Happy Birthday, darling! Now, how much are we to charge our guests for the pleasure of their company this evening?
My good friend Jeannette and I have much in common. We are of like-mind on many topics, but none more so than on matters of social comportment and interaction. We have opportunity to talk on an almost daily basis, during nightly trots around the neighborhood with Mavro, my trusty senior canine companion. Lately, a hot topic of conversation that has us both fired up is the insidious progression toward not living up to one's responsibilities as a host. Whenever the subject of yet another miscreant host arises, we preface the story by saying "I have a new low to share with you". And, more than likely, it usually is. Let me explain.
My mother taught me that as a host I have an obligation to look after my guests for the duration of their time in my company. By this I mean that if I extend an invitation to celebrate my birthday over dinner at home, for example, I am responsible for providing my guests the food and drink that is appropriate to such occasion, and within my budget. This obligation remains the same if I were to hold such a celebration at a restaurant of my choosing. As a host, I would be responsible for the food and drink consumed by my guests during the evening's festivities. I would either pre-arrange a set menu to be served, along with the accompanying beverages, or communicate to my guests that they are free to make their selections from the restaurant's menu. The burden of responsibility for footing the bill should entirely fall upon my shoulders as the host. Would you not agree?
Jeannette recently shared a story with me of how she and her husband Harvey received an invitation to join their friends, a married couple, in celebrating the husband's birthday at a restaurant of the couple's choosing, over dinner and drinks. A group of about a dozen or so friends joined the couple for the celebration. At the conclusion of the evening, the wife announced that she was thrilled that everyone had been available to mark her husband's milestone birthday. She then proceeded to acknowledge the "kindness" of the restaurant staff in their willingness to divide the bill equally among the number of guests. Jeannette and Harvey were taken aback. They would never dream of inviting a group of friends to a celebration of theirs and proceed to essentially charge their guests for the privilege. Jeannette continued with her story, explaining that she and Harvey were unfairly thrust into an awkward and embarrassing situation as they watched each guest scramble to come up with the goods. One couple was overheard bemoaning the fact that they did not eat or imbibe nearly as much as the others, having only ordered small dishes the likes of which are typically found as starters on most restaurant menus. Another guest lacked sufficient cash to dole out to the hostess. When the hostess cottoned on, she suggested that those without cash could pay for their food with their own credit card which, as you can imagine, resulted in all manner of issues for the wait staff. What a mess! As if all this were not enough to make you run in the opposite direction, the hostess had the gall to suggest that everyone continue with the after party at a nearby bar. Needless to say, the majority of guests made their excuses and scarpered. And, rightly so. A host should never burden his or her guests with a financial responsibility in order to entertain, all the more so without forewarning. If you, as a responsible host, cannot afford to entertain friends at a fancy restaurant, or any restaurant for that matter, then don't. Either stay home and cook a meal to share with your beloved friends, order pizza to be delivered, or choose some other form of entertainment that befits your own pocket and not your guests'. This, I believe, is a fundamental tenet of hospitality in my book.
It's your birthday? By all means, go ahead and throw a cocktail party, just don't expect your guests to pay for it
When Jeannette had finished relaying her story, I shared one of my own. "Jeannette, you think that was bad, listen to this. I have a new low". I proceeded to tell the tale of a memorial gathering my family and I recently attended. It was held at a club that was actually owned by one of the deceased's very close relatives, a wealthy figure in the entertainment world.
Stepping into the club, which was packed to the rafters with friends and family, we noticed an open mic by the stage for the benefit of those wishing to relay stories of our dearly departed acquaintance. We also spotted a few trays of hors d'oeuvres being passed around, which was a good thing indeed. It was now about 1 o'clock in the afternoon and I don't think many of us had eaten lunch on our way over to the gathering. Several people we spoke with had traveled a fair distance to be there. The bar of the venue, located at the opposite end of the room from the stage, was open so my husband offered to get us a round of gee and tees. He was quite alarmed to discover that although the venue was closed to the public for a "private event", the bar was actually running as if it were a regular business night. All drinks had a ten dollar cover charge. What? Wait a minute? Should it not be the responsibility of the host to look after his guests, even at a gathering to commemorate the dead? If the deceased's relative wished to volunteer his venue for the occasion, which was indeed a nice gesture, but did not want to burden himself with the expense of providing mourners with alcoholic beverages, then why not just leave the bar closed. Surely it would have made better sense to lay out a small selection of beverages, alcoholic or otherwise, on top of the bar so that guests could help themselves. Everyone in attendance had shown up at the club to pay their respects to the deceased's immediate family, not to line the pockets of the close relative.
Jeannette agreed that this sorry tale was indeed a new low in terms of one's obligations as a good host. This was not a charity function, nor a business commitment, such as a group work luncheon. This was a private memorial where some small degree of hospitality was to be expected by the guests in attendance.
Tell me, am I preaching to the choir? Would you not agree that this insidious trend of a host burdening his guests with the tab is a bit of a slap in the face?