Miss Conduct

Advice: I’m throwing myself a birthday dinner. My friends pay, right?

She thinks the best gift is a good meal with people she loves spending time with. But dinner for 10 can get costly.

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Finding an affordable, fun restaurant for my 65th birthday party is not easy in New York City. My dilemma has two major issues. May I ask my 10 guests to pay for themselves, if I am unable to? And, being single, is it rude to post a gift/registry list?

Anonymous /Boston

Happy birthday, and how wonderful that you can be in such an exciting city and have so many friends worth celebrating with! To have 10 good friends is to be rich indeed, a perspective you may wish to keep in mind while you read the rest of my advice.

Here’s the thing about party guests: If they’re paying their own way, they aren’t your guests anymore. They are, instead, friends who are hanging out with you. Which is a fine thing to be! But one does need to be clear about the distinction to stay on the side of etiquette. You can invite a dozen of your besties to join you for happy hour down at Bistro L’Ocale, with the implicit assumption that everyone will pony up for their own Moscow mules. (And in most social circles, they’ll pick up the birthday celebrant’s tab as well.) But you can’t invite people to a sit-down dinner in honor of your birthday and expect them to pay for it themselves.

The only exception would be if this is regularly done among your group of friends — pay-your-own-way birthday dinners are a norm among a lot of twentysomethings and grad students, for example. But if that’s how all your friends did it, you probably wouldn’t have felt the need to ask me.


And yes, it’s rude to post a goodies wish list or indicate a thirst for presents in any way. If you had a spouse, that person couldn’t politely do so on your behalf, either, so you aren’t missing out on that account. Rather than thinking of this party as a celebration of yourself, frame it as a gift to your friends, the people who have made 65 a brighter and warmer place than it otherwise would have been. How do you want to share the good things in your life with them? Start from that.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.