WASHINGTON — I don't mean any harm, but I am not paying to attend your parties anymore.
I want to commemorate your life moments — your birthday, engagement, bridal shower, baby shower, anniversary or retirement. But if you can't afford to host, stop charging me for your celebration.
Too many times, I've shown up for an event and been told after consuming the meal that I'm expected not just to pay for my food, but to chip in for the guest of honor.
I've been at events when others — caught by surprise or knowing they don't have the money — skip out without paying their share. This leaves the remaining guests to pick up the cost of what wasn't paid.
During one birthday party I attended at a restaurant, there was a long awkward moment when nobody wanted to ante up for the guest of honor and the other diners who had bolted without paying. One person feigned a trip to a nearby ATM and never returned. Arguments ensued, and some choice words were spoken, until one guy just paid the difference. He was a champ, but not a happy camper.
Another time, I was invited to a birthday brunch at an all-you-can-eat restaurant. Nothing in the invitation indicated that guests were expected to cover the cost of their meals. So, I ate and celebrated. Then came the bill. At my table was someone I knew couldn't afford the meal. She was out of work and struggling to pay for necessities. She was so stressed about coming up with the $30 that I ended up covering her portion, plus the tip, in addition to the expected cut for the guest of honor.
Even after some guests were unhappy about haggling with fellow diners about their fair share, the celebrant said callously, "You guys figure it out. It's my birthday!"
I also felt bad for the wait staff. As I was paying the cashier, she noticed my tip and thanked me profusely on behalf of the staff working the party. Why? Because many partygoers, salty about being presented with a check, hadn't tipped.
That was it. The defining moment when I decided I had had enough.
I now respectfully decline such invitations. If it isn't clear whether I'll be charged, I ask. If I have to pay, I don't go. I'll offer congratulations and perhaps send a card or gift later. But I will not be a party to this etiquette breach.
And, for the record, I'm acting out of principal, not paucity.
I'm standing up for all guests who are tired of this trend. Call it my #guestsdontpay protest.
Etiquette experts, such as syndicated columnist Miss Manners, are frequently asked by readers how to word an invitation to inform guests that they are expected to cover their own food, drink and sometimes a portion of the venue expense.
"Guests are not charged to attend parties," Miss Manners has written.
Here's a question that was posted on thespruce.com, a home lifestyle website.
"I would like to host a party for my wife's 30th birthday in one of her favorite restaurants," a reader wrote. "Since I can't afford to pay the dinner bill for all of my guests, I thought I'd just ask everyone to share the cost of the food and drinks at the end of the party. How can I word the invitation so that guests know that they'll have to pay for their own food and drink, but that there will be birthday cake served for dessert?"
I have one word for this person: potluck. Or trim the guest list so the restaurant bill is reasonable. If it's about the people and not the place, you don't have to do things big if your budget is small.
You might be inclined to ask: What if someone RSVP'd to the event and then doesn't show? Can I send him or her a bill?
Absolutely not. You aren't entitled to a refund from a no-show. You shouldn't send an invoice. Any party planner will tell you that dropouts are inevitable. It's the price of hosting.
This party-charging thing is indicative of an American culture where people want to do things they can't afford. What happened to being just a guest, not a paying guest?
The expectation is: "It's my day and I should be able to have the party I want, so pay up." But, to me, it smacks of a sense of entitlement. It's hosting beyond your means.
If you've got something to celebrate, I'll gladly share in your happiness. But before you invite me to your party, remember that #guestsdontpay.
Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter SingletaryM or Facebook at facebook.com/MichelleSingletary.