When a friend invites you over for dinner, do you expect to pay for the meal they serve you? It’s a question raised by a recent viral tweet, one that most people on the internet answered with a resounding “hell no!”
The specific situation outlined in the viral tweet involved the Twitter user getting invited to someone’s house for dinner, where homemade pasta was served. According to tweets in the thread, the hosts kind of mentioned payment during dinner then later sent a Venmo request for the meal.
Is this appropriate in any situation? What are the best practices as a dinner party host and guest? To get to the bottom of this, I consulted with etiquette expert, author, and podcast host Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of the queen of etiquette, Emily Post.
“A host’s goal always, always is to put their guests at ease, to make them feel comfortable,” Post says. “To surprise someone with a bill after you’ve invited them, it’s like the antithesis of hospitality.”
If you’re ever expecting people to pay for a meal, that arrangement has to be agreed upon ahead of time. The main case for this would be some sort of charity dinner or other special event, something with an invitation that clearly states the monetary expectations.
“A guest can say no, they can decline, they can choose not to participate—it’s very clearly laid out up front,” Post says.
This can also be the case for some forms of casual hangouts, like a birthday dinner for a friend at a restaurant. Whoever is planning the event should reach out to the other guests ahead of time to make things clear: Are we covering the guest of honor’s meal? Do we want to split the bill evenly or each cover our own meals? All logistics should be figured out before the dinner so all guests can feel relaxed and just enjoy the moment.
Still, when it comes to a dinner in someone’s home, there’s a hard and fast rule: You should never charge your guests for a dinner you cook.
“It’s still not okay to charge your guests,” Post says. “But [even if you do], everything is supposed to happen on the front end so guests can make decisions.”
“Venmo doesn’t make anything better,” Post says. She makes clear that you should never solicit other people for money when it’s unexpected, no matter how easy the payment app makes it to do so.
It’s also still considered bad form to do things like list your Venmo on your wedding registry when asking for money. “It’s one thing if a guest says, I’d love to give you guys cash for your wedding, can I have your Venmo handle? That’s perfectly appropriate,” Post says. “But to say, ‘Please give us cash, our Venmo handle is this,’ is not appropriate on a registry yet.”
“Just say no,” Post says. “All you have to do is say ‘no, I’m sorry, I won’t be coming to this.’ You don’t even have to say thank you for the invitation if you don’t want to. I’m not able to do this because I think this is a really bad idea is fine—you just don’t tell them the part where you think it’s a really bad idea, because that wouldn’t be polite.”
That’s good news for all of us who feel the need to over-explain when we send our regrets, or come up with elaborate excuses for why we can’t make it.
So what do you do when you’ve spent more than you meant to on a dinner party? It’s one of the only reasons (and still a bad one) that I can think of to solicit money from guests after the fact.
“If it’s an ‘oops!’ afterwards, that ‘oops’ is on you, and it’s not for you to then go ask other people to help rectify your mistake,” Post says. “You really want to plan within your budget to begin with, so if you can’t afford right now to host a dinner for your friends, then I would host a potluck, or I might choose a much smaller guest list. I might not try to serve gourmet foods or really expensive items—there is nothing that states that you have to use expensive items to have your dinner party qualify as a dinner party.”
Because casual hangs are so common within our generation, a “dinner party” can equate to ordering and splitting a pizza, or just doing cocktails and snacks. Essentially, if you’re the host, you can decide what the expectation for the night is. Just be sure to let your guests know ahead of time.
No matter the size or style of the get-together, it’s always appreciated to show gratitude to your host afterwards, and that definitely doesn’t have to be in the form of a monetary donation.
“Reaching out and telling your host how much that evening meant to you, that you had such a great time, it was so wonderful to socialize with people again, to feel some normalcy, all of that is a beautiful thing, whether you send a text message or phone or a handwritten note,” Post says.
If we’re reverting back to the Emily Post era, the proper thing to do is reciprocate the gesture by having the host over to your house for the next get-together. There should be no competition as far as trying to match the level of fanciness or outdo a casual hang; it’s the simple act of opening your home and sharing time together that matters.
“Whatever your entertaining style is, it’s inviting these particular people who have hosted you and hosted you so well,” Post says. “Do it in your style, but treating them to a wonderful evening is a great way to keep it going and say thank you.”