when asked about the original viral tweet, the etiquette experts we spoke to had strong opinions.

“Is there a typo in the tweet? I think the person meant to write ‘made a reservation at a restaurant’ instead of ‘was invited over to someone’s house for dinner,'” Nick Leighton, the label’s weekly podcast host, joked, ” Were You Raised By Wolves?”

Unless a host uses the corporate definition of a “guest” – you know how Disneyland and Airbnb call their paying guests “guests”? – you should never expect those you invite into your home to pay, Leighton said.

If you do, at least they have a say in the menu.

“Being a dinner host means enjoying certain privileges: being able to choose the date and time, selecting who is on the guest list and choosing the menu,” he said. “But if you ask other people to participate, you invite them to be co-organizers of the event, so you will have to share these privileges.”

Jodi RR Smith, the founder of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, checked off a few social scenarios where it would be okay to charge as long as you disclose your plans – and the price – when the invite goes out:

  • A potluck assumes guests will help provide refreshments or side dishes
  • A rental party where tenants hire a musician or band to play and pass the hat to raise money to pay their rent, hailing from Harlem in the 1920s. (This one assumes you’ve traveled back in time to the 20s , so it’s good.)
  • A Fundraising this may include a cost to attend and the assumption that you may make a further donation during the event in the form of pledges, auctions or other donations.

What is verboten, at least as far as Smith is concerned, is bait and switch as Nelson’s friend did.

“It’s terribly rude to invite friends over under the guise of dinner and then after they arrive turn it into an unofficial fundraiser,” Smith said.

If you plan to ask your guests to pay, that conversation needs to happen early in the planning stages, said Diane Gottsman, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life” and founder of The Protocol School of Texas.

“It’s good when there’s open communication between friends and the host makes it clear they want to throw a party but would like some help,” she said. “You have to be upfront and honest so that customers aren’t caught off guard. It is a courtesy to let guests know what to expect in advance and they can decide if they want to attend.

But Gottsman agrees with other etiquette guests that charging a guest or charging them without their knowledge is generally ill-advised.

Ultimately, on the label side? Charge ahead and as soon as possible or don’t charge at all. And if this friend who charges you keep on going to invite you to their pseudo-restaurant, you have our permission to leave them a bad Yelp review.




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