The Washington Post recently published an article from writer Michelle Singletary titled, “Stop Charging Me to Attend Your Celebrations—#GuestsDontPay.” What’s the beef? Here’s the beef. From the article:
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.
She lays out examples of times when she and others have been to parties and been stuck holding an unexpected tab because it wasn’t clear up front that guests would have to pay to attend the celebration for some other person, and watched others bounce, rudely. Folks sometimes argue, waiters don’t get tips and I think Brick killed a guy. The author is now over this shit:
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.
I’d be lying if I said I don’t understand. There is NOTHING more annoying than the chaos that ensues after hours of dinner fun (for any type of celebration) when the check shows up and folks scramble to either figure out what each person owes or aggressively ignore the tab and just wait to see how much they’ll have to pay after all of the hard work is done. Not to mention the birthday person’s declaration of “Y’all figure it out—it’s my birthday.” Among my group of friends, there’s a slew of math majors, and usually one of us more mathematically inclined folks gets to divvying things up. Nobody walks on the tab, though.
It would be so much easier if that entire escapade could be avoided with #GuestsDontPay. If folks had the means and wherewithal to only invite folks to events and parties and dinners and celebrations at restaurants that they could pay for and nobody had to focus on the bill, life would be so much easier. But we also know that life comes at you fast, and paying for a party of even five people where drinks and dinner are on the menu can add up quickly.
I went to brunch with four of the homies this past weekend, and our bill came up to over $200, people. Sure—that doesn’t sound like a lot for five people, but a one-time hit of over $200 plus tip for one person is a lot, no matter who you are. Everybody ain’t able. Some of us are in more fortunate positions than others.
That same weekend, I invited a bunch of my boys out to dinner to shoot the shit and commiserate like old times. There were seven of us. I let it be known ahead of time, though, that I was paying for the whole shit so nobody would have to concern himself about bringing money or thinking about money, and this was an entire crew of upwardly mobile, well-to-do Ph.D.s, lawyers, business owners, etc. Sure, everybody has it, but it’s just easier for one person to get it. That’s not the first time I’ve done it, either.
I have entirely surveyed a situation before and realized, “P, this shit is going to be pure bedlam when the check comes—can you cover this to save your OWN headache and annoyance so you don’t leave this celebration with less friends than you showed up with?” And I’ve covered a tab for that reason before. Not often, but I have—the reason being that people hate paying for shit.
If you’re lucky enough to have a crew of folks who all understand this, you get folks who almost unintentionally rotate covering shit so nobody has to worry. We love to party, so we take care of one another. But once you add strangers to the mix, shenanigans always ensue. I don’t like it when I learn to hate a person I don’t even know because they don’t tip or, worse, bail on a bill in assholish fashion, but it’s happened. So in theory, #GuestsDontPay is right. It just is.
However, if that theory were put into practice, folks would do a whole lot less celebrating. I live in Washington, D.C., where everything is costly. It’s also a city where folks love to celebrate a whole lot. Everybody in D.C. is doing something with somebody at that thing in the place that deserves some sort of celebratory dinner.
This often creates the havoc that the author is speaking of because despite the highbrow nature of job titles in D.C., the cost of living is insane and jobs don’t pay AS much as folks want to pretend they do, so I seriously doubt most folks have a spare thousand dollars sitting around to accommodate their group of friends to celebrate life’s accomplishments.
Now, the simple response here is this: If you ain’t got it, maybe you shouldn’t be creating a celebration. But that’s ridiculous. Life is too short not to celebrate. And I do think most folks DO go to places expecting to pay if nothing has been stated otherwise. I do think folks would be better served by doing shit like happy hours so folks could pop in and pop out at their whim and cover their own bills. Dinners are usually where Shinola goes to shit because people gon’ people.
Now, clearly, there are celebrations where you should not expect to pay: home events, weddings, baby showers, etc. But if you are going to dinner at a restaurant, you might as well buckle up, buttercup, because it could end up being a shit show at the end. And while that’s not OK, I think it’s a reasonable expectation to pay when you go places to celebrate. Plus, haggling over a bill at the end, while infuriating in the moment, is typically the least-talked-about part of the night once folks actually are able to leave the restaurant without anybody in handcuffs.
The truth is, only people who have a lot of money are able to really cover the costs of big dinner parties and such. Maybe that’s how things should be or would be easier, but it’s also classist. How do you tell a person who doesn’t have a lot of money that they pretty much needn’t celebrate with the homies unless they’re providing a space they can afford? I mean, technically, EVERYBODY who agrees to come should be preparing to pay for their own and can, as the author of the WaPo piece chooses to do, opt out altogether. But she’s going to miss some really good times she’ll never get back.
Maybe the potential headache of the bill is too much to handle. But I know it’s coming, and I still manage to enjoy myself and pony up my dough that I came prepared to spend. See, I want to see the people who invited me out and I want to spend time with them, and I know the check shit at the end is part of the process. If I’m in a position to pay for everybody, then, sure, I will. But if I’m not, I’m absolutely not going to tell myself that until I manage to get to a better place in life, I need to chill on this couch with Netflix and a few people eating chips I provided. There’s ways to do everything if you’re crafty (or rich enough).
The real question becomes how much you value the experience of spending time with folks you like with things to celebrate. That’s the puzzle. For me, it’s always worth it, and I’ll always be ready and expecting to pay. And because God has been good to me, if I need to do a little more, I’m in a position to do so to help out a person who maybe isn’t in as good a spot. But that’s how I was raised.
So if you want to celebrate and you can’t cover everybody, that’s cool. I’ll still be there waiting at the end of the table as your homey counts out how many drinks he didn’t have so he doesn’t pay anything extra. And if you do so happen to be in a position to cover everybody, even better.
I’ll be there either way.