Place residence

Should you charge friends to eat at your place? We investigate

(Tara Jacoby / For The Time)

It is a question that arises again and again despite almost always being summarily dismissed as not a good idea: Is it good make your friends pay for dinner at your house?

One of the last examples involved Amber Nelson, a Los Angeles-based podcaster, who took to Twitter to ask, “I was invited to someone’s house for dinner and they charged me for it… that’s weird isn’t it?” Yes, and nearly 400,000 people on Twitter seemed to agree.

As Nelson explained, she had had a few servings of penne all vodka for which the bill was $20; predictable, horrified responses followed. (Same actor Kristen Schal I got into it.) So did the “it happened to me” choruses: “It pisses me off when someone on Venmos gives me $9 for a drink after I just bought a tour,” one person wrote. “The boss offered tacos. Later each of us was charged $17. They weren’t even good tacos,” added another.

There were parties where guests had to cough up $5 to use the bathroom, or $400 just to attend. There was pizza in the “new multi-million dollar house in the suburbs” for which the guest received a payment request. There was the baby shower planned by friends who then emailed the guest of honor an invoice for the event; the barbecue given by wealthy friends who asked for money when the guest left. In one disturbing incident, a friend was invited to another’s house and offered only water because she hadn’t brought her own alcohol; meanwhile, the friend who lived there made herself a Manhattan.

Although this issue has been a mainstay for years, being nagged, exhausted and confused about our return to social norms after a long pandemic doesn’t help. None of us really know how to get out of our homes and re-engage with this world, or if we should. We could all do with a few etiquette reminders, so we brought in the experts.

First things first: no, don’t charge your friends

When it comes to charging your friends for a home-cooked dinner, there’s no denying it: “It’s absolutely rude and totally unacceptable under the rules of etiquette,” said Crystal L. Bailey, director of Washington Institute of Etiquette, which serves children, adolescents, and adults as an authority on modern manners in the United States and around the world. “If you host someone and you invite them, hosting takes care of that experience and that person. It’s not even a socio-economic issue, no matter how difficult it is to prepare a meals together. We think we can break bread with people, and there’s not that financial transaction when you invite someone into your home.

Can do you charge friends to dine at your place? Of course, but there will most likely be consequences. “A host can be a rude host, and the question is, will your guests want to say yes to the next invitation they receive?” asked Message from Lizziethe great-great-granddaughter of etiquette icon Emily Post and herself the author of numerous etiquette books as well as co-chair of the Emily Post Institute and co-host of the awesome label Podcast. “People can do anything, that doesn’t make it polite.”

Why does this question keep coming up?

It’s easy to blame technology for creating IRL distances. And certainly there’s more than enough financial stress go around right now. But also, maybe it’s that we live in what seems like a more brutal transactional capitalist culture than ever.

“I don’t know if it was the ease of being able to trade through technology that gave the audacity and audacity to make this request,” Bailey mused. “Would you also expect me to have $20 on me, if we didn’t have the technology?” It’s perfectly fine to use Venmo,” she clarified. “But we have to think before sending a request for funds if there hasn’t been a conversation about it.”

Post thinks our use of Venmo has had a ripple effect. “Even if you set your account to private, you still see a feed that shows you people getting refunds or charging for things,” she says. “It creates this idea that it’s okay to think about who owes what to whom all the time. I think it’s too much information and too mundane; we come from all over Venmo to each other.

Avoid the Drama and Communicate Up Front

It’s not that asking for dinner contributions is inherently bad; is that you need to explain to your guests what the expectations are before your noodles and vodka sauce are in their stomachs. Says Post, “When you invite a guest and expect a certain amount, that puts them in a horrible position. It’s incredibly inconsiderate and disrespectful. It is misleading. Honesty is a good etiquette.

If, for example, you want to do something that might be expensive or complicated – or even isn’t – you have the right to ask for contributions previously of those who would like to come. “I could see a situation like that where people set up for the experiment ahead of time…but not bait and switch and here’s your bill,” Bailey said. “If you want to send an invitation saying Italian dinner, my house, $20 a plate, you can do that!” Added Post, who admitted, “I still don’t think that’s a good idea.” Instead, embrace potluck.

Just be direct, advised Colu Henry, author of the upcoming cookbook “Colu Cooks: Easy Fancy Food”. Say something like, “I need a community, I don’t have the funds to pay for a huge dinner, but if you wanted to do a potluck or contribute…”. Candor is the key.

And while it’s expected that the occasional group of friends will just order Doordash and hang up and you’ll all split the bill, do everyone a favor and make it clear up front, unless that it is already an established norm in your circle.

Talk to your friend, but not on Venmo

“Last Christmas we spent the holidays with our friends,” Henry said. Wanting to go all out, the group first created a spreadsheet to track who was spending what to make sure everything was fair. Soon they abandoned the grid. “At the end of the day, I was like, ‘I don’t care,'” she said. The whole point of accommodation, she reminds us, is for the family relationship. “You do this because you want to, and then next time they will. This is how my world works.

When it comes to social etiquette, there should be a sense of reciprocity. If you’re wondering how you can get back what you spent on a meal, remember that your friends got you last month. “Everyone is taking that social tab. It feels good,” Post said. “We don’t need to send invoices and receipts after the parties are over.”

“It’s the rule of thumb, treat everyone the way you want to be treated,” Bailey said.

If you think you’re the one paying the bill, tell your friend, but not on Venmo.

What else should travelers know?

It should be remembered that as a guest you have duties. “I expect me to bring a gift to my host. I might ask if there’s anything I can bring to contribute,” Bailey said. The host can say no, and “that’s when we bring a host gift, a candle, a bottle of wine – don’t expect them to serve that night – chocolate…” . It doesn’t have to be expensive or ornate. “My grandma from Richmond, she always said, ‘Don’t show up with your arms swinging,'” she added. “I remember growing up, visiting family on Sundays, she’d bring two liters of soda. Maybe small, within your means, something you did. It’s be considerate of the people who greet you.

Also, give your host some padding by arriving five to 10 minutes past the start time, Bailey recommended. We might tend to stay too long because we’re so excited to catch up after being away from each other for so long. Pay attention to the clues: if your host starts cleaning up or the music stops, it’s time to say goodbye. In another viral topic, respect the rules of the host regarding shoes in the house. And in these times of COVID, be aware of others in terms of wearing a mask or testing before a gathering. Think about how you serve and share food, and what will be safest and most comfortable for people.

Create a positive host-guest relationship

Hosts also have duties. Know your budget and stick to it, Post said. “Sending someone a Venmo request after the fact isn’t a good solution for ‘Oops I overspent.’ That’s up to you. Don’t make it your friends’ problem. Your role should be to take care of your friends and create an evening of fun, whether it’s “six friends with mac and cheese at a card table, or 12 friends around a swanky dining room table. That’s what fits your budget,” Post said.

Don’t overserve your guests, advised Bailey. And do what you can to make them feel comfortable: “Make sure they have a safe way to get home; we may not be as sure of our tolerances as before. [Hide away] anything you don’t want to share (like your 30th anniversary wine!), and don’t make a big deal out of it if someone spills red wine on your white carpet. This person feels bad! Let people know where everything is, offer to take their coat, bag. And as for shoes at home, “maybe have some inexpensive pairs of socks on hand, or let them know your expectations ahead of time.”

“The idea is that I try to provide a good experience for the person I’m hosting. As soon as you start stepping on the toes of that feeling, it’s not a great host-guest relationship,” said added Post.

If you are asked to pay out of the blue…

Any guest who receives a Venmo charge for a dinner party afterwards “is well within their social right to say, ‘I wasn’t aware of that when I said yes,'” Post said. “From there, they can choose to pay it or not. I would probably pay for it and then ask my friend to let me know ahead of time or, frankly, I might not want to socialize. You’re trying to get a $50 bill and you want to hang out with that person again.

“I think I would say, ‘It wasn’t clear to me that we would pay for this experience tonight, but here’s your $20,'” Bailey said. “And this is not a person I would invite back to my home or return to their home.

Henry agrees. “It’s nice to be able to heal someone,” she says. “And in terms of community, having people over and cooking for them is a gift. It’s something I’m grateful to be able to offer. I think charging people is a bit like bait and switch. And the best way to beat a bait and change is a dinner and a dash! I would, no, uh uh. They would be off my friends list. I imagine it would be someone I wasn’t really close with initially.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.