Is It Rude to Charge Your Guests for a Dinner Party?

As is so often true, the most important thing is to state your expectations upfront.

April 26, 2022

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Photo by: Frank and Helena/Getty

Frank and Helena/Getty

Last month, podcast host Amber Nelson took to Twitter with an etiquette question: “Got invited to someone’s place for dinner and they charged me for it… .this is weird, right?”

The tweet racked up nearly 400,000 likes, plus countless comments from people (mostly) expressing their confusion and outrage. Almost everyone agreed that the way Nelson’s hosts allegedly went about it — by requesting $20 via Venmo after the fact, with no warning — was rude and, well, cringe.

Still, there were plenty of caveats in the comments. Many people didn’t hate the idea of guests chipping in for a dinner party, per se, and suggested better ways to go about it. Frankly, the whole thing piqued our curiosity, so we reached out to a few etiquette experts and asked them to outline the dos and don’ts of cost-sharing a dinner party.

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Photo by: Linda Raymond/Getty

Linda Raymond/Getty

Yes, it’s rude to charge guests for a dinner party without warning.

“An in-home dinner party for friends or family is not a ticketed event, nor is it a fundraiser,” says Thomas P. Farley, an etiquette expert also known as Mister Manners. “It is a gathering in which the host is expected to provide a warm welcome and a meal for the enjoyment of guests.”

That’s not to say that guests should show up empty handed. “In return, the guests bring good cheer and conversation, along with — typically — some sort of thank-you gift for the host(s),” Farley says.

Providing food is implicitly part of the deal of hosting, and it’s up to the host to stay within whatever budget they have. “If you are doing the inviting and planning the menu and hosting without asking for any input from others, you should adjust the evening to fit your own budget,” says Josephine Oria, cookbook author and founder of La Dorita, a kitchen share and culinary consulting company.

But, Oria says, it’s OK to offload some of the financial burden to your guests by asking them to bring something. You could ask folks to bring their favorite booze to share, or ask if they’re able to bring a side or a dessert. But, Oria says that it’s essential to state this upfront, as part of the invite, so that there are no surprises.

Sure, you can ask guests to chip in under certain circumstances.

Before we get into when it might be OK to charge guests for a dinner party, let’s get something clear: If you plan to charge guests, you need to make that clear the second you invite them.

“If someone wants to charge people for dinner, then the exact costs and event details would have to be made very clear and explicit with any invitation so that potential guests can make an informed decision whether or not they want to attend,” says Nick Leighton, host of the weekly etiquette podcast, Were You Raised By Wolves? Don’t invite guests and then mention days later that you want them to pay, and definitely don’t try sending someone a Venmo request after dinner is over.

So, when is it OK to charge guests for a dinner party upfront? If you’re hosting a fundraiser, then it’s fine to ask for contributions as long as you’re clear. Farley says that if this is the case, it should be clear on the invitation what the funds are for, as well as any cost of admission or suggested donation.

“On the other end of the spectrum,” Farley asks, is this a casual friend meet-up where everyone decides to order out for pizza or Chinese mid-way through Netlfixing?” If so, “guests should anticipate paying for their own delivered meals — the cost of which will vary from person to person depending on what they order.”

If you’re planning the type of party where you all cook together — which means, in a sense, that you all host — then splitting the cost may also be OK. Oria says that in Argentina, groups often host a hacemos una vaquita. “The literal meaning is ‘let’s make a cow,’ but in colloquial slang, this means ‘let’s everyone pull together our money’ to buy the groceries and meat that we will all cook together,” she says. “The communal cooking is just as much a part of the day as the eating itself.” Again, the expectation is set up front.

Another scenario when asking for payment from guests might be appropriate is if you’re planning something expensive that everyone agrees to chip in for. Farley gives the example of hiring a celebrity chef to cook a meal in your home for everyone, which might be out of budget for any one person.

If a host charges you for a dinner party unexpectedly, there are a few ways to approach it.

“After removing the astonished looks from their faces, guests who are met with a money request upon attending would be well within the realm of good etiquette to verbally express their surprise (though ideally not their disdain),” Farley says. “If the cost of the dinner is absurdly high and the host provided no advance notice of an entry fee, guests should not be faulted for excusing themselves politely and taking their leave, lesson learned for next time.” In other words, it’s OK not to pay if the request is ludicrous.

But perhaps the better approach is to pay the bill and consider it the cost of severing ties with said hosts. “I’d probably be too embarrassed for them and pony up the money that one time,” Oria says. “Then I’d drink copious amounts of wine and vow to never go back.”

The bottom line is that you should never find yourself in this situation more than once.

“If a host surprises you with a bill at the end of an evening, I’d certainly think twice before accepting any future ‘invitations’ from this person,” Leighton says.

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