Going out to eat on a birthday is a time-honored tradition by many people. Birthdays bring together friends and family, so going out to eat saves all the cooking. But at the end of the meal, an awkward dilemma rears its head: Who pays for the birthday dinner?
Unfortunately, there’s no set rule on who will have to pony up. Depending on the situation, the bill can be split a number of different ways. So let’s get right to who pays for the birthday dinner!
A Family Night Out
Paying when dining with your parents is a thorny issue. When you were a young child, your parents paid for the birthday meal, of course. This can go in several different directions, however, now that you’ve reached adulthood.
Some parents always insist on paying for their children, even if that child is an adult who can provide for themselves. In other scenarios, the adult may want to prove their independence (even on their birthday), and pay for the family as a way of saying, “Thank you for all the meals you’ve given me.”
If you’re uncertain about what to do, offer to pay the bill when it first comes, and test your parent’s reactions. If they accept your payment but ask why, tell them that even though it’s your special day, you can afford it and want to thank them for spending the evening with you. If your parents counter with an offer to pay for the whole meal, you can bargain to pay for your share — or not — depending on your financial situation. At the very least, offer to pick up the tip.
Celebrating With Friends
When inviting friends to a birthday meal, it’s a huge faux pas to not sort out who will pay the bill beforehand. Expecting everybody to split the bill evenly can breed resentment in those who didn’t order expensive food. There’s also the matter of whether the birthday guest should pay for their own meal or not.
In this situation, it’s best to flesh out how everyone will be expected to pay in the invitation. Phrase your invite in a way that makes it clear you’ll be paying for your own meal, and each individual is expected to pay for theirs.
However, if a friend does offer to pay for your meal at a restaurant, you can gracefully accept. Then, you can make a note on your calendar to pay for theirs on their birthday — or on another occasion. If all of this sounds like too much trouble, hold a potluck celebration somewhere instead, and ask the guests to bring their favorite food instead of gifts.
Dinner for Two
If you’re celebrating with a date, who pays for the meal is a little easier to figure out. Though there has been a shift away from gender roles in recent years, if it’s a first date, the male usually pays the bill. Another school of thought says the party who planned the dinner celebration should be the one to pay.
If you’re already in a steady relationship with this person, there are several different routes to take for payment on your special day. Some couples split the bill 50/50, while others take turns paying. In these situations, it would be best for the couple to agree ahead of time who will foot the bill. A good solution might be for one person to pay for dinner, while the other pays for dessert or entertainment afterward.
In the grand scheme of things, figuring out who pays for the birthday dinner is all about being polite. As a rule of thumb, always go into the meal assuming you will be paying for yourself. If your friends, family or partner offer to treat you, accept graciously, and make a mental note to pay for dessert or treat them to something nice later down the line.
Splitting the bill equally between everybody is also a tempting option, but it encourages people of lesser moral to order more while having others foot the bill. In situations with these types of people, avoiding the restaurant completely in favor of a potluck may be the better route.