In This Small Kitchen: At a Dinner Party, Who Pays?


New York City restaurants are expensive. Go out with a group to a “reasonable” joint, and you’re out $40 a person.

In comparison, hosting has a lot of perks–relaxed atmosphere, no wait for a table, the thrill of playing grown-up–but thriftiness is not always one of them.

I love hosting dinner parties. I don’t mind spending a little extra money to have my friends over. And I count on them to bring wine, beer, or whisky–alcohol being the most expensive part of a night out. Many of my buddies do reciprocate, inviting Alex and me over for dinner and parties.

Things don’t always work out fairly. I’ve been to a dinner party where the host asked guests to chip in twenty bucks apiece, and we guests felt blindsided. I’ve tried to reciprocate past dinner invites only to find friends too busy to make plans–or ending up at convenient restaurants where we wind up splitting the bill. Potlucks are democratic in nature, but they’re a different animal.

So is it worth the money to host friends, not knowing if you’ll recoup the cost, or maybe risking being reimbursed in a currency other than money (love, friendship, dish washing, generosity, gratitude, a drink)? What’s your take–as a guest or a host?

P.S. Here are 10 cheap dinners for friends.

  • crisduh

    I enjoy hosting at my house because it lets me set the meal and tone of the evening, which I enjoy. And like you said, as long as everyone chips in and brings a bottle of wine or something else, it works out. Plus, I think it’s reasonable to ask one or two friends to bring something specific, like maybe dessert or a salad, to lessen your burden.

    • BGSK

      Love that idea of control – it’s your party, you can have everything just the way you like. That’s worth money to me!

  • marie @ little kitchie

    I always prefer hosting! Usually friends will ask what they can bring, and depending on the menu for the night, I’ll ask them to bring something simple – a salad, a bread, cheese and crackers. I’ll usually ask everyone to bring what they want to drink. By that time, I am usually only in charge of the main course and dessert!

  • Alex

    I host a lobster bake at my family’s beach house each year, but I’m always very up front about the cost. If you want lobster, it’s $x, I buy some oysters and steamers and they bring the booze.
    That said, if I was ever invited to a friends house for anything other than lobster/filet mignon, I’d be appalled to be asked for money, especially to be blindsided at the dinner table.

    • BGSK

      I’d definitely pony up for lobster – but you’re right…otherwise the payment has to be in a different form from moolah.

    • Bob

      a host asking for money is tacky

  • Raphaelle

    As a broke student, my friends and I almost only have potlucks, because no one can really afford to have a dinner party and we’re all up-front about it. However, if you are going to host a proper dinner party, I think it’s pretty rude to ask your guests to pay. Like, “I’m inviting you into my home, now pay up!”

    • BGSK

      Agree – so you’re upfront and you opt for the potluck? That makes sense.

  • Julia Menn

    I grew up in a household where my parents were constantly hosting dinner parties for all sorts of people – family, close friends, acquaintances, possible donors, etc. I loved the atmosphere and wish I had a bigger space in which to play hostess.

    I can’t believe that person asked for $20!!! I’ve hosted some Thanksgiving dinners and everyone was happy to bring a side dish/dessert – we got the traditional Thanksgiving experience, but no one was completely toting the bill or overwhelmed by doing everything themselves. Even if I’d decided to put the Thanksgiving spread together all on my own, I would NEVER ask my friends to pitch in for that. It was my decision and my gesture of love/friendship/what have you.

    Being a young adult starting her life in NYC, I may be way more conscientious of how much everything costs, but I generally find it to be worth it, and I’m usually spending less to feed who ever’s coming over than I would going out and buying myself dinner and drinks.

  • Skylor Powell

    I love this – I HATE the discomfort of who pays when we go out! Skip that – just cook for each other.

    • BGSK

      Love this comment!

  • Amanda Kay

    That’s tacky to ask people to pay when they were invited to a dinner party! I’ve never been to a dinner party. Not sure I know anyone who actually has them here. I would be fine with a potluck party or bringing a beverage to the party. But not paying.

    • BGSK

      Hm! So you either potluck or go out?

  • Alexis

    My group of friends is spread across the 5 boroughs and northern NJ, so its tough to get everyone together potluck-style. The parties I’ve thrown tend to be around holidays (you stayed in NY for Memorial Day? Sweet, let’s get together!), with me and my roommates providing the main dishes, and guests bringing apps/desserts if needed. And guests always, always bring the booze!

    • Alexis

      Oh, and I’d never ask guests for cash, unless all the food has run out, the booze is still flowing, and we’re in dire need of a pizza.

      • BGSK

        I can just see it: takeout pizza for late-night “dessert.”

  • Suzan

    I’ve done “planned potlucks,” a concept that Marian Bourros (sp?) promoted in her book, “You’ve Got It Made” back in the 80’s. I don’t worry about reciprocation. Some people just aren’t cooks and feel intimidated by good ones, and others go nuts about cleaning house. (I’m a lousy housekeeper, so folks walk in, look around, and visibly relax, knowing they can’t mess anything up worse than it already is! ) Here in Maine it is very much the custom that everyone brings SOMEthing – food, wine, flowers, candles, whatever. Coming emptyhanded is Simply.Not.Done. If you’re lucky, they’ll call ahead and ask what to bring, and if you’re smart, you’ll tell them. Maybe it works here because most of us are broke.

  • Gemma Chew

    We either have potlucks, or the hosts (aka the better cooks, everyone is quite upfront about that) cook the mains and guests bring side dishes and salads. I’ve been to a few events that have asked for money, which I just find so awkward. There was one person who would host Christmas parties every year and ask for $10… on the invitation. The worst part would be that the food was never great, and everyone would still bring a dish. I think if you can’t afford it, don’t host. Go out to dinner instead.

    • BGSK

      Yes! It’s like, if I’m going to pay, then I want to choose what I’m eating. Right?

  • Bear Thyme

    My favorite was when a couple (with 6 kids) bought a new house they sent out we moved cards with the message “We’d love to see you. Bring your tools and a casserole.” We never did visit.
    On the dinner party note… I love to cook and have parties. Many of my friends don’t. So they generally buy when we meet for lunch. When I have them here we go all out and it’s wonderful all around.
    $20 a head? Only if it’s a fundraiser.

  • Sohinee Roy

    I come from India, though I have been living in the states for the last 8 years. In india dinner parties are an act of love and hospitality. So people never bring any food that will be part of the meal served. However it is customary to get a little hostess gift such as flowers, books, DVD etc or a sweet dish that the host/hostess can enjoy the next day.

    • BGSK

      Thanks for sharing this, Sohinee – I like the idea that people respect the host and her determination of the meal. However, a host gift is always lovely!

  • Cori Viles

    I think the idea of a ‘Supper Club’ is interesting and, if everyone is on the same page it can be a great opportunity to host and test recipes. I’ve been to a couple and really enjoyed them. I also love having dinner parties, but would never charge my guests. If I decide to throw a dinner party, I’ve decided in advance that I am okay with ALL of the implications. I also love pot-lucks, but have to be careful of who is invited because I’m generally not okay with someone bringing something pre-made from the store. I enjoy pot-lucks most because of the experience of cooking for one another and tasting other peoples creations.

  • Michelle

    Recently, a few friends and I celebrated with a HUGE New Years Eve potluck celebration and to even out the burden, we totaled what was spent and divided it evenly. We were all pretty happy with it as long as everyone comes in knowing the situation!

  • Tricia

    I enjoy hosting, but I try to avoid becoming the “default hoster”. Luckily, I have a few friends that enjoy hosting as well so no one person is always cooking when we want to have a family dinner. When I do host, I will ask friends to bring something specific as well, like wine, dessert, or a baguette. Since I’m choosing the menu, I can control how much money I put into the meal, so I never feel too bitter that I’m spending too much money on feeding my friends.

  • heidi

    My friends and I are good about potlucks, but I love hosting dinner parties and I almost always foot the bill. I actually can’t believe someone asked for $20 a piece. I agree with Amanda, that is really tacky.

  • Victoria-Lynn Winning

    I’m going to be the odd one out here ~ I’m part of a fairly large friend-community (we’re all swing/blues dancers) and several of us take turns throwing dinner parties, sometimes with attendance upwards of 20 people. None of us have ever had a problem pitching in $5 – $10, but it is always stated ahead of time that this will be the case. Maybe we’re unusual in this regard, and I will be moving provinces soon so I wouldn’t necessarily go this route with any dinner parties in my new locale unless I knew my guests were familiar with it, but I definitely think as long as there is advance notice ~ and the food is worth it! ~ there’s nothing wrong with this. Five or even ten dollars is an extremely small price to pay for a meal that would be at least 25 or 30 dollars in a decent restaurant.

    • BGSK

      Thanks for sharing this, Victoria! Sounds like you guys have a good thing going, one that acknowledge how fun it is to cook for each other and accounts for the price of doing that. I’ll definitely be interested to hear how things go in a different place with a new set of friends.

  • Piehole Midwest

    I am shocked that hosts asked guests for $20 apiece. That would never happen in the Midwest. A guest is someone you cook for because you enjoy their company.

  • Rachel McCrafty

    I host an event every two weeks (give or take) called family dinner. Sometimes it is small (5 people) and sometimes upwards of 20. The deal on the invite is everybody brings an ingredient and/or beverages and we all cook together and eat together. It makes for some fun meals and improvisational cooking. So far nobody has baulked at bringing something and the event is going strong after 9 months.

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